Wednesday, April 01, 2009


Living in a foreign capital can often throw up faintly bizarre juxtapositions, things with familiar names may turn out to be something quite different from what you might have expected, whereas something that at first blush seems quite alien is actually very familiar.

The Finnish language, for example is quite close to Estonian, but it is spelt quite differently. Often I see signs in Finnish which look totally incomprehensible, but by saying them out loud you suddenly recognise a familiar Estonian word and realise that you can, after all understand what is written.

Something slightly similar happened to me the other day, walking past the Matkamaja- the travellers house- in the Town Hall square in Tallinn's old town. I saw a sign saying "Keili". Initially it was a word that seemed to bear no relationship to any word that I knew. On reading further I realised that it was a kind of dance evening.

It took a further minute- and the presence of the "Soti", Scottish- for the light to come flooding in, that a "keili" was, in fact, a ceilidh.

So I went along- and great fun it was too. Admittedly having the steps of the Dashing White Sergeant called in Estonian was something of a challenge, but I soon picked it up- and speaking even minimal Estonian is a good way to make friends.

Mind you, it still took me a couple of minutes to realise what "Dozy-do" was.


Newmania said...

What an odd life you seem to have

Maarja said...

What kind of places you manage to find in Tallinn????

Paul Hulbert said...

Similar things apply in the Basque Country. Basque is almost unrelated to any other language and looks to the uninitiated like alphabet soup.

But I saw one of those tourist land trains, and on the side was a nameplate: "Xiou-Xiou".

After a minute or two I realised that X is pronounced "ch"...

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