Category Archives: Culture

Sharing a bit about the culture we’ve experienced.

Pärnu, Estonia

Pete and I went to Pärnu today! It’s a tiny resort town in Western Estonia. We loved the city and we ate some delicious pizza at a restaurant recommended by the missionaries (and we had the friendliest waitress we’ve ever experienced in all of Europe. She even humored Pete while he spoke Estonian to her–I think he did a great job and he was able to do everything in Estonian!).

The thing about Estonia is that the country has amazingly sandy and beautiful beaches! Unfortunately, we came here right at the tail end of the summer and are leaving before spring is in full swing, so we haven’t been able to take full advantage of the great beaches. Alas.

Anyway, we loved the city–enjoy the pictures!

On the bus to Pärnu! I love the Estonian countryside.

Tallinn… what’s the deal? Pärnu and Tartu have pedestrian shopping streets!

Watch out, this post has a million architecture because I loved the architecture in this city!

Pete had been craving apple struedel, but the shopping center we go to hasn’t had it. He was so happy when this little bakery had it! And he couldn’t remember the word for “fork” so that’s the hand symbol he did to ask for it.

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Tartu, Estonia

Pete and I went to Tartu on Saturday. It was my first time leaving the Tallinn area, so I was happy to see a new city! It almost felt like we were backpacking again; the weather was similar, and Tartu didn’t feel like Tallinn at all. We felt like we had left the country.

We left Saturday morning and arrived in the afternoon (the bus ride was just over 2 hours). The bus to Tartu was really nice; leather seats and WiFi.

We arrived and found that Tartu was super small. The weather was great! Pete and I love showing up at new cities with no plans. We always seem to have a great time, and Tartu didn’t disappoint! Only in the evening did I need to put on my coat. Other than that, my long sleeved shirt was fine. We had a fantastic time wandering around the city. There is a large university in the city, so there were lots of young students (and tons of hipsters). The city also had a pedestrian street, which I have missed having in Tallinn! We enjoyed delicious food, got a few souvenirs, and even ran into the missionaries (we knew one of them because he had served in Tallinn previously). Enjoy the pictures!

Pedestrian streets. One of my favorite aspects of most European cities.

Tartu University’s main building. It’s a bit grander than Pete’s university (understatement).

I wasn’t going to post this picture. But we thought it was hilarious. Man and Baby. And Pete.

Russian Orthodox church. It felt very lived in; not touristy at all.

An old Lutheran church–very simple inside.

The beautiful terracotta decorations were replicas, unfortunately.

I wanted a picture with this cool sewer thing, and for some reason, Pete forced me to lay on the ground. I think he just wanted to see what he could get me to do in public.

We happened upon a beautiful botanical garden. I can only imagine how great it is during the summer.

This building is tilted!

We got amazing (but a bit expensive) crepes at a little French restaurant. We had an hour before we needed to get back to the bus station and it was cold outside, so this place was the perfect place to hang out. We even got a table with two plush armchairs.

One of the few places I wanted to go to in Tartu was this old Catholic church. It was such a cool place! Pete liked climbing on the walls while I worried about getting yelled at.

Tartu had a lot of awesome bridges!

This band was great; they played “I’m a Barbie Girl” and the James Bond Theme song.

It was a great trip! We’re heading to Parnu on Tuesday, so we’ll be posting again then!

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An outing in North Tallinn! (At least I think that’s where we were)

Pete and I were invited by a family in our branch to hang out with them for a Saturday. We had a blast! They picked us up and we went for a beautiful drive out near the sea. They brought along their hilarious 3 boys which meant that Pete finally got the snowball fight he’d been hoping for all winter. It was Easter weekend, but it didn’t feel like spring at all–it was snowing pretty hard most of the time. The snow and wind didn’t get in the way of our fun, though (there’s a quote here in Estonia: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing). Luckily, we were dressed plenty warm.

After exploring the nature, we went back to the family’s house for a delicious Mexican dinner and egg dyeing. Instead of the standard egg dyeing procedures, we wrapped the eggs in dried onion skins, then wrapped a paper towel around them. They then boiled for about 20 minutes and turned out amazing! We didn’t get a picture of the final product, unfortunately, but I’d say that it is one of the coolest ways to decorate an egg that I’ve ever seen!

