WHEN TO SPEAK RUSSIAN (a guide for Estonian children)

File this under “you can’t make this sh*t up”.

There is an article in Russian that does a bit of explaining; for those who cannot read the Russian you could Google-translate the description – but the video/audio is incomparable.

Here’s a brief synopsis:

Estonia, 2015

Boy meets Girl.

Boy is a Russian tourist and girl is a local Estonian.

Boy asks Girl for directions to a store, in Russian. Girl, thinking that Boy is a Russian-speaking Estonian resident, unleashes a minute-and-a-half yelling tirade about how Estonia is Europe, and he must speak Estonian, and if he doesn’t, then he needs to move to Russia (she continues even after Boy whips out a tourist map). Girl pushes Boy in the shoulder. Girl storms off in righteous indignation.

As Girl walks away, Boy makes a reference to staying at a hotel, and suddenly she is all “You’re a tourist? This totally changes things!” and shows Boy way to the supermarket. Boy is all, “Wow you are so nice and pleasant! In Russia all we hear is that all Estonian are fascists!” Girl is all, “No, don’t believe it, that’s all Kremlin propaganda!”

Boy and Girl warmly shake hands and part ways.

Instead of passing judgment, I’m just going to ask some questions.

  • Boy looks like he should be in middle school. If he were a local, and thus subject to the mandatory primary education in Estonia, why in the WORLD would he not speak Estonian, and say that he “doesn’t understand” anything when the Girl yells at him (this REALLY pisses her off, by the way). I don’t know what rules about homeschooling in Estonia are, but considering that the scene is ostensibly set in a residential area of a city, it’s unlikely that the boy had been kept in some isolated shack full of Russians all this time, before procuring a map to go on a grocery run.
  • How does the girl, who looks pre-teen, know how to speak Russian in a country that’s been phasing out anything Russia-adjacent for the last 25 years? I am pretty sure she is learning English and German as foreign languages in school.
  • Does the Estonian TV that made this commercial (and as a proxy, the Girl character in it) think the best way to treat the Russian-speaking population in the country is to yell and assault them? Yeah, this will inspire goodwill and encourage them to embrace Estonian language and customs!
  • Boy says that his family is visiting from Murmansk, which is a hop, skip and a jump away from the polar circle. Yet they chose to go to Estonia in the dead of winter. Why aren’t they in Turkey or Bali?Murmansk Tallinn
  • Why is the scene set in the most nondescript residential neighborhood in Estonia, which, for all its worth, could very well BE Murmansk? Tallinn is a gorgeous city, couldn’t the director find a better backdrop, anything that looks like there MIGHT actually be a hotel within a 5-mile radius? Disbelief not suspended.
  • What in the world is this boy watching or whom is he listening to if all he hears in Russia is that all Estonians are fascists (oh yeah, there was that time over a decade ago when someone in Estonia put up a monument to an SS soldier)? Has the Boy hacked into the secure line of Kremlin’s Office of Anti-Estonian Affairs? I don’t even remember the last time Estonia made it into a Russian news bulletin.
  • What is this tween girl learning in school if at her age is she already intimately familiar with what anti-Estonian Kremlin propaganda looks like in Russia? #ThereIsNoAntiRussianPropagandaInEstonia #TheseAreNotTheDronesYouAreLookingFor
  • Wait, if all Estonians are fascists – rather, if all Russians think that all Estonians are fascists – why the hell is this boy’s family going to Estonia on vacation??? Are fascist countries YOUR preferred vacation destination?
  • Actually, never mind. The Girl assaults the Boy verbally (you don’t have to know the language – any language – to understand when you’re being yelled at) and PHYSICALLY, and he just stands there and takes it instead of walking away from the crazy chick, and afterwards when Girl gets a clue, Boy is all OMG YOU ARE SOOOOOO NICE! ESTONIANS ARE SOOOOOO NICE! Clearly the poor kid is suffering some sort of PTSD/Stockholm Syndrome hybrid from growing up in a family that takes him from the polar circle to the frozen fascist Baltics “on vacation,” where he interprets abuse as a sign of friendliness.

