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The Stranger Sides of Estonian Culture

Below we've got a few facts about the country that are totally mundane to Estonians but can wonderful, weird, or incomprehensible to outsiders

Estonia is a relatively small country with a low population density and completely distinctive culture that combines pagan beliefs, Scandinavian ideals, Germanic pragmatism, and a bend towards technological innovation. When all this comes together to make life the Estonia way. However, people visiting the country might run into a few things they don't expect.

Let's start with a few random facts about Estonia

  • Estonians are tall, really tall in fact. Compared to the rest of the world, they are number three, only behind Latvians and the Dutch.
  • In small towns, many people still don't lock the doors!
  • In rural areas, people do not have addresses, but instead, the farms have names.
  • As with some other European countries, Estonians do not wear shoes inside a home.
  • Despite its small size, the country has more than 2,000 islands.

Natural Beliefs

In one sense, Estonians can be described as tree-huggers. And that's not just a name! Some believe that if you actually hug a tree, you will get energy from it. Additionally, the forest is said to be full of guardian spirits that go back to pre-Christian beliefs. As a result, you shouldn't shout or yell while you're in the woods since it's a sacred place.

Estonia is one of the least religious countries in the world with most people being atheists. As such, Estonian take marriage quite seriously and get married relatively late.
Estonians have their own superstitions, separate from Slavic culture.
For example, they spit three times over the shoulder when a black cat crosses the road or walks around themselves. If two people are walking and there is an electric post or a trash can between them, then they should greet each other again or it will foster bad luck.

The Strange and the Tasty

The people of Estonia have specific expectations when it comes to food. As such Estonian cuisine has a few dishes that may seem a bit odd to outsiders.

  • Estonians prefer their leib (bread) softer than most other Europeans. In fact, they consider a crispy crust to be a sign of poor quality since it scratches the mouth.
  • It's extremely common for people to go foraging for their own mushrooms and berries.
  • For breakfast, Estonians often eat porridge (made from oatmeal flakes, semolina, barley flakes, or rice flakes). However, for Estonians,  porridge has a different meaning that's difficult to understand for many foreigners. Many describe it as a puree in but that's not quite right.
  • Estonians make marinated pumpkins which they usually eat during Christmas time. The dish tastes very sweet and sour at the same time as cinnamon and cloves are added to the marinade. And since pumpkins are so large, this often results in 10-15 jars of preserves. 

A Different Kind of Communication

The Estonian language isn't part of the Germanic, Slavic, or Baltic language groups. In fact, it's totally unrelated to most other European languages as it's part of the Finno-Ugric family with Finnish and Hungarian.

Estonian is full of long strange words that can be formed by stacking smaller words on one another.

Compared to other countries, the Estonian communication style is straightforward and honest to a fault (almost). Naturally, Estonias prefer to communicate their point using a lot of logic.

Estonians can be a bit reticent to talk about their personal lives, however, they often open up during a hike or in the sauna.