A Finland Swede in Bavaria

Monday, 17 November 2008

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania: A Tour of the Three Baltic Countries

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit the three Baltic countries for Sun Microsystems, talking about MySQL powering the Web economy. The tour started on Monday and Tuesday in Vilnius, Lithuania, followed by Riga on Wednesday and Tallinn on Thursday. Many similarities between the countries, which are externally often seen as one unit and which internally sometimes view each other as siblings.

I was joined during the trip by Dutch Sun colleague Martin de Jong, who observed that each of the countries have a larger area than the Netherlands, whereas the combined .lt .lv and .ee population isn't even half of that of the Netherlands.

But the economic importance of the Baltics is increasing. The Sun Microsystems activities are being managed through Sun Finland, whose country manager Hannu Nyländen accompanied Martin and myself through most of the tour.

I'll offer some country specific observations, but let me start by saying that the countries don't share a mutually intelligible language. While Lithuanian and Latvian are related and share some words, they are at least as far apart as German and English. They're both very old Indo-European languages, with Lithuanian being the older one, with one well-informed Vilnius attendee claiming close relationship between Lithuanian and Sanskrit. Estonian isn't Indo-European at all, but related to Finnish. Probably a bit closer to Finnish than German is to English (but quite a bit more distant than, say, Danish is from Swedish). At any rate, this leaves young Baltic people speaking English to each other, a bit older ones speaking Russian, whereas a generation or two prior to that, many would likely have spoken German to each other.

The trip started in Vilnius. Sadly, long-time MySQL colleague Domas Mituzas was in the US, so I didn't meet with him. Instead, we were hosted by Sun Microsystem's local Business Development Manager Rolandas Kymantas, who had gathered perhaps 60 Lithuanians into Reval Hotel Vilnius, where the venue was held.

I was very challenged to give the first five minutes of my speech in Lithuanian, as pronunciation is non-trivial and the stress was very challenging, on a par with Russian.

To continue my habit of writing blogs in languages I don't speak, I started a blog also in Lithuanian. The blog is at http://blogs.arno.fi/laisvas_zodis/, where Laisvas žodis means (or at least is supposed to mean) "Free speech".

The second destination was Riga, familiar to many MySQLers from our Developer Meeting two months ago. Here, we were hosted by Evijs Taube, Sun's Business Development Manager for Latvia. The event was in Reval Hotel Riga (the one with the bar on the 26th floor), and coincided with the Latvian Open Technologies Association's event. LATA (for Latvijas atvērto tehnoloģiju asociācija) and its sponsors (among them Sun) had managed to collect a whopping 350 participants to the event.

I was happy to note that my attempt at speaking Latvian was greeted by the audience. One attendee, Janis from Daugavpils (also known as Tvinky), posted a recording of it online. And my Latvian blog is live on http://blogs.arno.fi/labrit/, named Labrīt! for "Good morning!". I'm curious to see whether there will be any reaction to them, by MySQL's Latvian friends, such as Michael Dexter, who helped us a lot in September and whom it was a pleasure to meet again.

Estonia and Tallinn was the third and final destination. Again, the hotel belonged to the same chain. Reval Hotel Tallinn is somewhat of a double name, as "Reval" is the old Swedish and German name for Tallinn.

Martin de Jong and I were alone here, as Hannu had left for Finland. Our host was Sun's Estonian BizDev mgr Maidu Harjak. He had collected roughly as many attendees as Rolandas in Lithuania. On account of knowing Finnish, the Estonian speech wasn't quite as difficult as Lithuanian or Latvian. Creating an Estonian blog was a bit harder, though, as Google Translate doesn't help me with that. Instead, I had to resort to Aivar Joonas, my Estonian friend and reconstruction expert working at my country house in Finland. With his help, I chose to host the blog on http://blogs.arno.fi/vaba_lava/. Vaba lava is what you say when it's time for anyone to speak up, "The floor is open".

My blogs in Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian so far only contain my speeches in the respective languages. And realistically, I won't post very frequently to them (in particular, Estonian is not supported by Google Translate). Nonetheless, I hope there is some benefit from having my local presentations online.


1 comment:

  1. [...] It’s some interesting topic! Observations on life by Kaj Arnö, a native speaker of Bad English and Finland Swedish « Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania: A Tour of the Three Baltic Countries [...]