It must be one representative of the Swedish speaking population in Finland…
Being just the proud owner of a new Canon Powershot SX210 camera, I have decided that I will start a new series of posts showing my random shoots during my walks all over the capital area (I hope to expand later to other places I will visit). So here are the first ones, taken today during this wonderful sunny sunday:
Sometimes reality is able to overcome fiction. This happened again at McDonalds restaurant in Ruoholahti a few days ago, where some people stole the statue of Ronald McDonald. I happen to know this McDonalds very well, becasue my office is just located in front of it, and often I stop by to grab something to eat (yes, I like fast food, and I am not ashamed to recognize it).
Some hours later, the kidnappers uploaded this video in Youtube. What do you think that will be the destiny of the poor Ronald?:
Ronald kidnapped from McDonalds at Ruoholahti
Very nice video that I discovered today if you like videogames history. By the way, it will open in Berlin during this month a museum dedicated just to videogames, a must see if you visit the nice German city!
Pixels by Patrick Jean”
Because not everybody can be Slash…
Guitar hero “Russian style”
I discovered by chance this video a couple of days ago, and I cannot take it out of my mind. The photography of Scottish landscapes is amazingly beautiful, the songs by The Jezabels and Loch Lomond are superb, I have been listening to them again and again, and the tricks from Danny on his bike are amazing to watch. A must see!
Danny MacAskill – Way Back Home
I have experienced it myself many times while living in Estonia (and sadly, also in Finland), and you can read the same opinion if you visit most of the expats blogs around: Estonian customer service sucks big time.
Usually, I could let it go. I would say that ok, it comes with the country, with the past history attached to Soviet Union where people did not need to be kind to the customers, with the coldness of the Estonian people… But what the fuck! This time I am going to write something about it, because everything has a limit.
Yesterday, after assisting to a wonderful housewarming party held by an American and an English friend, I visited with some of the people a bar in Tartu called Illegaard (that happens to be owned also by another Englishman). This bar is actually a wonderful place, nice to sit and talk, with a fuzzball (I am addicted to the game) table and different events through the week. I have to say clearly that this entry does not go against the bar per se, but against the attitude of some Estonian people when giving customer service.
The point is that I went close to the desk where the waitresses were serving, and I was not even going to order any drink, but just some coins to play fuzzball later. I saw some people waiting on the right side of the desk, and an empty space on the left, so I did what a normal human being would do in most of the bars in the world, to stand waiting for my turn in the empty space.
I noticed after a few minutes that the other people were served before me. I shut up my mouth and waited patiently. I know how the philosophy of the waiters and waitresses is in these countries, if they believe you arrived later, they will ignore you until they consider that it is your turn, totally different from Spain where everybody waves to them in a packed venue to catch their attention and get a drink (it is the jungle law there). But once again, I accept I am not in Spain, and that the people on the right could have preference, so I keep on waiting.
I keep on waiting and waiting, but started to realize that I was never served after 15 minutes and new people coming were served before me. One of these new people was a friend of mine. I just commented that it seemed the waitresses did not want to serve me, and one of them, because believe me, in this country you will always find a smart ass, told me that there was a queue. I did not insult her or insult anybody, but I am Spaniard and sorry, we discuss things when we do not consider them fair. I said that I did not see anywhere written to wait in the queue, and even though, I waited patiently for long minutes. Was that a kind of punishment that I should wait 1 hour for breaking the “rules” and not waiting on the other side of the desk?
The answer of the waitress was that I should relax or go out of the bar. Yeah… she threatened me to be kicked out of the bar, ladies and gentlemen! I was not wasted, not insulting, not creating trouble, but because I opened my mouth and said that it was not the way things should be done, I became a “persona non grata”… I suppose that if you are a Latino person, you could understand my pain. We come from a culture where we TALK and gesticulate to make our point. In Estonia, that seems to be the land of the smart ass people, because everybody seemed to know better than you about everything, you can die of frustration while they talk to you in a cold tone like if you would be a little child who has behaved bad for opening the mouth and telling your view on things…
I have experienced awful customer service when buying a bus ticket in a R-Kioski, when they returned very late my lost suitcase after a flight and they phoned me in a tone that seemed like it would almost be my fault to have it lost, when waiting for a meal to arrive in a restaurant for hours… but everything has a limit. I have news for you, Estonian people who attend clients with an angry face like if you would be sucking a lemon, you are in European Union nowadays, and foreign people expect more of a human behaviour from you. And if you do not like it, go and quit your job. You can always go to a farm to masturbate animals, that surely will be much more grateful clients.
