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“Darling, I still don’t know...”

By João Lopes Marques (Eesti keeles)

People need positive feedback. Yet there are professions where recognition plays a crucial role. It’s pivotal: fast retroaction can be the balm for one’s motivation. Brings relief and self-confidence. Makes us dare. Try harder. Go beyond borders.

Can you imagine a performer, a journalist or a chef without daily feedback? Especially the latter: to cook for somebody is something very specific. It’s a unique experience that never repeats again. Yes, it’s the magic of the moment…

“But do you think Estonians care?”, shares with me Peeter, who happens to be one of the greatest chefs I’ve ever met. “Not at all. I try always my best but customers just ask me how they can cook the same dish in their domestic oven. About the food I prepare, not a single word. Moreover, everytime I ask if they enjoyed the meal, the answer is ‘väga normaalne’… And that’s because I asked!”

Truth be told, if I were Peeter I’d be extremely sad and frustrated. I’ve had my own experience as a writer in Estonia and feedback mechanisms are a mystery here. Peeter assures me he got used to the fact, but I think he didn’t: “It’s not about Nordicness, João. I’ve worked in Sweden and Denmark and Scandinavians react in a complete different way…”

It’s true: this väga-normaalne-thing seems to be an Estonian exclusive. Idyossincrasy. How come Estonians don’t use superlatives? Something like “Wow!”, “Great!” or “Brilliant!”? Frankly, I hate them in the mouth of an American pensioneer, although when said in the right time for the right reason they do operate change.

Fair superlatives can be powerful.

Hopefully, Peeter is a patriot: “Don’t get me wrong, João: we are a great country full of great people. If an Estonian guy tells you something is väga normaalne, or just normaalne, it’s because things were really good. The real enigma is the delay… Sometimes it comes too late…”

Peeter is correct: I myself I’m finally getting used to the local absence of superlatives. Everything is about expectations and I don’t have them anymore. What puzzles me nowadays is also the Estonian delay.

Friends who read me secretely and decide to share it with me in a random encounter at the fruit section of Rimi. Why not in the birthday party the week before? By email? As if they were denying such a fact till the moment they couldn’t resist anymore. As if they had overcome the tension not to voice it out.

Today I know Estonians judge differently. Somehow it’s quite charming and I live with the ultimate species: every time I travel with Age, I ask her if she's enjoying the trip. If she is liking the region we are visiting. Usually, she prefers to delay the answer: “Kallis, I still don’t know…” We can even be in Djemaa el-Fna, one of the most exotic places in the world, or in the best Portuguese beach, but… In my Latin euphoria, I still try to convince her during the starry dinner, but…

I gave up. Our brains are too different. Antagonic? Not necessarily: I want to tell myself that thing is amazing and close the subject deeply believing in it; she wants to keep analyzing, as if she is in a quest for the ultimate truth. What makes me conclude the väga-normaalne-thing is perhaps a temporary way to compliment without closing the topic.

Without compromising.

Of course, I acknowledge Estonians prefer deeds to words, though most forget when the good words don’t come, people imagine the negative ones. Silence can scream quite loud. Hurt.

Our lives occur very much in the present tense and I’d love to see friends like Peeter to stay in Estonia. Sometimes money is a powerful stabilizer, an important carrot, but we also know it’s not Estonia’s forte. Indeed, the greatest Estonians I have met do things for the sake of excellence. In the quest of self-fulfilment. Just to share their passion.

Because they believe in the future of their nation.

Let’s face it: to compliment other’s achievement is a cheap-yet-honest token we all carry in our pockets. Who am I to change such a beautiful word as “normaalne”? Nobody, you are right. But why not to replace the adjective “väga”? For something like “super” or “hyper”. Or even “mega”, if deserved, of course.

Still impossible?

Are people afraid of cynicism? Mere jealousy? Or stubbornness?

Huh… Why not to repeat “väga” more often as so many people do with “tere”? I believe Peeter would appreciate a “väga-väga normaalne” from time to time. Maybe his dishes would become even tastier. Tastier and tastier. The best in the world. For a sensitive person aiming excellence, obsessed with quality, the frontier is rather clear: approval can’t be neutral. It has to show emotions.

Just them to change the world.


Rocío disse…
Não tinha reparado nisso mas deve ser mesmo duro para um homem que cresceu num país no qual até os beijinhos são grandes -RISOS- ir parar à Estonia, onde o povo é austero na hora de elogiar.

Mas não esqueças (sei que sabes, só digo para não esqueceres)duas coisas:
1/ O "ilus eksiil eestis" é voluntário
2/ Há silêncios muito mais sinceros do que "grandes beijinhos" e louvores afectados

Em resumo: és grande, Kallis,... e adoras o frigo! ;-)
The sun and the clouds,
the blue sky and the gray sky,
the birch and the olive,
the endless ocean and the closed sea.
The way things are, Jonas...
The Man and his circunstances.
Heat and cold!...

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Foi interessante (e interessante é uma palavra interessante). No dia em que saí à rua com suíças tive de regressar a casa com estas canadianas. Ou melhor: com as canadianas amparando-me a mim e às suíças. Felizmente que não são mutuamente exclusivas.