Adventures in Business Setting

One funny thing about being a foreigner is the linguistic choices people make when communicating with me. Case in point: my new job at Artec.

This being Estonia, there's a plethora of languages to choose from: Estonian, obviously, but also Russian, English and Finnish. Russian is possible because 30% of Estonians are ethnic Russians (or related Belorussians and Ukrainians) whose ancestors were relocated during Soviet times. Russian also remains strong as a language of trade, especially among the older generation, while English tends to replace it for the younger generation. Then, Finnish is widely spoken in Northern Estonia, because of Tallinn's proximity to Helsinki and despite Southern Estonian being linguistically closer to Finnish.

People's choice, whenever discussing work-related matters with me, varies accordingly: some prefer to use English while, for others, Finnish comes naturally. Then there's a handful of older collegues who feel uneasy speaking either English or Finnish, so they address me in Estonian, placing special care on clearly articulating every word and on speaking at a slower pace than normal (to Finnish ears, Estonian essentially sounds like Finnish on fast-forward and with unusual choices of vocabulary).

I have yet to see anyone try Russian with me, although a few people have noticed that I get the overall idea, just as long as they articulate clearly and speak slower than normal. Then again, our ethnic Russians are so well integrated that they speak Estonian all day long, even among themselves, and I have been able to observe the same pattern everywhere I've been in Estonia. From that perspective, I think that Russia's claims about "oppression of ethnic Russians in Estonia" are greatly exaggerated.

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