Tartu from a Russian’s point of view

Tartu, which never sleeps.

                    You are truly living in Estonia, when you have no idea
how it is possible to know less than three languages.

“You have been living in Estonia for too long, if you have some Estonian friends.” I’ve been studying here for two years already and all this time I was trying to figure out two things:  if Tartu has its bedtime at all, and how it feels like to be in a city, where at least one out of four people is a student. By the way, if you don’t have a „helkur“ – you are not Estonian. 🙂

So, Tartu has never requested time off. Action does not leave the streets, even at night. It’s possible to go outside for a cigarette at 6 p.m. and come back at 7 a.m. with perfect Estonian skills (that’s the experience I enjoyed once). Besides, there won’t be any language barrier because everybody speaks English. I can be incredibly long describing the weeks when students take over the city (literally, for two times in a year Tartu becomes a student’s reign). Thus, swimming in 5 degrees celsius water definitely strikes a note. Oh yeah, ability to speak at least three languages is a norm. But among some of my friends studying philology (I completely forgot to mention that I’m studying at the department of philology at the University of Tartu) I have some acquaintances with people, who knows a little less than 11 languages. I hope that she will read this article with a smile.

Boat Rally 2014

So that’s the thing : I’m living in a city where life is spilling over. Many various and multicultural life, thanks to exchange programms. So you will forget that “given with birth“ (at least for me) Russian stereotype „Eestimaa – so sloow“ as you will forget how the paper money and passport look like. I cannot remember any other way of paying for something except the electronic ways. Yes, it was unusual to carry lot of cards with me, but I got used to it in a while. Plus, don’t forget to take your blue/red ID card with you, when you are going to the club!


Racism in Estonia? Come on, but the joke is „You are Estonian when you know all the three black people living in Estonia one and all“ has some truth as well. By the way, they LOVE to sing. The new Estonian generation knows russian language only „чуть-чуть“ (a bit). But that „чуть-чуть“  with Estonian accent sounds more adorable than cats’ videos on Youtube. You don’t believe me? Approach somebody who looks nice and friendly on the streets, so you will learn Estonian. After all you will improve a lot, because „Oi teate, Eestisse jõudsin aasta tagasi aga juba miskitmoodi räägin“ (I arrived in Estonia a year ago but somehow already speaking). Yeah, understanding the 14 cases and no future tense will put your EGO on the nineth sky. I still remember how I was applying for my insurance card, the card I got right after I arrived in Estonia in September.  The lady who helped me decided to speak in Russian. In the following summer we were speaking in Estonian. You should have seen her eyes to witness her delightful surprise.

I did not expect to meet so many students from Pskov. I didn’t expect that to become a real student you have to have sex in the library. I didn’t expect that studying in a country that not many people around the world know about will be overfilled with new impressions. Don’t be shy to speak and practice Estonian. Being a Russian and to hear this compliment, “you are speaking better Estonian than most Russians living in here”, it’s a sign of the highest gratitude you can get from the citizens of this small and cold country. 🙂

Author: Fedor Zhdanov, Russia, Russian and Slavonic Philology


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