Why can’t Estonians manage in Latvia?

Kaja Koovit
September 9, 2008

The following column is written by Rinel Pius, Baltic business manager at training company Inscape Baltic in aripaev.ee blog environment.

A few months ago I visited an old Latvian colleague and as always we talked about the Latvian training market, about Riga and even politics. I asked Aigars why Estonians cannot seem to manage in Lativa. And even when they seem to, it comes with great deal of strain.

Aigars just laughed, but did say that because he is in business with a lot of Estonians, that same question seem to bother him as well. Compared to the Swedes, Norwegians, Danes and even the Finns who manage just fine, Estonians do not tend to be anyone’s favourites in Latvia. Although he had to admit that the usual success of Estonians excites the Latvians. But when it comes to the business relationships between Estonians and Latvians, Aigars does believe that Estonians are control freaks and that just drives to him mad. Who would want a foreigner to endlessly ask for data while at the same time failing to listen to and use it. But Aigars did stay politically correct until the end and stated that that was just his personal opinion.

On my way back to Tallinn I thought about the international and cultural things of the world, looking back into my own experiences in Latvia, Lithuania, Russia as well as in Finland and Spain. In some cases the financial success for bigger, but I could not remember any social feeling. In other countries it was the opposite- no financial gain but the social surrounding was just killing me. Was that just accidental or is that the actual pattern we have to deal with?. Still that is not a way to make business.

Just a few days after my Latvian trip I got an answer on how to deal with different cultural backgrounds. As it turned out I was not the first one to figure out that cultures really are different in different countries. The key to open different cultures was found a long time ago in Africa. That was the first place where people were willing to learn other cultures. Among those who tried to help me with my answer where the Intercultural Navigators. And the first thing I wanted to know was how someone from Ethiopia who has never been to Estonia can manage to teach me how to deal with Russians living in Estonia?

My answer came from an international teaching seminar that they were holding. Their attention did not focus on the nationality of an individual but rather what how to deal with different cultures. As it turned out an Ethiopian has no need to go to Latvia or Estonia to teach how to deal in those cultural environments. In discussion groups we were talking about stereotypical thinking, a habit that needs to go when someone wants to conduct international business.

The Navigator program in Estonia will start with supporting Russian teachers in Estonia who have to learn Estonian. And maybe then they can work with the police and border guards who need help in that department as well. Or maybe they should teach those Estonian business owners, who have employees from various cultural backgrounds, how to educate themselves on cultural differences. And maybe then Estonians can actually manage to succeed in Latvia.