My dear waitress, I honestly do not care about your low or high wages, the drunkards who disturb you every night, if you split up with your boyfriend or girlfriend the previous night or if you did not pass an exam. As a youngster, I did a lot of shitty jobs myself to pay my studies where I had to deal with customers face to face, and a smile and politeness were the rule nr. 1. Maybe the sentence “The client is always right” does not apply in Estonia, but it happens to be true in most of the other European countries. I happen to be an editor of a small online magazine who writes here just part time as a hobby, but I could perfectly have been the editor of Lonely Planet looking for the coolest places in Tartu, and after you fucked up my mood that night, my dear waitress, your establishment would have lost hundreds of potential customers. Would your boss be happy about it?
Taking advantage of the long Easter weekend (yes, miracle, Friday was a national holiday in Estonia. Not that you have many chances through the year of enjoying long week ends in Estonia…) I decided to visit Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, and the only country in the Baltic-Scandinavian region where I had not been yet.
The trip was long, 4 hours by bus to Riga and another 4 from Riga to Vilnius, but worthy. My Finnish friend Ilkka flew from Helsinki to join me, and there we met at Old Town Hostel. I must say that the double room we had was excellent. Actually, one could feel like having a hotel room, because it was separated from the rest of the hostel, and we had our own key to go in and out whenever we wanted withouth disturbing anybody. The price was fair, so I reccommend it.
We wandered during the weekend mostly around the old town, so I cannot say much of the rest of the city. But I liked a lot what I saw there. The city is clean, the buildings are in good shape, and the atmosphere is charming. The nightlife was sadly quite dead, due to many people having escaped from the city for the holidays, but even though, we found a couple of bars where to have fun. We settled our operational base for the night especially at the University Pub. But during those days there, most probably there were more people going to church than to bars. And it is amazing the amount of churches you can find in a few square metres! In every corner there is a church in old Vilnius! Even if you are not a religious person, you cannot less than admire the special atmosphere that this gives to the city.
About Lithuanian people, I must say that in general they were pretty friendly, even better than expected. Girls actually smile you easily at the bars, and are very eager to have a conversation (I would say that maybe more friendly than Estonian girls, who usually give you the look of “do not disturb me foreigner, I prefer to talk with the local guy who looks like a retired boxer” when going out at night. But also Lithuanian guys (ok, those who are not 2 metres high and look like serial killers) were quite friendly, and we had the chance to chat with quite many of them while sharing some beers.
As a final remark, do not make the mistake to confuse Lithuanian language with Russian language (It happened to me once, sorry!!!). In Vilnius, only around 9% of the population is Russian speaker, and the local Lithuanians do not take very well the comparisons. In that sense, they are probably less welcoming than in the other Baltic capitals, where Russian speakers are more widely spread among the local population.
If you still have not visited Vilnius and are thinking about a possible weekend destination, do not think it twice. Prices are affordable, the city looks good and pretty safe, the people are friendly… and the women pretty ;)
For those of you who are Spanish speakers, here I send you a link from a Spanish website called “El Blog del Becario” that has a section where they feature Spanish people living around the world. It was my turn some weeks ago, so you can see some pictures of Tartu, the city where I live at the present moment, and get to know a bit more about Estonia and my life there. Enjoy it!
My Finnish friend Ilkka visited me last week to drive to Riga to see Rammstein concert, and when we were back in Tartu, he showed me the most hilarious German video I have ever seen! (Ok, actually it is made by Swedish).
I introduce you the almighty Schlangemann!!!
Advisory: It contains explicit sexual content.
I went out yesterday night with an English friend in Tartu. We started the night at Club Tallinn, which brings me good memories of my student years in the city, when we used to go there pretty often on Wednesdays with the other students from the dormitory.
Some thoughts came to my mind after last night: first of all that I should try to go to other clubs where people are older. I was feeling like in a kindergarten there, and it is not that cool when everybody around looks like 6-7 years younger that you. Luckily, my English friend is even older than me…
Secondly, that I do not like that stupid rule that most of the clubs have that many nights (like yesterday) men have to pay the entrance fee while is free for the women. It is a much extended practice in Estonia, and for me, it is plain discrimination. I understand the reasons of the managers to do that: so pretty girls would go to the club, and then guys are attracted by them so they will come too and spend more money on drinks. But if we want an equalitarian society, that should apply to everything. I have not read any single voice that has been raised against these kinds of things in the media, and I think it is intolerable, but nobody seems to care. What would happen if next week, in the cafeteria down my work the meals would be free for men but women had to pay? A bunch of feminist associations would come immediately in rage… but well, this seems to be the way it is here, and we can take it or leave it…
Third, that the drinks are too expensive. We are talking about a club located in the same building that a student dormitory, with very young audience. Come on guys, having to pay 65 crowns for a small glass of rum with coke is not cool, even more now in crisis times. But take also into account that in Estonia there seem to be a big culture of “showing off”. Estonian guys will pay the drinks in the club, and dress like if they would live in Melrose Place, and for the rest of the week they will be eating pasta at home with no money to do shopping. That happens when MTV culture collides with low wages…
And in general, I realized that I do not like much the social dynamics of nightclubs in Estonia. True, for a man like me, it is very nice to watch 100 hot young girls dressed to kill around. But after a while, you realize that it is not really that fun. People are not very accessible to talk to, everybody is looking at everybody, but nobody interacts with others than the old friends. Girls just walk around showing their latest acquired mini dress, but they have a sign that seems to say “look but not touch”, with a very cold attitude, and boys are not really very friendly either for a conversation, and not very subtle when hitting on girls. Actually, the few times I could have a nice conversation in a club in Estonia usually take place in the smoking room. So if you want to have a bit of social interaction, you will have to sacrifice the health of your lungs.
