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Estonia Customs & Etiquettes

Estonian culture as an identity is very strong. Oral traditions especially have played a key role in preserving traditions, stories and customs during Soviet administration. Singing is a very Estonian activity and the Estonians are known to have sung their way to freedom during the "Singing Revolution" of 1989-91.

Estonia is a hierarchical society. Age, experience and position earn respect. Older people are generally viewed as wiser and as a result revered and honoured. Elders are introduced first and in general are treated much like royalty. Those in senior positions bear the responsibility to make decisions in the interest of the group. Due to seniority titles are very important when addressing people. It is expected that you will use a person's title and their surname until invited to use their first name.

The family is still the central focus of social life. The make up of the family is usually "nuclear" in cities and "extended" in rural areas although this is a slight generalisation. Family ties and very close which means newly weds will often live with parents until on their feet and the old are generally looked after rather than put in care homes.

Estonians on the whole are quiet and reserved. They tend to speak softly and do not like to draw attention to themselves. Being rational, calm and not going to emotional extremes are all qualities that respected. At first Estonians can come across as aloof. Once a relationship warms up this becomes less so.

Meeting & Greeting

Greetings can come across as rather formal and rather reserved. Men should initiate greetings with women and the younger person always greets the older person. When meeting someone make sure you are stood up, offer direct eye contact and give a nice firm handshake. The most common greeting is "tere" ("hello").

Titles are very important. "Härra" is for Mr, "Prova" is Mrs and "Preili" is Miss. All should be followed with the surname. Only use first names once you have been invited to do so.

Gift Giving Etiquette

Gifts are usually exchanged for birthdays and at Christmas. Gifts need not be expensive as it is more about the thought than monetary worth.

If you are invited to an Estonian's house, a decent gift is a bring a box of chocolates or flowers. Flowers should be given in odd numbers. Gifts are usually opened when received.

Dining Etiquette

Do arrive on time as punctuality is expected. Call if running late. Check to see if shoes are being worn in the house. Do not expect a tour of the house – homes are private. You are advised to dress conservatively.
Try and offer to help the hostess with the preparation or clearing up after a meal is served. This will be turned down but is nonetheless polite.

Do not discuss business and reciprocate any hospitality received.

Table Mannerism

Table manners are relatively formal in Estonia. Remain standing until invited to sit down.

Table manners are Continental, i.e. the fork is held in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating. Do not begin eating until the hostess starts or someone says "head isu" ("good appetite").

Avoid resting your elbows of the table. Do compliment the hostess on the meal and try to finish everything on your plate.




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