Estonia (»Eesti«) the most northern of the Baltic states, can be traced back to a first century, according to the Roman historian Tacitus, to a place or people called »Aestui« or »Aestii«, The first evidence of Estonia is mentioned in the Chronican Livoniae (1180-1227), which includes descriptions of the society and phrases of the language.
Estonia has been ruled by many countries after the 13th century; Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Poland and Russia. The country was divided into two provinces during the Polish-Swedish rule from 1560-1710 (Estland in the north, and Livland in the south, incl, a part of Latvia), and later under the imperial Russia.
Estonia was politically independent between 1918 and 1940, and became independent again in 1991 when the country regained its independence from the Soviet Union.
The Estonian language belongs to the Finno-Ugric linguistic group. It is closely related to Finnish and also distantly to Hungarian and various spoken languages in Siberia. It bears no resemblance to the languages of the other Baltic republics, Latvia and Lithuania, or to Russia. Today, about one quarter of the population is of Russian-speaking origin. However, this is changing rapidly, because Estonians are pushing Russian citizens toward learning the Estonian language. English is in fact gaining popularity in Estonia as a second or third language. Ethnic Estonians are the majority of the population, amounting to almost 64%.
Tallinn, the capital, is one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Europe, and tourism accounts for 15% of Estonian GDP. After the independence in 1991, Estonia has transformed its economy from central planned system to a free market. The main sectors of the economy are electronics and telecom sectors, engineering, food products, metals, chemicals and wood products. As a member of EU and WTO is Estonia steadily moving towards a modern market economy with increasing ties to the West. Major and traditional trading partners are Germany, Finland and Sweden.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church is the largest denomination. Under the Soviet rule became religion a silent protest for most Estonians. After the independence several religious organizations appeared. With the purpose of uniting the different churches, the Council of Estonian Churches was established in 1989. Most people attend church only at Christmas.
The family is the fundament of the Estonian social life. Nuclear families in the cities and extended families on the countryside. The average family includes husband, wife and one child. Newly wed couples live often together with the parents of one of the spouses. Elderly family members are highly respected and are often taken care of at home instead of being placed in a care home. Grandparents tend to help with the child care when their parents are working. Wives are responsible for the household even though they might have full time jobs. Marriage to non-Estonians is not forbidden, but mixed marriages especially between Estonians and Russians are not especially welcomed, as it is estimated that more than 50'% of all marriages end in divorce.
Women's rights are legally protected by the Constitution, which explicitly forbids gender discrimination. However, still are men given executive positions, while women are given more visible positions in the service sectors; in banks, retail shops and secretarial work. There are women active in politics, but few in the government.
Estonians are formal and reserved, do not like to draw attention to themselves, and maintain distance in public and private spaces. They seem to avoid eye contact, and talk in a hushed tone. Being calm and rational are respected qualities. Once a relationship is established their distant behaviour will change. Estonians look at Russians as being loud, boisterous and not respectful of personal space.
Gift GivingBusiness cards are exchanged without any ritual. If you have any academic titles, you should add them to your card. When doing business in Estonia, you ought to have one side printed in the Estonian language.
Gift giving among companies is not common. However, should you be invited to an Estonian home, bring flowers (odd numbers) or a box of exclusive chocolate. Gifts are opened when received.
Men should wear a nice suit, shirt and tie. Women should wear a neat business dress. Avoid revealing clothing.
An Estonian business meeting is opened by a senior who welcomes with a short speak. It is expected that the most senior person from your side will respond to his speak. Estonians are open-minded for new, potential foreign business partners. They have long traditions with foreign trade and with a good reputation as hard working, honest and professional business people.
A meeting is often followed by a lunch or dinner, where the atmosphere is more social. However, you should maintain to behave polite and not casual.
Follow up the meeting within a week with a letter about what has been agreed. Your letter will most likely be responded, in order to make it clear for both parts that all points are understood
Last update: March 2015.