I bet that at the end of the night, 95% of the people who went to the club left with the same group of friends, and without having made any new acquaintances. At least, I remember in my younger years when visiting a club in Spain that at the end of the night you could see many new couples around the corner kissing. I am a defender of “make love, not war”, so I find that much better than fighting in the streets. But in the club, you could hardly see anybody making out or having real fun in a conversation. Everybody dressed up, everybody expecting somebody else to make a move…nothing happening, boring. And because of the price of drinks being so high, most of them, being just young students, could not even allow themselves to have a glass in their hands.
On a more positive side of the night, I have to say that after that, I visited Genialistide Club for first time in my life, and I liked the atmosphere there very much. I actually do not know why I have not gone there before. I ended the night in Zavood, another mythical bar in Tartu, and I can say that in both bars I have in a few minutes many more interesting conversations with new people I was introduced that in all the previous hours at the nightclub. The usual crowd in those bars are much more relaxed and open minded, and although of course there can be some asshole like in everywhere, it is usually easy to have a nice talk while playing a fuzzball game or just ordering a beer on the desk. Not mentioning that prices are really much cheaper there.
I am reading nowadays The Girl Who Played With Fire, the second book of Millenium trilogy, the worldwide phenomena written by the Swedish (and unfortunately deceased) journalist Stieg Larsson. In this book, there are continuous references to Tallinn, the Estonian capital, as a source for prostitutes and drugs that are transported into Sweden.
A couple of days ago, I took again the ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn. Those ferries are daily crowded by mostly Finnish passengers that make a break of 1 or 2 days to visit Estonia and buy massive amounts of alcoholic drinks, being the prices much cheaper than in Finland. This trend has become so popular that has literally boosted Estonia as one of the European countries at the top ranking of selling alcoholic beverages. But the visit of the Finnish “cousins” is received with mixed feelings by the Estonians. On one hand, obviously it is good for the economy. On the other hand, it reminds me of what happens in Spain year after year with the British tourists: they misbehave badly, cursing, breaking things and puking around the corner; a behavior that they would hardly do in their native country. No wonder that for many Estonians, Finnish tourists have become “persona non grata” here.
I also remember 4 years ago the orientation speeches that foreign students received at Tartu University. I was there as exchange student from Tampere University for one semester. A female Finnish student emphasized to a crowded room that men should be careful and use protection in sexual relations, because Estonian girls were well known to be not “very faithful” (yes, she literally said that).
I am not the best example for researching sexual behaviors of females in both countries, but well, after a few years living both in Finland and Estonia, and talking to many male foreigners, I can tell you that most of them could have something to say about the Finnish women as not exactly either an example of chastity or faithful behavior with their partners. Actually, in a recent study, Finnish women were heading the ranking of one night stands around Europe:
I know that these kinds of studies are usually twisted, but yet, you can always try yourself in the Finnish nightlife and see the results… So it seems that it is easier to accuse the neighbor instead of taking a look at what happens in your own borders. It is dangerous if Finnish people start to catalogue these behaviors like a “manifestation of the women´s power to decide how to enjoy their sexuality” or like “morally incorrect” depending on what side of the Baltic Sea they happen. Actually, I can say that, yes, it is true that Estonian girls like dressing more feminine than for example Finnish girls, but at the same time, most of Estonian women I have talked to turned to be witty, friendly and down to Earth. Not really the stereotype of woman that could go trolling for a foreigner with a wallet full of euro (although unfortunately, my wallet is usually pretty empty so I could not even test that in the field).
The point that annoys me is the distorted view that still prevails in Scandinavian countries towards Estonia. For many of their citizens, Estonia is just a country where you can get cheap booze, easy girls and go gambling. I do not deny that you can find those things in Estonia, but there is much more than that.
