How many Estonians have I offended!?

Sometimes, you just don’t learn about the cultural differences of a place till something awkward happens. Or, you don’t realize it’s awkward… until you learn about the “rule”.

Example: I learned, just last week, that Estonians do not compliment each other unless good friends (not even acquaintances compliment each other). Of course now that I’ve learned that, I’ve been thinking about all of the conversations I’ve ever had with an Estonian (um, I’m a teacher to Estonians–this thinking process has taken me awhile). I don’t remember complimenting any Estonians unless I consider them good friends (like at church or something). But I talk a lot. So who knows? I might have complimented an Estonian and completely freaked her out!

I’ve asked my students what their reaction would be if they did get complimented in a strange situation (trying to assess the type of damage I may have caused), and all they’ve told me is that it’s weird and that they don’t understand why someone would compliment them. I guess they’re just confused and don’t understand what the person doing the complimenting wants.

So. Well. In America (or at least the America I know), it’s normal for girls to compliment each other, even when they’ve just barely met. Is that right, American friends? Or am I super weird for complimenting a girl’s cute shoes or something when I don’t really know her?

I need to know–is it ok for a girl to compliment another girl (just casually, like about her clothes or something normal) when you aren’t good friends or have I been breaking some rule that I didn’t know exists?

It’s clear to me that I shouldn’t EVER compliment girls who I don’t know well here. Now I just need to know if I should give up on compliments while in the US, too.

UPDATED: I have learned a few things through this post–1) Posts with dramatic titles will bring people to my blog. I don’t know if that means that I should continue with such sensationalism when posting or not. Probably not. My life isn’t that crazy to make every title so exciting. 2) Russian-Estonians do compliment each other like normal. So it is just Estonian speakers who are uncomfortable with it. 3) Americans (thank goodness) do compliment complete strangers!

I can now rest easy and spend the last bit of my time here complimenting the heck out of my Russian speaking students while terrifying my Estonian speaking students by introducing them to my habit of complimenting. Very good news.



Filed under Culture, Estonia, Places, Teaching, Travel

14 responses to “How many Estonians have I offended!?

  1. Payal

    omg Kimmie, its tostally ok to compliment girls in America,…even girls you barely know. We like it!! We actually live for that. I think girls dress cute just so that other girls can notice and compliment!! Speaking of breaking cultural rules, apparently if you hug a guy in India he thinks that you’re going to be going home with him,…Psst!

    • Bhaha! Glad that I’m not the only one who doesn’t mind strangers’ compliments! I hope you didn’t find out the rule about hugging guys in India first-hand! 🙂

      • Payal

        Unfortunately the guys thing was first hand! I actually got told off by a friend for doing that, now I’ve even stopped being unnecessarily nice to stranger boys,…better to be rude than have unecessary advances, at least in India, for the time being!

      • Payal

        LOVE the update! I’ll be sure to terrify Estonians by complimenting them thoroughly!! If they’re offended, well at least I was being nice;)

  2. I compliment strangers all the time, on hair, clothes, shoes… I’ve even complimented a girl’s fantastic boobies before. Because they were fantastic, and I think people should be well aware of what about them is working for them. It’s good for your self esteem!

  3. Kimmy–I compliment strangers all the time. I did so this morning, in fact! This girl had the cutest coral flats on with these big bows on the toe so of course I had to compliment her!

  4. Kelly

    It’s very normal here in the U.S. to compliment acquaintances or strangers in something appealing. I think for us it’s a good way to start a conversation with someone.

  5. carcarcarty

    You can compliment me anytime Kimmy.

  6. Elaine Barrus

    I think you should just keep complimenting! Who cares if they know how weird you are? J/K How can anyone not like a compliment?

  7. Anne Bird

    Complimenting is definitely good here in US. I would like to know WHY it isn’t okay there? Doesn’t everyone like getting a compliment? Curious what in the culture there makes complimenting NOT okay?? Isn’t that a way to make friends?

  8. I once worked with a Latvian who told me that they find it unusual how often people in the UK will say thankyou as apparently Latvians use the word much more sparingly and I thought that they were just rude!

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