Answers welcome.

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47 thoughts on “WHEN TO SPEAK RUSSIAN (a guide for Estonian children)

    • From what I’ve gathered it was done by one of the nation-wide channels and it’s one of the series of educational(???) videos (like public service announcements) that they aired ahead of some major talent or musical…either show or competition or festival. This particular video (7th in the series) was intended to promote Estonian as a national language (fighting the pockets of Russian hold-overs). After it received wide coverage and quite a bit of backlash, I think the organizers or the commissioners of the video tried to backpedal and say it was intended as a joke or a satire, but it’s not particularly clear whom they are satirizing (I doubt they would be ridiculing Estonian nationalism vis a vis Russia, esp at the time when Estonia is freaking out about being the next Ukraine on Putin’s quest to rebuild the Roman Empire).
      Still, my biggest issue with it is a dozen of logical fallacies, particularly the concept of someone going on vacation to a country where everybody is a fascist (especially the kind that hates your country above all others, which presumably would have been indoctrinated in tandem).
      PS-I can imagine US tea party folks making such a video about speaking Spanish in America, only about Mexican immigrants vs Spanish tourists.

  1. Anna, I am wrong quite often when watching Eastern European TV and commercials. But maybe you are using too much western logic? 😉 I wish I were more articulate. All I can think in my little American mind is someone people got their jobs through nepotism. Brains were not a great requirement. Racism or stereotyping has become such a common way of thinking, no one gives it a second thought. It is just taken for granted as truth. Seriously. These non-logical commercials are not shocking to me anymore.

    • Haha, perhaps I am. But I have always been one of those people who latches on to logical continuity, like when the Weasley house was burned down (this never happens in the book) in the 6th Harry Potter movie but then appears totally as was (and fire (or repairs) is never referenced) in the 7th. But flying brooms totally don’t bother me :)))

      • I think we all like to latch onto certain logic an ignore others. The ones that suit us most are held onto. I am pretty sure that is a Social Science norm. Ethnocentrism and racism along with scapegoating go along with all the commercial issues. They also go along with Witches hate of Mudbloods as well as the hate for Muggles… or vise versa!

  2. Honey, you are overcomplicating this. Estonians hate Russians and are not afraid to show it. the US has always sponcored encouraged and backed up any anti Russian sentiment in the Baltics (or any other country for that matter) and similiar situations already have taken place : there was a commercial on an estonian online dictionary that openly said “now buy this dictionary if you are a true Estonian and not a tibla(slur term for Russians)” and all hooligans/gansgters are usually called “tibla” in Estonian dubbing of the movies. it will laways be like this and yes it sucks and most westerners wont understand your complains. in this specfic short film Estonians are instructed to treat Russians badly and humiliate them unless they are tourists who came to bring their rmoney. the boy in the movie is probably a Russian kid living in Estonia whos parents have a slave mentality that they let their kid do this commercial. estonians have poked fun at russians for years. no they are not supposed to be tolerant, open minded and expect Russians to accept their culture. instead they brainwash the russian kids with guilt and shame so that eventually the kids will just assimiliate into the estonian culture out of fear of being discriminated. if Id be a russian living in Estonia, Id just move out

    • “Estonians hate Russians and are not afraid to show it.”
      And Estonians want to improve the relations with Russia,use its ports and invite more tourists.And I sure it will really “help” to improve the relationship between two countries.
      “in this specfic short film Estonians are instructed to treat Russians badly and humiliate them unless they are tourists who came to bring their money.”
      I`m sure that Russian tourists will “certainly visit” Estonia right after watching this video.
      “if Id be a russian living in Estonia, Id just move out”
      No.If I be a russian living in Estonia,Id pass the language exams get the Estonian citizenship and call the European court of human rights and Eu Commission to investigate such things.

