6 things people assume about the Baltics

Source: Visit Estonia

6 things people assume about the Baltics

Like A Local blog has published an article where a lifelong Estonian Martin Liivand writes about the most common myths people think regarding the Baltic States.

In recent years, the Baltic states have become more well-known travel destinations, but people still tend to not know too much about them. What are the Baltic states? Where are the Baltic states? Should we be afraid of them? Do they get Game of Thrones?

Those select few travellers who have reached the shores of the Baltics tell tales of a mysterious and magical land inhabited by three ancient and wise peoples who mostly like to make fun of each other and drink too much beer. But, the stories aren't always true and there's still a fair share of misconceptions out there about these fair lands.

Muhu Winehouse

Photo by: Mart Vares / Visit Estonia

1. Everybody speaks Russian

In all fairness, it's not difficult to see why people tend to think this. The Baltic states were part of the Russian cultural space for a long time and still have a fairly sizeable Russian minority.

It doesn't really matter that when I try to speak Russian I kind of sound like Brad Pitt in that scene from Inglorious Bastards where he pretends to speak Italian. The belief is still going strong. If I had a penny for every time I heard this stereotype, I'd likely have enough pennies by now to take a Russian course and finally learn the damn thing!

It's important to point out that Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian are actual languages and not some weird mumbo-jumbo Tolkien made up to make his race of magical badger people seem more authentic. While the older generation does speak Russian fairly fluently having grown up in the Soviet Union, younger generations are definitely more oriented towards English.

Everything is in English nowadays, and with everyone from the weatherman to Tony Stark shouting at us in this language, even the slowest learner will pick up some eventually.

2. It's always cold

It can't be warm in Eastern Europe, right? After all, it's right next to Russia, a country where temperatures above 0 °C have been outlawed since the dawn of time. And the Baltics are right next to Russia, which means that the only things the locals do are drink vodka, go ice fishing, get into fist fights with polar bears, listen to "Ice Ice Baby" by Vanilla Ice and then drink some more vodka. Which is totally not true! "Play That Funky Music" is a much more refined tune and should be considered the epitome of Vanilla Ice's refrigeration-themed musical career.

Cycling in wintertime can be a real bliss!

Photo by: Tõnu Tunnel / Visit Estonia

But, I stray from the point. What people often fail to understand is that while the winters here can indeed be pretty harsh, it's entirely possible to come over and not immediately die of hypothermia while waiting to claim your baggage. In summertime, it's fairly common for temperatures to reach 25 °C or even 30 °C. You can leave your sweater behind in July – you won't need it!

Old habits do die hard, though. Last August we still had Brits walking around in beanies and coats when it was 30 °C outside. Maybe they thought that the warm weather was just a hoax conjured up by the locals to help them sell more amber and that it would disappear immediately once the quota had been filled.

So, feel free to leave your coat at home and hit the beach. Grab an ice cream and enjoy the sun. You can tell people back home that you actually swam in the sea in Eastern Europe! They'll most likely imagine you wresting a Russian submarine with your bare hands in steely grey waters while wearing Speedos with Lenin's face printed on them. Which is not a bad look, if you ask me.

3. It's scary Eastern Europe

We've all seen American action movies. Taking centre stage is Captain Freedom-Person beating some honest-to-God liberty into baddies with his Democracy Stick. And the baddies? They're usually from "The East" and that's a scary place. It's filled with abandoned grey buildings and irrationally large numbers of Kalashnikovs. The local guys are always sporting Adidas sweatpants, driving old BMWs and speaking with Russian accents that have about as much to do with real Russian as the things I just described relate to the Baltic states.

Tallinn old town

Photo by: Mats Õun / Visit Estonia

Well, I'm proud to say that I've managed to live to the ripe age of 25 without having seen a single Kalashnikov! While crime was a big problem in the Baltics in the 90s, nowadays it's one of the safest regions to travel around in Eastern Europe.

Visitors are often pleasantly surprised by what the region has to offer. They expect everything to be old, falling apart, grey and Soviet. Instead they find beautifully maintained medieval old towns, shopping malls and modern technology.

So, don't be alarmed when your loved ones say that they're going to take a quick trip to the Baltics. The locals are way too busy hating each other to pay your sons and daughters any attention.

4. People are quiet and shy

This is one of the most common stereotypes that even the newest editions of tourist guidebooks mention. Apparently, when you go to the Baltics, people never smile, rarely talk and always seem like they'd rather jump off the nearest bridge instead of saying hello. The situation seems to be so bad we're approaching Finnish levels of introversion (sorry Finns, please don't stop buying our cheap booze!)
It's possible that the stereotype stems from the early 90s when the first foreign tourists started arriving in the Baltics after the fall of the Soviet Union. During Soviet times it definitely mattered what you said and to whom you said it. Nowadays things are a bit more lax, though. 

Are Estonians really quiet?

Photo by: Renee Altrov / Visit Estonia

Of course in the Baltics, like anywhere in the world, you'll find people with varying levels of quietness, but I think that the stern and stoic Easterner is largely a thing of the past. Locals are absolutely fine with being open about their emotions. Say you meet a local in a bar in Tallinn and want to strike up a conversation. Just casually mention Skype and you'll melt the heart of even the coldest Estonian.

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Last updated : 22.04.2021

In category: Tallinn, South Estonia, West Estonia, Islands, North Estonia