Enjoy the pictures!

I refused to get closer to the edge because Pete had already pretend thrown me over the edge once. He cannot be trusted.

This was supposed to be an awesome jumping picture, but instead Pete decided to pick me up while I was jumping and it scared the heck out of me. Again, he cannot be trusted.

The waterfall behind us has a ton of iron in it. The color in this picture doesn't do it justice. This is also an energy source for Estonia.

The family we went with!

This is Pete's heaven. If only I had known that I would soon become the enemy.

Love the little boy's face in this one. He totally got caught right before attacking me. Pete's blaming him... but we all know it was Pete's idea.

Anyway, it’s pretty funny looking back at these pictures because it was only a few weeks’ ago… spring is (finally) in full swing here! An amazing 14 degrees today!

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Pete went to Malta! (part two)

More pictures from Pete’s trip! He went to another island (he stayed on the biggest island) for one of the days. Buses weren’t running for tourists because it was before the tourist season, but he was able to get a good price for a nice taxi driver to take him around. The taxi driver had never left Malta before. He spoke nearly native English.

Enjoy the pictures!

There was an ancient ruins area of the island. Apparently, Malta has had civilizations for about 7,000 years! The ones here are from 5600 BCE.

There were stone fences like this all over the islands. They were made by the Arab inhabitants.

Behind Pete (and across the sea) is Libya!

These tiny buildings were dotted around an area of the smaller island. Pete thinks they were jails. But he has no evidence.

View from the supposed jail cell.

This is the cave (supposedly) where Ulysses was trapped in Homer's The Odyssey.

Aqueduct!

Pete went on an awesome cave ride. The water was crystal clear and blue. It was really deep in certain areas, and because the water was so clear, he could still see down to the bottom.

He was also on a boat with other people, so he was able to get pictures of himself without having to do the "self portrait" attempts.

This might be my favorite picture he took during the whole trip.

These two asian girls were on the boat with Pete. The taxi driver called them Pete's asian girlfriends. Ha.

The taxi driver.

Well, there you have it–Pete’s Malta trip! He managed to see a lot of incredible parts of the country while also going to the conference.

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Travel Advice: Letters from my students

This is a birthday post for my mom, but if you’re in need of travel advice (or you just like to read blogs), then keep on reading! Also, a special welcome to any of my Year 12 students who might be reading! 

Happy Birthday, Mom! 

I figured a fun (virtual, rather than literal) birthday present would be to have my students write you (and dad) letters of advice about travelling abroad. They’re my Year 12 Exam Course students, and they’ve all been abroad for travel, so I knew they’d have some great advice for you!

I told them about how the two of you are going to Italy this Autumn, and that it’s your first time leaving the US (other than Tijuana). And I also printed out a few pictures so they could see who they’d be writing to (hope you don’t mind, mom and dad).

I hope you enjoy reading their letters! I think they all gave excellent advice. (I’ve corrected any grammar mistakes, but there really weren’t that many–these students are fantastic at English in all areas).

Anyway, I hope you enjoy reading these letters! (They’re in no particular order)

Dear Steve and Suzy,

We are writing you to cheer you up a little bit. We heard that you are going to Italy, so we would like to give you some advice about how to deal with the local people and how to understand the atmosphere.

First of all, Italy is a very multicultural country, but in general, the way of thinking, manners, and habits are very close to Mexicans.

The second thing is that they have such a thing as “fiesta”. Yep, they sleep during the day. It is normal if you find that all the shops are closed for one hour.

All Italians drink wine. No exceptions. And we strongly recommend you try the local sorts of wine.

We would also recommend you to their local ice cream–it has a special taste. If you are considering to eat at McDonald’s–forget this idea. Italian food is the best thing you can find.

Rome has a special way to travel–so named “Hop-on-Hop-off” buses. You can buy a ticket for a day and enjoy Rome’s sights by listening to a guide using earphones. We would suggest you enjoy the first bus tour from the beginning to the end. It helps you to understand which is interesting for you and during the second tour you can “hop off” where you want. Also, it is easy to travel by underground.

And the last but not least. Do not ever mix pasta with ketchup. Locals wouldn’t appreciate that.

