João Lopes Marques* (Eesti keeles)
"Blablabla..." This is an amazing word: "Blablabla..." It can also be a sentence if we decide to slow it down: "Bla, bla, bla..." As you probably know, this is one of the Estonian favourite ways to depict Southerners like the author of this column. This blablabla-caricature is particularly used by Estonian male patriots: aliens came here just to hook up local girls with their blablabla expertise...
According to this mentality — let's call it angle, instead — Estonians are much more silent people. Observers they are. Though much-much more reliable. They speak by their acts; they act through their examples. And if the doubt prevails, an old local proverb explains everything: "Words are silver, but silence is gold."
I may agree these are beautiful and poetic images. Just a pity they also help to hide one of Estonian biggest social problems: I am writing about the ubiquitous lack of communication. Interpersonal and social communication.
Serious stuff, since it can undermine one's existence here: most of my hazards here were a direct consequence of the systematic — and sometimes proudly — absence of words. From the lack of communication between relatives ("I haven't spoken with my father for a year and I don't know here he lives"), between lovers ("He is not able to share feelings and when he arrives home he just wants to surf in cars websites") to the lack of communication between Estonian- and Russian-speaking doctors in the hospitals ("You need a small operation and don't be afraid because this is a normal procedure").
The latter once happened to me. An unnecessary surgery, I mean. Another funny case? Once I woke up with all windows of my flat completely wrapped up. The building went under restoration and nobody let me know. Nobody informed me that I would live in total darkness for two months.
Last week I had another major evidence of the lack of verbal-non-verbal communication this country suffers from: after my Estonian Air Tallinn-Kuressaare flight was cancelled "due to technical problems", I noticed how relaxed everybody was. A man traveling the next row confessed me it was the fifth time such a thing was happening to him this year.
Instead of 45 minutes, we needed almost five hours to reach our destination. What's wrong? Absolutely normal, told me an airline officer: "As long as we offer an alternative to our passengers... You will reach your destination tonight", communicated a gentlemen from Estonian Air call center. Not many people protested: a senior Finnish guy and I, maybe one or two Estonians. Ridiculously, Estonian Air didn't even want to distribute meal vouchers to the trapped passengers. After pressing them twice, I finally got mine — meagre 75 EEK — to have an extra dinner on my long way to Saaremaa.
In fact, I've the impression my Estonian friends are more and more concerned about the communication issue. Look at the euro: Estonia is about to adopt it but very few raise their voices against the anorectic diet Estonian state made to have public finances in good shape to adopt the single currency.
Do you remember the first OECD recommendation after Estonia became a member of this rich club early this month? Something like "Estonia faces a serious challenge in the form of rising poverty among unemployed people and pensioners. The government needs urgently to find ways to stave off major hardship".
And what do we see? More and more people are convinced a good demonstration could help. No, I am not for Greek-isaton of Estonian society. Street violence leads nowhere and Greece — like my native Portugal — committed too many mistakes in the last decades.
Yet Estonian frustration is directly proportional to individual patience. Silence. Are Estonians still traumatized by Soviet Union terror practices? Was independence achievement fulfilling enough? Is this a consequence of the pagan-atheist-ultra-pragmatism? Does a small country provokes the fear of being caught in a faux pas?
From the Finns — whose Welfare State communication skills have improved lately — people joke they invented SMS in order not to speak to each others. At least they invented an alternative mechanism: they write something to each others... That's why Estonian silence is somehow enigmatic.
Since blablabla vocable was invented by the Greeks some three thousand years ago, I accept it's not the most popular thing in these days of crisis. Words don't come easy? OK, but trust me: when used in a proper context, the right word can make all the difference. Can be as powerful as silence. Solve complicated problems.
It's the difference between success and fail; happiness and angst.
*João Lopes Marques is the author of "Minu ilus eksiil Eestis".