It would be worth a combined effort by Estonian government and Scandinavian governments to change that stereotypical view of Estonia and promote all the many nice activities that this country has to offer. Meanwhile, Tallinn will continue being named in best-selling books as a cradle for prostitution or a place where to buy cheap vodka, and not a destination to see amazing cultural events like a Metallica concert or the Ice Skating European Championships. And I do not think that is the best kind of marketing that Estonia can have to attract more visitors…
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A few days ago, I woke up early after an exhausting week of hard work in Vantaa to catch the Eckero Line ferry at 8:00 that would bring me back to Estonia. During the last years, I have travelled by ferry dozens of times between Estonia and Finland, due to studies, works and personal relations. So I handled my ticket to the checker at the ferry terminal… and here we go again! A (I must say that at least she was polite) security woman leads me to one side to proceed to a “random” security check of my luggage. After passing my back bag three times through the scanner, she makes me open it to discover that the biggest threat there is my bottle opener that I carry together with my keys.
I am still wondering what they really wanted to find from a foreigner crossing the border early in the morning from Finland to Estonia. If I would like to smuggle something, certainly I would have more chances to other way around from Estonia. But the point is that for me, this is not an isolated case. In the recent years, this is the third time that has happened to me, and always on the Finnish side of the border. I have never had any problem with security forces in Estonia so far. But added to this fact I narrate, a couple of years ago, while coming to Finland by Viking Line being an exchange student in the Baltic neighbor, the policemen also stopped me twice to check my luggage with no apparent reason. The funniest thing is that when they stopped me, I was just trying not to crash in the corridor with the hordes of drunken people around. It must be that if you are not blonde and you are sober, you must be a dangerous terrorist. And it was even more curious that as far as I switched the conversational language to Finnish to explain that I have lived for a few years in Finland, they let me go without even opening my bag.
I am sure that the Finnish security forces carry on with an excellent job, but as a foreigner, I must confess that I never feel at ease near them in Finland. While in Spain I consider them like usually helpful, and in Estonia I just ignore their presence, every time they are close to me in Finland, I feel like if I would be their target and the red light of danger switches on in my head. And I think that my feeling is shared by a sector of Finland´s foreign population. If you get involved in a problem with Finnish people and police appears, be sure that in most of the cases you are going to take the worst of it.
I don´t know, maybe next time I cross the border and arrive to the Finnish ferry terminals, I must dye my hair blonde, drink 2 bottles of vodka, try to provoke a fight, swear in Finnish and carry a trolley with 4 boxes of 24 packs of beers. It is obvious that having black hair, brown eyes and reading peacefully a book during the trip is considered a clear threat to the national security by the Finnish forces…
I was last week end at the biggest rock festival of Estonia, Rabarock, for the very first time. After having experienced many festivals in Finland, I was curious and refreshed to visit one here in Estonia. Maybe the band list was not so impressive as usually can be in the biggest Finnish bands, but there were interesting artists visiting, like the English The Wildhearts or the American Anthrax.
There were better and worse things than in Finnish festivals. Opposite to for example Provinssirock, people cannot enter with any alcoholic drink, and even for me, being a journalist, I still had to wait for the queue like anybody else. The freedom of movement was quite limited, although we had access to the VIP bar at the backstage (meaning cleaner toilets and… more expensive coffee than outside…). But the food and drinks had quite a decent price in the different kiosks spattered around the festival area, and I also liked that it was not so crowded and people could more quite freely around or reach the first rows in the concerts without having to kill anybody. Same than in Finland, the audience was maybe a little bit cold and shy, but although of course people spent all the night talking and screaming in the camping area, I did not see such a general abuse of alcohol by most of the audience like usually happens in Finland (of course with exceptions of people totally wasted and singing at 10:00 on Saturday morning).
I had the chance to meet interesting people at the backstage and also research for a future article I am writing as freelancer about Estonian music scene. I talked to “Uncle Bella”, a legendary musician and DJ, one of the first punk rockers in Estonia, and also could chat and take some pictures together with the beautiful Piret and Lenna of Vanilla Ninja (I totally had to improvise the questions for them) or have fun trying to understand the mix of Estonian and English language during the interview with Estonian depressive rock band Kosmikud.
The best thing was to interview Ginger, the singer of The Wildhearts. He turned to be a super friendly and cool guy, and if it would have not been for the rigid organization that did not let me stay longer, we could have been talking and drinking beer for hours after the interview. A great musician and very cool talkative guy!
The rain hit the festival strongly during the second day, Saturday, and I was lacking energy, hours of sleep and a better raincoat to stay until the end. So we decided to leave the festival before Anthax concert. A pity, it would have been nice to see them and maybe interview them, but still, the feeling was quite positive in general. With a couple more of big international bands, and little improvements in the organization, this festival could be one of the nicest ones to enjoy in North Europe. Let’s see if I can come back next year to experience it again!