Yours sincerely,

Roma, Kate, Jan

_________________________________________________________________________

Dear Steve and Suzy,

We are glad to hear that you are having a holiday in Italy. The country you are going to visit has a very open minded view. People there are very friendly and talkative. One thing to bear in mind is that their way to greet people is to kiss on the cheeks which may cause culture shock. Do not be afraid of it, just go with the flow because they actually wish well.

However, there are some things to be aware of while being on a tour–you should keep an eye on your things because you cannot trust anyone 100%.

We would also like to recommend to you some places to visit there. First of all, you should visit the Vatican, which is the smallest country in the world and home for the Pope. Another place you should go to is Venice where you definitely have to ride the gondola. It is good for you, Suzy, that the gondola men talk a lot about the history and culture of Venice and Italy in general.

It is a must-have to eat the dessert called gelatto (ice cream), that you have to try there. They offer many kinds of tastes for every person.

We hope that this will be your new anniversary since Italy is a very Romantic country. We hope you find some good tips from our letter.

With the best regards,

Sven and Maria

_________________________________________________________________________

Dear Mr. and Mrs. West,

We are writing to you to give advice about how to prepare for travelling abroad. We will talk about travelling in Central Europe.

Firstly, we recommend you to be informed about what the weather will be like in this area, where you are going, because that can help you prepare most of the clothes. Secondly, you should know that there is no need to take any specific transport like a taxi because you can use public transport. It is cheaper and more effective. Also, you can get some useful information from passengers that could help you find some places that you should visit. The last thing but not the least important is money. Don’t take with you too much money in the local currency because if you change currency in your homeland you get less than if you change them in the place you go.

Another few things you must know, because it is very important, that if you go to Italy, Italians are very emotional people. Because they are very emotional, they cannot control themselves sometimes. So, if you are talking with them, carefully choose your words.

Best trip to you.

Yours Sincerely,

Fidan and Mike

_________________________________________________________________________

Well, there you have it! I hope you (mom and anyone else who read it) enjoyed the letters!

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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.

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A love-hate relationship with Russians

Now, stereotyping an entire group of people is not necessarily a good thing, but I have found myself surrounded by Russians in many situations here in Estonia. While I lived around Russian speaking people in Russia and Ukraine, it is different here, simply because of the seemingly polar oppositeness of Russians and Estonians. I find this very entertaining, and after my time here, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I have a love/hate relationship with Russians. This isn’t meant to bash Russians, in fact I tend to love Russians more than hate them. It is the things I love about Russian people that can also drive me crazy (maybe I’m bi-polar or something). So, hopefully no one gets offended by this post, but really, I just love (and sometimes hate) Russians.

Examples:

LOVES

  • My Russian students are a blast to teach! They are generally not afraid of speaking and are willing to put themselves out there to learn the language.
  • Willingness to joke around and laugh. I love joking with Russians. They understand my jokes/sarcasm and I understand them. Russians aren’t slow to smile and laugh in a comfortable atmosphere.
  • Russian food is amazing. I had borsh the other day and I loved every spoonful (with a tiny bowl and unnaturally large spoon, of course).
  • I kind of understand the Russian language, so hearing it is semi-normal and I can kind of get the gist of what Russians are saying.
  • Russians think it’s funny when I try and write Russian translations on the board. They laugh at me and I totally don’t care, it lightens the mood (because seriously, I’m not trying to actually say the word correctly).
  • Russian music videos and comedy shows on TV. I have no idea what they’re saying, but it’s still hilarious to watch. Check out this YouTube video for a taste.

HATES (this is the terrible part to write–but it’s true for me)

  • Russians are a bit loud… Especially in our apartment complex late at night (usually just on weekends). Whenever there is a group of guys singing in the hallway, it’s always Russians.
  • Pushy grandmas. Man, Russian grandmas wander around the world assuming that everyone will move out of the way for them. They’ll push to cut in line, get on/off the tram, pretty much anywhere.
  • The Russian market meat place. Oh man, I can’t go in there. I wait outside when Pete goes in to get our cheap meat. (But, this is also a love because of the price of meat–and it’s tasty!)

Ok, ok. That wasn’t so terrible/stereotypical, was it? I hope not.

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Tammsaare Park

On the way home from church last week, we got off the bus one stop early to walk through Tammsaare Park to see the ice sculptures! They are pretty impressive. I especially liked the chameleon and the wolf (I think that’s what it was) with the coins as eyes and a nose. It’s warming up (it got 1 above zero the other day, so these statues might start melting!).

