Why I fell in love with Estonia

I am a Canadian.

More specifically, I'm an African-born Bangladeshi-Canadian who has lived/worked in over 20 different countries in the last few years. I'm also dark-skinned, have a pretty dope beard and a middle name of "Ahmed", which is relevant only because we're discussing Europe.

Somehow, some way, after 25 years I found myself in a tiny, frigid country in north-eastern Europe called Estonia. And I fell in love.

I won't go on some long-winded diatribe on why this tiny country of hilariously introverted weirdos unlocked my soul and made me a man . Instead, I'll just tell you why I freaking love this place.

1. They're beautifully weird, and weirdly beautiful

Estonia is just... strange. They've had such a turbulent history, particularly recently (nearly 10% of the population was killed in WW2, and that was just the start of an overall horrible half-century), that you'd think they lack a strong historic or cultural identity.

And yet they have one, and a strong one at that - the Estonians have an extremely unique character trait of what I would call "self-deprecating pride". They'll poke endless fun at themselves but god damnit, they're proud of their refusal to stand within 5 feet of anyone else. They're also immensely proud of their technological advances and appreciation/conservation of their nature, and revel in enjoying it's every detail (I've had friends invite me to drive 3 hours to look at a rock. A rock, dear reader.)

Oh, they also happen to be the most beautiful people on Earth. Seriously, they produce the highest number of models per capita. I'm not saying this to be superficial. Well, actually, I am. Jeez they're good looking.

2. They're extraordinarily entrepreneurial

Estonia is the 132nd smallest country in the world by land mass. Its biggest city ("metropolis") would pass for a town in most countries. And yet, it churns out the highest number of startups per capita in Europe, and has spun out some top companies including Skype, Hotmail, Transferwise, Pipedrive, Toggl, Kazaa, etc. Damn near everyone I know there is working on something. They're the pioneer of e-residency and are the most digital country on Earth. The national average for filing taxes is 3 minutes. 3 minutes. It takes me that long to email my accountant asking her why I'm broke.

What is it about this tiny country that makes it so innovative? It's hard to say - the most common local theory is that it's so cold and dark they have nothing else to do but work. Whatever it is, it's allowed them to come from rationing food 25 years ago to being one of the most digitally advanced societies on the planet.

3. Its climate is unrelenting

As a Canadian, I've experienced brutal ice storms and frigid winters. As a Bangladeshi, I've experienced stifling heat and mosquito bites more painful than flu shots. 

But Estonia, well... Estonia is something else. Have you ever walked out of the office at 3pm to complete darkness and a freezing blizzard? 

It takes character to survive an Estonian winter. Learning how to laugh and be happy while seeing the sun about twice a month takes a resolve and appreciation of the finer things. The weather really makes the Estonians - a character of humility and "pessimistic optimism" is one that only comes from centuries of being in an abusive, emotionally-distant relationship with vitamin D.

4. They're just good people

Of all the people I've met on Earth, Estonians are the ones who really make the most out of life. They enjoy spending time in nature, traveling the world, summer weeknights with their family. They're humble, despite being some of the most interesting people you've ever met. Every bar or coffee shop you walk into shows an originality I haven't seen anywhere else. They're progressive and extremely well educated (Estonia has the 2nd highest literacy rate in the world).

When I came to Estonia, I didn't know what to expect. If anything I was prepared for a negative experience (eastern Europe doesn't have the greatest record of race relations). Instead, what I found was some of the most fun & welcoming people I've ever met. The rich mix of nature (50% of the country), history (for instance, the most well-preserved medieval old town in the world) and technology, is one I haven't seen anywhere else in the world.

Ask any Estonian, and they'll say that Estonians are unfriendly & unwelcoming people. Nothing could be further from the truth. The beauty of the Estonians really is that they don't know how great they really are - they're like an adorable, homely alien race that are frustrated with themselves because god dangit if only they could be a bit nicer. Indeed, if the rest of the world were as humble and self-critical as the Estonians, maybe our planet wouldn't be on a one-way rocketship straight to hell.

Also, they do a ton of really weird shit. Like.

Wife Carrying

Getting naked and hitting each other with leaves

Swinging in circles... professionally

I spent a few years wandering trying to find my place. I never expected I'd find it here, but I'm so glad I did.

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175 responses
I had never heard of Estonia until my son moved there to teach in a university. He met a lovely Estonian woman, they married and have two delightful children. I thoroughly enjoy the place and have actually gone to visit in WINTER.
Good read ... where to next old friend?
Hi - I am an American -Estonian, born in New York in 1954, moved to Canada in 1970, moved to Sweden 1984, moved to the land of my forebears - Estonia in 1993. What a beautifully written, humorous, knowledgeable and spot-on regarding the Estonian psyche (I recognize myself article. Thank you!!!!
What a funny read :-) I wanted to share this article and could have quoted every single line there. Well written :-)
21st century Estonians have one really strong tradition. We like to cheerfully tell all the foreigners tales about us being very cold and closed people.
Nice read and overally I feel the same. Of cause there are also downsides, but things are far not so dark, as mr. Koit Kranig is saying. Personally, I'm Estonian and I love living in here and also people around me :) I always depends on person behavour, attitute, mindset and people around you!
Aa a born and raised estonian this post really brought a smile to my face. I am a very patriotic person which you wouldn't guess by my age (17) as most of my peers dream of leavibg here. I love Estonia so much (even though I HATE cold :D) and have been telling all my foreign acquintances about it. It makes me really happy knowing that people from other places of the world feel the same way about it ♡
Good read, but just a small correction. Wife carrying and sauna was invented by Finns. Estonians however perfected the wife-carrying method (having the wife upside down instead of as a piggy-back method. All Estonians love sauna like the Finns too.
Finns do not have a monopoly on the invention of the sauna. Estonians came up with the smoke sauna, although it's true that the 'Finnish sauna' is far more popular in the modern day.
Thank you! I have never seen or heard it said so well--made me cry. I left Estonia near the end of the Nazi occupation, ending up in Canada. Hoping for one more trip back before time runs out
Koit, well, I'm pure Estonian, non of my parents of grandparents are foreignars, tough I'm just over 30 not 50, bit I do not know that negative prople in my friendship group (also people over 60 and 70, 80). Maybe, you a should also enjoy life bit more and leave the past behind. For my point of veiw, every person should find a place for themselves which make them happy. Home is the palce you feel safe, happy, welcome and you have the feeling this is there right place, and not for the past conditions but for the present. If you respect the traditions etc. and others then these people are all welcome in Estonia, soon they could be Estonias :)
I'm really thankful, that I do not belive in God, that I do not have one or few options how to be happy, what to think and how to think.
Haha, had a laugh reading this, quite spot coming from an Estonian :P!
Thank you for hilarious introduction to Estonia. In Kenya we associate Estonia with a popular taxi hailing firm Taxify, which is giving Uber a run for its money.
Nice article. I'm Canadian/Estonian and plan to make my first trip to Tallin next Fall.
Large portion of the activities listed are actually coming from their northern neighbour Finland. Wife carrying and sauna few to mention. Finland and Estonia have a special relationship
what a wonderful assessment of a country. look like I am adding Estonia to my bucket list.
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