by João Lopes Marques (Eesti keeles)
For a Portuguese who is raised in a culture of improvisation, The Netherlands was quite a traumatic home. There is a small word Dutch people love: "agenda." Still nowadays when I am planning things with my good friends in Amsterdam I have to allow one or two weeks. The most common sentence I heard while living in Amsterdam was "Let me check my agenda..."
On top it seems they make it on purpose: the pronunciation must be very guttural so that underlines the rational power of the etym. "Agenda" is the Dutch — and Germanic, and Scandinavian — symbol of organization. I am also extremely cautious every time I pass by Vienna, Berlin or Zurich: life must be thought in advance and never ever cancel a meeting just because you are in bad mood, bumped into a ex-girlfriend or forgot about that national team match on TV.
You risk losing a friend.
This is why Estonian spontaneousness was quite a big surprise for me. Four years after settling in my Medievalandia, I can even bet this is one of the most spontaneous countries in Europe. In spite of their Nordic phlegmatism, Estonians follow their impulses without too many external constraints. This is free-will. Plenty of cases in daily life: Triin decides to hitchhike to Viljandi; Peep prefers not to set an exact time; Piret ends up in Sirle's birthday party without being invited; Toomas changes his mind and buys a last minute package to Antalya; Marju meets a Spanish boy in Raekoja Plats and moves to Barcelona.
More importantly, such a freedom exercise doesn't make Estonia and Estonians too unpredictable. Not at all. I shouldn't disclose this, but it is my favourite quote. Once my Spanish friend Ramon confessed me: "My colleagues barely speak to me in the office... Then we get drunk together and we speak vaguely about future projects... Surprisingly, Estonians will stick to their not-very-sober promises..."
Let's face it: besides Jaanipäev in the countryside, the most commonly planned thing in Estonia is not to take the car to the party because of the alcohol restrictions. To be more spontaneous, perhaps.
Actually, I don't think the reasons for Estonian spontaneousness are so enigmatic. They are deep-rooted in individualism, besides all. A Finno-Ugric trait? Not necessarily: just look at the Finns and Finland. The Welfare State — by opposition to Estonian liberal model — can change everything. Plus, the Baltic independence: wasn't the "Singing Revolution" a quasi-spontaneous movement? To this aromatic bouquet I would add the lack of money and its consequent flexibility and the pagan search for hedonistic moments. Or, as Jaana puts it: "We want everything, and now!"
Of course, it's also about size: in Tallinn the see-you-around sentence really works.
Spontaneousness can also bring problems, naturally. If not served in homeopathic portions it can lead to despair. Still remember that week last year when some 4 or 5 Estonian friends cancelled meetings last minute. The justifications were sometimes very funny. Much beyond the typical "got a flu": "Sorry I had planned to pick berries with my grannies"; "Yesterday I got drunk till death"; "I just remembered that it's my turn to trim the grass"...
Work-wise it can also be complicated. Sometimes I feel Estonians are slightly less productive workers than they imagine. Optimization and maximization are not popular vocables here; if the weather turns better, half-Estonia disappears. But these are charming details: Estonian spontaneousness fits perfectly Portuguese improvisation.
Please, don't even dare to ask me if I prefer "Dutch agendas"...