I know that Utah’s had a mild winter, but man, I’m sure ready for spring!

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Lately

I’ve been taking lots of random pictures on my phone and I figured I’d share them–seeing how I haven’t blogged for a bit! You can click on an image to make it bigger.

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The day we spent in Kosovo

I don’t know why I never blogged about the day we spent in Kosovo. We didn’t take any pictures, but still, it happened and it was a unique experience. Luckily, passport stamps don’t disappear, so here’s a pic of my entrance stamp (a different entrance stamp somehow got stamped over my Kosovo exit stamp. Don’t know how that happened).

We left Budva, Montenegro by bus, and headed to Peja in Western Kosovo. The bus ride was incredible. Up and over mountains that were covered in evergreen trees and snow (it was mid April). The bus was older and not as high quality as other buses. Not many people were in the bus. When we crossed the border into Kosovo, there was a youngish boy (maybe 18) who took our passports to get stamped. He brought them back (it’s common to have someone take your passport to get them stamped, rather than getting out of the bus to get it stamped. It scared me every time–what if they don’t bring it back?). When he gave them back, he said, “Welcome to my country.” We talked a bit, and it was clear that he was very proud of his newly independent country.

The bus slowly started going downhill, into the city area. Lots of farmland, unfinished buildings, and buildings for sale. Kosovo was less like Europe, compared to the other places we had been to so far (until we went to Albania, that was a whole different story). The city of Peja had a fair amount of nice looking buildings, but everything felt run down, old, and dusty. There were a few street names that were funny, the only one I remember was “Bill Clinton Road” or something like that. As Americans, we felt very welcome and safe there.

The bus arrived. Pete had set up a couchsurfing thing where we were planning on meeting a guy at the bus stop. We had agreed to meet him for coffee and he would show us around the area and maybe help us find a hotel. He came and found us at the bus station. I can’t remember his name, but he was such a nice guy. His English was quite good, and he also spoke German. During the war in the 90s, he and his family moved to Germany.

We wandered around the city, he showed us a small cafe where we could get a traditional Kosovo meal. Lots of meat, a salad (not like a lettuce salad, a very Balkan-type salad), and some plain yogurt to drink. Pete couldn’t get his yogurt down (he has a thing with milk), but I choked mine down to be nice. I wasn’t able to finish my meat (it was like 3 different kinds and there was so much!), so I asked for a box to take it to the hotel (just because it was clear that it would have been wasteful to not take it). Moments like that remind me how wasteful I can be, and how that lifestyle is not normal for people whose history is different than mine.

After the cafe, we walked around town more. We also went to an internet cafe (can’t remember why). While there, the electricity went off, and within a few seconds, tons of generators turned on. It was an entire area that lost power, and it was surprising to realize that this is a completely normal thing!

We walked around more, talking to this nice guy and wandering around the city. We then went to a cafe for some coffee. He had told us that the city was trying to make it illegal to smoke inside public places, but that most people ignored the rules. We found that to be true at the cafe. The cafe was this huge, modern building in the city center. We walked in and were hit with cigarette smoke. There were ‘no smoking’ signs on every table, as well as large signs on the walls. But along with these ‘no smoking’ signs on the tables, there were also ashtrays. It was pretty entertaining. We were the only people who weren’t smoking. Everyone was clearly hanging out, drinking coffee. The guy wanted to buy us coffee, but we told him that we didn’t drink coffee (the whole not drinking coffee has been more troublesome than not drinking alcohol). He was surprised, but then we agreed that we would pay for his coffee and he’d pay for our juice (which was more expensive than his coffee, so it was a little awkward, but he refused to let us pay). We had a great conversation about the war, its impact on Kosovo, and Kosovo’s future. This is why I wish I had blogged this beforehand, because I can’t remember any details about the conversation.

He then took us to a hotel, it was reasonably priced. It was a little cold and dark, but it wasn’t as terrible as some places where we stayed.

We left the next morning. We went to the bus station and waited for a bus on our way to Macedonia. Overall, Kosovo was fascinating. The feel of the city was different from Europe, and I hope that we can go back in the future (with a car, which would make seeing the sights more feasible).

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