10 things Estonia does better than Germany

1. Trains and busses are on time. Needs no explanation for anyone who ever took Deutsche Bahn.

Estonian train tracks. Photo: Taaniel Malleus

2. Snow doesn’t mean that there are traffic problems. Busses and trains are still on time. Instead of pushing a stroller, parents will pull a sled with their kid. Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean we need to panic.

Tartu in winter

3. Hugs. Making friends with Estonians is not easy. Earning a hug from an Estonian is hard, too. But this means that hugs actually have value. When you receive a hug from an Estonian, you know you matter to them, you can be sure they like you. They simply don’t hug out of convention or politeness, they only hug when they actually want to.

4. Food. Ok, I’m not talking about blood sausage and fish for breakfast here. I’m talking about seasonal, regional vegetables. I don’t have to double check if it’s organic – if it’s Estonian, I know it’s good. About going to the bogs and collect mushrooms and berries. Collecting herbs for tea wherever you go. Getting potatoes from one neighbor and honey from another. About restaurants who put all their love in the food they prepare. How organic is everywhere, and soy milk can be bought in the tiniest supermarket. And of course my favorite chocolate in the world…

5. Political interest. Yes, Estonians are really interested in what is going on up there. And since it is such a small country, meeting the president isn’t too unlikely. Also, political decisions actually matter for these 1.3 million. So when they talk about politics, they don’t do it because they ran out of interesting topics, they actually care. Also, when a decision is made, things will get done – it won’t take years like in Germany.

6. Silence. I may suck at this, but at least, walking around with a friend in silence doesn’t bother me as much as in the beginning anymore. “We even have this term awkward silence” said an American to me when we talked about this. It doesn’t exist in Estonia. When there is nothing important to say, you don’t have to feel weird and look for something to talk about. Silence does not mean you have run out of mutual interests. Quality time does not equal talking. And that is a beautiful thing.

7.  Demonstrations. There has been one violent riot since Estonia regained its independence in ‘91, which included three fires and one death. The other demonstration people recall was for a guy named Jaanus, the guy from Tartu who told some young people to stop kicking over trash bins and got beaten up for this in front of his little daughter. About 200 people supported him. I admit, there are some weird people protesting the Covid restrictions in Tallinn nowadays…but still. This is a peaceful country!

8. Music education. When you go to school in Estonia, you can choose to learn an instrument (or many of them) at your school. The classes are free and you can take the instrument home as long as you need it. Basically, you will return you guitar or cello or violin once you graduate. Not every school offers this, but if you don’t have this great chance, then you simply audition for music school in the nearest town.


Girls on Kihnu island. Photo: Ken Oja

9. Hot wine. What can I say? Estonian hõõgvein tastes just so much better than our Glühwein. And who could reject the one with Vana Tallinn that has 21% alcohol and comes in a regular cup anyway?

10. Talent over Titles. It may be because Estonia is so small, due to its Soviet history, or the National Awakening when they all had to stick together… anyway, hierarchies are just not as strict as in Germany and other countries. Students call their teachers by their first names. University students would never say “Excuse me, professor”, they always say “Hey, Arvo”. The chief of the veterinary clinic of Maaülikool had this position for three years when he finally defended his PhD thesis. Could you imagine such a thing in Germany? The focus is never on your degrees, titles, it is on what you actually accomplish. If you do your job well. And so there are many college drop outs in really good jobs. They didn’t drop out because it was too much for them, they dropped out because they got a job in their field, and why bother going to lectures when you already got the position? Having a M.Sc. doesn’t change anything. And this way of actual teaching rather than trying to get good grades out of the students, turning them into functional humans and workers, this is one of the main reasons why I wanted to do my PhD in Estonia.

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