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Finns and Estonians, two very different ways of wife-carrying

By João Lopes Marques (Eesti keeles)

It’s an usual remark. “I bet in Estonian there is a huge rivalry between locals and Russian girls”, always hint my foreign friends after a couple of days in Tallinn. “Not really...”, I reply. Of course, I could add Russians believe Estonians are not hot enough and Estonians mock Russians because they dress like a Christmas Tree.

However, all in all, fair-play and respect prevails. And that’s an admirable achievement in this society. Somehow, Estonians and Russian sense they are not direct competitors: nowadays, Estonian men very seldom favour Russian girls and I have known very few local Russian men who end up with an Estonian partner.

For the worse and for the better: one country, two systems. Full integration is still a mirage. Actually, when it comes to competition — really serious and stiff competition — Estonians love to challenge the Finns. It seems to me that harmony in the Gulf of Finland is not a project for tomorrow. For the distant alien it can even turn into a soap-opera-like discussion.

Indeed, the silliest arguments can pop up as early October mushrooms.

From the Finnish side, three top sentences:

● “Estonian girls love to steal Finnish men...”
● “They look nice, but you don’t want to end up with a stripper;
● “Would you want to be with someone like Anu Saagim?”;
● “It’s a pity Estonian girls are not independent...”

From the Estonian side I’ve heard a slightly wider range:

● “Finnish girls? OK, but be prepared for some kilos here and there...”
● “Huh, those girls are just spoilt by money...”
● “Nothing against, but why do they insist in drinking and smoke like men?”
● “They should improve their taste and think twice about their haircuts...”
● “Even if they have H&M and can afford good clothes, they still don’t care about what they wear...” 

Prejudice and stereotypes abound in large amounts. “Remember that close relatives can be the cruelest between themselves”, I try explain my guests. “Bear in mind there are nearly 40,000 Estonians living in Finland and something like 7,000 or 8,000 Finns here... Moreover, Helsinki lies 62 miles from Tallinn...”

Paradoxically, History determined that two countries that share the same romantic anthem, plus founding Kalev, belong to two very different cosmogonies. Somehow, Finland represents what Estonia could had been without Soviet occupation. It’s not easy to digest such a gap, but I guess lately I’ve discovered the perfect metaphor.

Wife-carrying championships, of course. I start believing alll Finnish-Estonian problematics is enclosed there:

● The original course is a rough and rocky terrain with fences and brooks, a perfect analogy of the über-Nordic harsh geography;
● The competition takes after a 19th century Finnish thief called Rosvo-Ronkainen, whose accomplices specialized in the fine art of stealing women;
● There is some romance in the air: in wife-carrying races husband and wife are teammates;
● Intuitive understanding of the signals sent by the partner are absolutely essential to win;
● Despite the fact there are every year a dozen of countries represented, just Estonians can compete and fully understand the meaning of this Finnish-born competition;
● Being five times smaller than its inventors, Estonians have won it more times in the last decade;
● Even the Finns are giving up their two original styles (piggyback and fireman’s carry) to embrace the Estonian-style (the wife hangs upside-down with her legs around the husband’s shoulders, holding onto his waist).

This said, I must underline the last champions were a Finnish couple again, the ultimate proof there isn’t still a clear conclusion about the ultimate model. If, on one hand, living in a perfect Welfare State (Finland) can push people towards a dangerous comfort zone, on the other hand, present-day social wilderness (Estonia) is pushing lots of youngster overseas. Needless to say, I’m crossing my fingers for the Estonian-style to win. It’s bolder and riskier. Sharper and sexier. Feminine.

However, it’s far from being clear who’s going to be the victor. This specific competition takes more than 250 meters: the answer to this tension will come just in one generation or two. In the meantime, plenty of time for Gulf of Finland girls to distillate creative jokes about each others.

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brilliant dude!

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