Monday, 27 June 2011

Estonian Traits

Being half Estonian and half Australian I have often been teased for my mixed heritage. On the one hand I have the endless optimism and the down to earth nature of an Australian but also possess the polite, reserved and formal qualities of being Estonian. It's a good mix to have and has served me well through life. My sister told me recently that Estonian women are known for being very well organised and for cooking delicious meals without the aid of recipes whilst Estonian men are perceived to be like "MacGyver" - they can fix anything. I know this is definitely true in my father's case. Here are some other personality traits which are typical of Estonians.

Estonians are taciturn people. They prefer to say little and to communicate using direct speech. Estonians don't like to engage in small talk so if they have nothing to say they will probably say nothing at all.

Estonians are stubborn, reserved and disciplined people. They tend not to show their emotions even though they experience them like everybody else, rather, they like to appear strong and composed.

It's rare to get a big belly laugh out of an Estonian particularly if he or she doesn't know you well. A funny joke is more likely to be met with a wide grin rather than uproarious laughter.

Estonians are self reliant people. For centuries they have survived harsh winters and foreign oppression, living off their own produce and their wits.

National pride is strong in Estonia and it's common to find the Estonian national flag displayed outside people's homes. Nearly every home in the country, especially outside the city, has an apple tree in the garden and cat ownership is high in Estonia too.

Estonians have long been a superstitious people. They consider it bad luck to shake hands across a threshold or slice bread facing the front door. If you drop a slice of bread you must always pick it up and kiss it to avoid bad luck coming your way.

It is considered very impolite in Estonia to yawn without covering your mouth or talk to someone with your hands in your pockets.

Estonians are cautious. They are wary of strangers and may give you a cool reception in the first instance. Once they get to know you they will open up and you will find them to be very warm and hospitable.

A compliment given by an Estonian is always genuine. It will only be given if they feel you're truly deserving of it.

Monday, 20 June 2011

The Unexpected Benefits of Having an Online Presence

Several years ago my father received a telephone call from an Estonian relative living in Canada. This man, Heino Lestal, was trying to locate some of his distant relatives but as my father didn't recognise his name nor had any knowledge of his existence he politely replied “sorry, I can’t help you' and hung up. Years later my father relayed this story to me and I was left completely dumbfounded. "What??" I said to him incredulously, “you didn't think it was important to tell me?”. I have been researching our family history for years and he knows this. We have a rare surname and my genealogist has told me that all Lestals are distantly related.  I couldn't believe my father had been so silly but he can be like that  If he's busy or preoccupied, some things go completely over his head.  I asked my father "Did you ask this man anything about himself, did you learn anything at all?”.   “No.  I didn't think much of it at the time.” came his honest reply.

Thanks to the Internet I was able to locate Heino's family but it was years later and unfortunately he had died in the meanwhile. I corresponded with his wife and daughter Linda via email but they only knew limited information. Heino was the key but unfortunately he didn't write any of it down.

Earlier this year Linda wrote to me and asked if I could add my family history information to the genealogy website Geni. I thought it sounded like a good idea so I did. A few months later, completely out of the blue, I received a message from a distant cousin still living in Tallinn who informed me we are descended from the same family. I thought to myself “Wow! another relative has found me!”.  And as Tallinn is a small city it's quite possible I've walked past him in the street, visited the same restaurant or pub as him and not even know it. We're the same age, it's quite possible.

I think it's important to have an online presence, particularly in this day and age. It's so easy to find people and I want my family to find me. Over the years I have collated all the family history information I have been able to acquire from relatives and researchers in Estonia. I think it's important to share with family and hand down to future generations. After all we are what we came from.

Friday, 10 June 2011

What Makes Estonia Great

Estonia has always been an enchanting country and since it regained its independence in 1991 Estonia has slowly emerged as a leader among the former Soviet countries. Estonia has a technologically savvy society with the majority of young Estonians owning laptop computers and the latest mobile phones to carry out their online banking, voting and business needs. Free wireless Internet connections are available in many public places making communication with the rest of the world ever more possible.

Every day more and more people are discovering the beauty of Estonia, a country that was once hidden away from the rest of the world but is now definitely on the map.

Here are five things which I believe make Estonia great.

1. Its countryside  Estonia's countryside with its neat farms and immaculately kept houses has a wonderful gentleness which grows on you.

