The Estonian Coconut Hunt


"Hello! My name is Katerina, I am from Greece I and I am one of the new members of the Study in Estonia Student Ambassadors' team. I arrived in Estonia 3 years ago as an Erasmus+ volunteer. After a year and a half of volunteering and working in Estonia I spent 6 months volunteering in Denmark and Malawi and then came back to Estonia to work in the education field and to start my Master's studies at Tallinn University. During my study journey in Estonia, I founded a social enterprise with an environmental cause called BinFree. I joined the Student Ambassadors' team to share my experience and tips about the opportunities that Estonia gives to students that decide to study, live and work here!"  - Katerina 


As a “peach” coming from the South of Europe to live in Estonia 3 years ago, I couldn’t imagine that inside me is living a small “coconut” that was waiting patiently to come out. During one of my first trainings as an Erasmus+ volunteer in Estonia, one of my trainers (who teaches at Tallinn University too) explained to me for the first time in my life, the cultural differences between Greece and Estonia as a metaphor with a peach and a coconut to make me value my experiences differently. Sounds a bit strange doesn’t it? Let me explain...


Greece. Photo: Pexels

Greece is associated with sun and light, tasty food, hospitality, loud and friendly people. You will see them on the street saying “Good morning!” to everyone in their community, smiling at strangers, making small talk and asking you so many things about your personal life without sharing facts about their own private lives. They are great companions, as they have very positive vibes, but how do you know if they are your real friends?


Tallinn Old Town. Photo: Aivo Oblikas

I answered this question during my time spent in Estonia, as a result of interactions with people diametrically different from my home country’s culture. The first period of my stay, I felt that I was invisible. No eye contact, no small talk, no smiles - not even a question about how I am doing! "How rude Estonians are!" I wondered back then. I was very frustrated and couldn’t understand what I was doing wrong, they looked so unfriendly even aggressive sometimes.

Time passed, I started learning a bit of the language and all of a sudden, the situation started to change! People started asking me how I am really doing, asking things about me and helping me with anything I needed. Making friends in Estonia felt as a personal challenge that I accepted and finally succeeded at, as Estonians value personal space, moments of silence, and ask questions only when they really care about the other person. Friendship needs time, personal space, effort, honesty, and trust to be built and these are characteristics that you can find in your friendships with Estonians.


Friends. Photo: Unsplash 

It felt like a coconut with a thick and hard shell that I had to break in order to get to the soft and creamy core. Once their "shell" is broken, Estonians tend to become loyal friends who will accept you as family, will remember everything about you and help you whenever you are in need.

Being a “peach" - soft and juicy on the outside but with a very strong core that is very difficult to break - gives you a great opportunity to meet many people and build up enjoyable but ephemeral relationships. A great tip to break that core, is to be able to place it in fertile ground where it feels safe and secure and can blossom and grow. It is easier to reach the “peach” core, but more difficult to break it and see it giving fruit.

Coconuts and peaches

Peaches and coconuts. Photos: Unsplash

“Coconuts” are the reflection of the idiom “if you want something in life, you have to work for it” but the result will satisfy you no matter how much time and effort the whole process takes.

Here are some things Estonians do that let you know you may be cracking their coconut shell:

  • inviting you to a summerhouse (especially during Jaanipäev)
  • revealing the secret spots in the forest for picking mushrooms and berries
  • asking you to go out
  • sharing personal information about their lives
  • asking you how you are doing (and actually meaning it)

Nowadays, it is very impressive to have someone ask you “How are you?” and then actually being willing to listen how you really feel. And in return, they expect the same attention from you when you pose such a question.

So, are you ready to discover the hidden power of coconuts in the cold and dark Estonia and make real friends for life? Your friendship will start when you hear “Kuidas läheb?” which in Estonian language means “How are you?”.


How are you

Text: Katerina