Estonian Manners

Estonians are known for being silent and reserved. This is not fully true, though. Instead, picture them as intelligent service dogs – they take their time to get to know you and if it all works out, you’ve made a friend for life.

But there are some particular quirks that tend to stand out. For example, Estonians are particularly disciplined about road crossing – if you ever see a jaywalker you can be sure it’s a tourist. Estonians can wait for minutes for the traffic light to turn green.

Don’t expect emotionally warm customer service everywhere as well. While standards are improving and the service quality is high in the tourist areas, there are still occasions on which service is frosty – if not downright rude.

Business etiquette

When it comes to business culture, Estonians have a traditional Lutheran work ethic: people are prepared for hard work, and are concerned with accuracy, detail and deadlines. 

You should also pay attention to the language you use. Asking a general question will almost get you no answers, so be specific in your inquiries. 

Take it as a good sign when someone makes an evil joke about you. Even when discarding all stereotypes, this one stands true about Estonians. The humour in these parts of the world is dry and sardonic.

Estonian understatement

Estonian understatement

Tiit and Marko are chatting.
Tiit says, “I heard you built yourself a house?”
“Jah,” replies Marko.
“How big is it?” asks Tiit.
“One room,” replies Marko.
“Jah. Any smaller and it would have been pointless,” agrees Tiit.


Estonian introversion

How can you tell the difference between an Estonian introvert and an Estonian extrovert?
When you talk to an Estonian introvert, he stares at his shoes. When you talk to an Estonian extrovert, he stares at your shoes.


Estonian opinion

When two Estonians are talking politics, there are invariably at least three different points of view.


Estonians and the weather

At -10°C, heating is switched on in British homes. Estonians put on a long sleeve shirt.
At -20°C, Germans fly to Malaga, while Estonia celebrate Jaanipäev (midsummer).
At -200°C hell freezes over, and Estonia wins the Eurovision Song Contest again.
At -273°C absolute zero is reached. The Estonians shrug and say, “It’s a bit chilly, today, isn’t it?”

Things to remember

  • Estonians are quite formal and may come across as little bit cold (or even unfriendly!) to people from more informal cultures, but this is not true. Once the relationship warms up the communication style becomes a lot less stiff, yo.
  • Estonians mean what they say and do what they say they will do. 
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