    • Estonian TV.”Russians are fucking subhumans who had to be treated like a swines!”
      So it is really funny?
      P.S.I am not “pure” Russian,my mom is Altayan but such treatment towards Russians in Estonia is really sad.I will never visit such country.I will better visit Finland where people know what the tolerance is,despite we have not the best relationships between our countries.

    • There is no any humor here.Russians are f***cking subhumans for Estonians but they want to get money from Russian tourists at the same time.European court of human rights have a lot of work there.But now they are too busy to work with “Russian dictatorship” and breaking out the Russian state but not with the human rights.

  3. Anna,
    you know that all of this is a wonderful bunch of illogical “bulls***t”. Although I have a logical explanation for all of your points, I think there is no need to waste words on it.

    Truth is, this video is – poor -propaganda itself, it doesn’t need to have any logic, it simply needs to have inputs of destructive patriotism (that kind of patriotism that leads to Fascism for instance) and it is already targeted for a certain public, who will be able to find the logic of all this and make it meaningful. I am sure that this commercial has raised disappointment also in Estonia, I am sure it is certainly not approved and applauded by many.

    A part of Estonia wants to raise its voice against Russia, no matter what, and is trying to remove, disregard or hate a part of its own history by doing this kind of things instead of embracing it and trying to make the best out of it (and I am talking only about everyday’s life and relationships between individuals, not about current political and economical affairs).

  4. Its fun to watch how Estonians are trying to bark towards Russia.Just look the story with Ust Luga.This is the new and big port on Baltic Sea which steal most of the cargo ships from Estonian ports.Now most of the ships,cargo and money flows through the Ust Luga but not through Tallinn.
    Estonian barking was funny.They shout about ecology concerns,Vod people “discrimination”(with a situation of thousands estonian Russians being discriminated) whose villages became too close to the port zone,and finally they became to shout the truth:Russian port ruined Estonian ports economies.
    Now the Estonians are trying to deal with Russians about the improving the railway from Estonia to Ust Luga and using the Ust Luga port for Estonian ships.
    But they are making such videos and making the army parades near the border at the same time.Of course it will help to “improve” the relationships between two countries.

      • Ok,so thats why ukrainians and moldovans who chose the “european way” but migrating to Russia for work should leave it immediately.And Estonians and another Baltic states residents should turn out all Russian tourists who bring them money every year.Thats will be real justice!

  5. I suggest you use translate.google and learn that the video along with others in this series goes under the title “Naked Truth”. A quick research on the internet showed that these videos are dedicated to various hot social topics, including xenophobia. So, I guess, this particular video that you are so furious about and quick to make judgements is just on that.

    • that really doesnt matter under what pretence they released that video. what it does it stirs up xenophobia even more but people in the Baltics have a hard time accepting the fact that they do propagate a lot of hatred against Russians or maybe you think they deserve it. If Germany made a similiar short film about a german vs turkish kid or smth like that Id be utterly ashamed.

      • Well, you seem to miss the point that the video is exactly about how stupid being a xenophobe is.
        I don’t know if you ever heard of Danish cartoonist Herluf Bidstrup (was quite popular in the Soviet countries) – he had a cartoon showing white people enjoying music played on the street by a black guy and then beating up that same guy for just sitting on a bench in the park next to a white person. Would you be ashamed of a similar cartoon if it involved Germans and Turks or would you recognize it as bitter political criticism?
        The whole stir-up arises from “an article in Russian that does a bit of explaining” and quite a biased explaining, I would say.

        • Ok, I think everybody is taking this waaaay too seriously, and I am definitely not furious over the ad – but still confounded by it. I don’t see how in the world this ad works as an anti-xenophobia PSA because if it was going to carry THAT premise to its logical conclusion, it would have the girl yell about Russians invading Estonia, or something, when she finds out that the boy is a tourist. As I said, whatever its original ambitions, this video makes no sense whatsoever (and also, satirizing anti-Russian xenophobia seems implausible at a time when almost weekly senior Estonian officials express concerns about Russia’s potential expansion and covert war).

          • you re absolutely right. this video does nothing but make the situation worse but such is estonian humour I guess…

      • I deleted and reposted it up-thread because it was meant as a reply to your first comment but originally – dont know why – it showed up as an unlinked comment.

