The Estonian office of the International Organization for Migration has published an electronic manual for expected refugees and asylum seekers, explaining Estonian habits of every-day communication and providing general information about Estonia and life in the country.
Here is an insight into the interaction guide of the manual published in Arabic, English, French and Russian.
Greetings and distance
– People usually greet each other with a wave of the hand, i.e. without physical contact.
– A handshake is used in more formal settings (regardless of whether the other person is a man or a woman).
– Physical contact (e.g. a hug) is common among young people and in informal communication.
– Kissing on the cheek is not very common in Estonia.
– Estonians like to keep some space around them, and invading this space may be seen as aggressive – it makes people feel uncomfortable, and they may take a step back to maintain their personal space.
– Estonians consider eye contact very important in communication, as it shows that you are interested in the other person and that they have your attention.
– If you avoid eye contact, people may think you have something to hide or that you are bored or not interested in the conversation.
– Always make eye contact, but ensure it is not too intense, or it may be interpreted as overbearing.
Emotions and smiling
– Although Estonians may seem reserved and cold at first, this does not mean that they dislike you. They simply need time to get to know you.
– Estonians do not smile much in official communication.
– Estonians may be rather more emotional and smile more often once you have broken the ice and befriended them.
– It is important to be specific in conversations. Taking a long time to get to the point is considered a waste of time.
– Estonians do not generally talk with their hands.
– People are rather informal when they communicate with their colleagues, calling them by their first name irrespective of their age or position.
– When addressing an official or service staff, it is advisable to use the formal «teie», which is also appropriate and polite when speaking to older people or meeting someone for the first time.
– Estonians are usually direct and say what they think, which is why they are also direct in refusal and say «no» immediately if they feel they cannot do you a favour.
– «No» usually means «no», and there is little point trying to make people change their mind – they see it as applying pressure, which may have negative consequences.
– Home is important to Estonians, which means that people do not often invite guests over.
– However, inviting people over and visiting others is more common among young people.
– Visiting someone without asking or telling them in advance is generally considered impolite.