2. Freedom.  Estonians love their freedom and are the freest people on Earth, i.e. their lives have the least amount of government interference in all of the Western world.

3. Economic policy. Estonia has an extremely friendly economic policy. This has made Estonia the most prosperous of all the countries which were once part of the Soviet Union.

4. Estonia is a great place to own a business. It was the first country in the world to introduce a flat tax system with the current rate being 21%. If you own a business in Estonia and chose to reinvest the profits back into the business then you pay no tax at all.

5. Estonia's proximity to the sea and extensive coastline. Tallinn's port does not freeze over in the winter and there are over 1500 islands to explore.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Where to Buy Estonian Gifts

There have been times in the past when I've wanted to buy my family a nice Estonian gift for their birthday or Christmas but didn't know where to buy one. Of course when you're in Estonia is easy to visit one of the craft markets or shop at the Kaubamaja but where do you shop when you're not actually in Estonia?

Here are some useful websites that sell quality Estonian products.
Greeting cards, magnets, t-shirts, tote bags and Christmas ornaments.

Apollo is one of Estonia's leading bookstores.

Kalev is Estonia's largest confectionery company and ships personalised orders all over the world.
Estowear is a new innovative clothing line specialising in casual wear.

Discovering Your Estonian Heritage

Since the early 1990s I have been researching my family history. I began when there was no such thing as the Internet and had to rely on traditional snail mail to receive information. I remember it took six months to receive a copy of my grandmothers birth certificate but once I had a copy of it in my hands I was ever so pleased. Every document I received started putting the pieces together.

It's hard tracing your family history when your immediate family don't have all the answers. Both my Estonian grandparents died when I was young - my grandfather died when I was two years old and my grandmother passed away eleven years later when I was thirteen. Both my grandparents were only children which means my father has no aunts, no uncles and no cousins.  We would have remained a small family had my father not had six children of his own.

My father and uncles have been helpful with the information they have supplied me but it was when I hired a researcher in Estonia that I really started to discover facts about my Estonian family. The Biographical Centre in Tallinn is a must for anyone wanting to discover their Estonian roots. I first contacted them in 2003 and they have supplied me with invaluable information. Through them I have been able to trace my family history back to 1755 and was amazed to discover that many members of my family have followed in the footsteps of our ancestors by pursuing similar career paths.

Through the information the Estonian Biographical Centre has given me, I have been able to contact distant relatives I never knew existed. I was fortunate to meet one branch of my family who still lives in Tallinn today. They are my grandfather's cousins children and their descendants. I met three generations of that side of the family during a very pleasant afternoon tea. It was amazing meeting them for the first time, seeing the similarities between us and sharing stories. None of them remember my grandfather but I was stunned when one of the older women remembered his father, my great-grandfather when he came to visit her father when she was a young girl. I was thrilled by that revelation! She had a first hand account of my great grandfather who I only know through a series of old photographs and documents. I wish I had known him because he was a professional photographer by trade. He passed his skills down to my grandfather who then passed them on to my uncle. I am a keen photographer also.

The Estonian Biographical Centre is located at Tiigi 10-51, Tallinn 51003 Tel: +372 742 0882

Proud to be Estonian

My father always made my siblings and I feel extremely proud of our Estonian heritage. We belong to a small, unique group of people known for their strong will and ability to survive during times of peril. Many Estonians fled their country in 1941 when the Soviets invaded for a second time. The Soviet army was much more brutal than the German Wehrmacht. The Nazis wanted to enslave the Estonian people but the Soviets actually wanted to destroy them. Life would have been unbearable back then and I'm glad my family made the decision to leave when they did. I only discovered recently that my family never meant to stay in Australia for more than a few months; their plan was always to settle in America.  Unfortunately that didn't eventuate and they ended up staying in Australia. I know my grandmother was never happy about this but for my generation and my father’s it worked out for the best.  Australia is a much safer, cleaner and freer country compared to America. I have visited the USA many times and each time I left I felt relieved. Australia is a much better country in which to live. And of course I feel at home in Estonia too which is why I visit whenever I can. I love walking down the street and hearing the language spoken by my father and grandmother. I love going to the shops to find familiar foods and walking through the countryside enjoying nature like all Estonians do. I am proud to be Estonian because we are a peaceful and resilient people with much to look forward to in the future.