    • Who in the world is gonna get the “you should get on with the local people!” message from that ad? If anything it’s a “be nice tourists” message? I don’t know. Also, it is PRECISELY the presence of “native” Russians/Russian-speakers in Estonia that is seen as the excuse that Putin would start covert operations there. So yeah… those two actually ARE linked. The whole production is illogical. Which is pretty much the point of my post (personally I am still stuck on the Russian family that takes its kids to fascist-land for a holiday).

      • This is not for tourists and this is not how to treat tourists. This is how not to treat locals. Russia was very diligent to interpret this to its liking.
        We know very well that hostile local minorities are a threat to our security and understand that local Russians have to be integrated. And if something is an excuse for Putin then it is his doing and not the doing of the “excuse” itself. Or do you expect us to break any relations with our good, kind and bright Russian colleagues, friends and neighbours just because Putin might see them as an “excuse”?

        • well many do that. but you re right in the way that Putin will make up any excuse if he wants to invade the Baltics. I mean there were no russians in czech republic in 1968 but russia still went there because they were “invited”

          • Invade a NATO member country and start a Third world war?I think you are paranoid.
            There are too cathegories of idiots:Russophobes and Russia haters.And after talking with you,my Baltic “friends” I realized that you belong to first ones.Congratats!

        • Sorry but you already broke your relations with Russian tourists,colleagues, friends and neighbours by making such videos like this.

  6. I’d like to break this down using Sicilian logic if I may:
    1. Foreigners are all weird, because they’re foreign
    2. Nobody would go on holiday somewhere cold so it’s obvious he’s not really a tourist
    3. Nobody would let either of those kids out without their Mamma and Papa to protect them
    4. Therefore they must be aliens in disguise
    5. Aliens are a type of foreigners, therefore they are weird.
    6. Return to item 1.

    • See? This is what I was looking for! The aliens are always at fault 😉 All your points make total sense and follow a perfect logical sequence.

  7. I watched that video far too long trying to understand a word or two! for the record, none. none of the words I knew from her fast-talking assault. and I even knew she wasn’t being nice to him! ha. poor boy. sheesh. just this morning justin was telling me about this article: http://deredactie.be/cm/vrtnieuws.english/News/1.2263514 where some guy complained about British Airways’ not speaking dutch on his flight when they spoke in english and french..was it REALLY necessary for parliament AND a news article?! heh.

    • OMG it is SUCH a different language. When the German and I tried to do some grocery shopping there, we couldnt understand a single word on the labels. It’s not similar to anything…. and phonetically as much as written.

  8. Maybe I write little late but this video is not propaganda or anything. It was made for entertainment. In the short series (where this video is from), children acted as stereotypical Estonias, in real life Estonians are not like that at all. Those children acted as adults (it was funnier that way).

    To answer for your questions:
    there are some schools in Estonia where students learn in Russian because the Russian population is quite high in some parts of Estonia. There are many Russian-speaking Estonians who do not speak Estonian at all (and yes, that includes children too). There are a city (Narva) where you most likely hear Russian more often that Estonian, if you go to a shop it’s more likely that the shopkeeper says “hello” in Russian rather than in Estonian.

    The answer to the question that how this girl could speak Russian is easy: Most chldren learn Russian as third language. In Estonian school you have to learn Estonian, English and Russian, German or French (most of them learn Russian and there is only few schools wher you can choose French instead).

    Why the guy from Murmansk didn’t go to Turkey or Bali? Maybe he didn’t have that much money or he simply didn’t want to. In this winter I went to Stockholm, Sweeden, it was cold there but I still liked it. Everybody have their own taste.

    There are many russians who say that estonians are fascists. Russia occupied Estonia after WW2 but Russian government says that they helped us to get free of Germans. So there are some russians who believe that if we say that, it means we would have liked to say under Germanys rule and that would make us fascists. Actually Estonia wanted to be independent.

    Sorry, my English is not the best.

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