It dawned on me soon after arriving in Estonia this month. We’re not in Luxembourg anymore. No siree, Sigefroid. Unlike the Grand Duchy, there’s no linguistic smorgasbord or palette of patois to choose from. Therefore, kiss good-bye any signs like this:
In fact, one quick look and you’ll notice that this sign doesn’t even have anything written in Luxembourgish. That would be unthinkable way up here in this northern most Baltic country. Living in Estonia brings to mind that line from The Blues Brothers: “Oh we’ve got both kinds…” But it’s language, not music I’m talking about. They really do only have two kinds and it all depends on the generation. For the older folk it’s Estonian and Russian; for the youngsters, yep you guessed it, Estonian and English. That’s it.
Quite frankly, if you don’t speak one of the above, you’re pretty much out of õnn, удача, luck. Sure, you might come across an occasional Finnish speaker, but don’t count on bumping into any polylinguistics like in Luxembourg. Here there’s only one national language to choose from, and forget about anyone being sympathetic to people with poor skills.
Duchy denizens know how to make a mediocre French speaker or bad German Sprecher feel almost fluent. That’s not the case in Estonia. Only top notch speaking skills get a pass. Once while I was speaking in Estonian, the shop keeper responded in Russian.
Sure it was many many years ago, but the scar still burns red. Not even vodka has helped me rebuild it.
“Russian?” I thought to myself. My Russian is a binary version of Russian Roulette. I’ve got only two chambers to choose from: Da and Nyet… and that’s only when they’re not written in Cyrillic. Never mind the accent.
But that’s all in the past; there won’t be any language snafus this time around. I’m older… wiser. When in need, I find a young person. When in dire need I seek the assistance of my Estonian speaking sons.
By Dan Franch, August 2015
Dan is also a cartoonist for wort.lu/eng.