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Photo by: Kadi-Liis Koppel

Five useful things to know about Estonians

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By Jae Jensen  •  03.04.2019

When it comes to practical information, travelling to Estonia is like visiting most other European countries. There are a couple of tips, however, that will help you make sense of the customs in Tallinn and beyond. 

Small talk

Estonia is a country where the saying ‘speech is silver, but silence is golden’ rings especially true. After first arriving, you might notice your taxi driver’s stoic lack of conversation. It’s probably not that they aren’t friendly or don’t speak English (because most Estonians do, along with a bunch of other languages), but that they aren’t used to making small talk. There’s a sort of societal agreement that if you don’t have anything important to say, then it’s preferable to be quiet, especially among strangers. 

As you can imagine, this can make getting to know locals a challenge. Don’t be discouraged though. If you find yourself next to an Estonian in a bar or café, ask them how to pronounce something off the menu – Põhlaja brewery’s porter Öö is always a hit – and prepare for a mini language lesson. 

Tipping

You’ve just finished a glorious meal in one of Tallinn’s raved about restaurants, and you’re feeling full and content until the bill comes. You panic: should I tip, and if so, how much? 

The answer is that it depends. Tipping is not required, and a tip will not be included in the bill at most restaurants, but if you’re happy with your waiter’s service, a 10% tip is polite. When paying by card, do keep in mind that it’s not usually possible to add a tip electronically, so a bit of cash comes in handy. Places you don’t need to tip – and might confuse people by doing so – include bars, cafés, valet parking, salons, self-serve restaurants and anywhere without table service. 

Digital services

Speaking of tipping, this is one of the only occasions in Estonia where you’ll need cash. Estonia has one of the world’s most advanced e-Governments, and Estonians like to do as much electronically as possible. Nearly every establishment accepts card payments. In fact, they’re preferred over cash. If you pay with cash in a bus, the driver might seem slightly annoyed while trying to make change and drive simultaneously. The solution is to buy a green transport card which you can load with money online and swipe at orange validators inside any tram, trolley, bus or train. Bonus tip: If you have a Tallinn Card sightseeing pass, free transport is already included. Who likes fussing with paper tickets anyway?  

Punctuality

When you agree to meet an Estonian at 2 o’clock, it means they will be waiting for you at two on the dot. They will probably be there a few minutes early actually. If you haven’t arrived by two past two, you’ll receive a concerned call or message. So, if you’re running late, be sure to let the other person know. Being fashionably late is a custom reserved for casual parties and large gatherings. On the bright side, you can count on things like public transport to run like clockwork. 

Nature

For centuries, Estonians have believed in the health benefits of spending time in nature. Even today, the most metropolitan Tallinners itch to leave the city once every few weeks. You’ll often hear people speak fondly of their country houses, where they escape to on weekends or for longer periods during the summers. Even a simple walk in a park, bog or along the coast in Tallinn is enough to wash away day-to-day stress. 

Estonians don’t let a little less than perfect weather stop them from enjoying the fresh air, and neither should you. During your trip, embrace the mantra, ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing’. Dress in layers appropriate for the conditions, get out there and rain or shine, you’ll have a good time!

Read more about Tallinn and Estonians