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Neutral languages in Estonia?

Posted: Wed Jan 30, 2019 10:59 am
by DaraghM
When I was in Estonia before, I'd a bit of Russian, and a small smattering of Estonian. However, it always seemed I was using the wrong language with the wrong person. Some Russian speakers seemed slightly perturbed if I opened the greeting in Estonian, and the situation was a bit worse in the reverse. On my return visit, should I simply default back to English, or do I have other options?

Re: Neutral languages in Estonia?

Posted: Wed Jan 30, 2019 12:21 pm
by Saim
Maybe start by saying 'good day' in both languages and then fully switch to the one they respond in? I've heard (from a linguistics professor that researches Latgalian) that that's a common strategy in urban Latvia (when dealing with customers).

Re: Neutral languages in Estonia?

Posted: Wed Jan 30, 2019 8:21 pm
by vonPeterhof
It should be pretty straightforward in places other than Tallinn: if you're in the Ida-Viru county (which includes the cities of Narva, Kohtla-Järve, Sillamäe and Jõhvi) or the cities of Paldiski and Maardu, you may default to Russian; anywhere else you use Estonian. Tallinn's the tricky bit where you can never be truly sure, with the possible exception of certain neighbourhoods. In my experience, a lot of the service personnel in the more touristy areas were comfortable with both languages, in addition to English (according to my father it's a major reversal from back when he travelled there in the Soviet days, when it seemed like all the factory workers spoke Russian while all the shop assistants were monolingual in Estonian). In approaching people in the street Saim's approach might work the best.