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Vilnius, Lithuania

After a gruelling nine and a half hour bus journey I arrived in Vilnius at 6:30 this morning. I had about the worst seat in the bus since sitting behind me was a Russian guy who for the first two hours was talking to his mobile phone. I know he was Russian because he was saying things like “da” and ‘nyet”. Once he’d finished on the phone he spent ten minutes kicking the back of my seat and then fell asleep and snored for the rest of the journey, with brief interruptions at the two border crossings: between Estonia and Latvia then between Latvia and Lithuania. Since they’re all EU countries I hadn’t expected much of a border, but at each a customs official got on the bus and looked at everyone’s passport, and for the non-EU citizens, who appeared to mostly be Russians, their passport was taken away and we had to wait ten or fifteen minutes, presumably while checks were done on them, though it felt like a way for the Baltic countries to get back at the Russians.

Yesterday I went to the Linnamuseum in Tallinn, a museum on the history of Tallinn, which was very good, but particularly when it got onto the 20th Century and dealt with the Russian occupation, describing the influx of Russians who moved in after the war as not having the same manners as Estonian people, which I read as meaning they had no manners. It also said that the Russians got all the best jobs and the best flats, but what it barely mentioned was the German occupation from 1941 until they were driven out by the Red Army – 1944 I think. After the Russian revolution and the end of the First World War Lenin gave Estonia its independence, which lasted until 1940 when the Russians returned due to a clause in the pact between Stalin and Hitler. The museum said that when the Germans drove out the Russians in 1941 they were greeted as liberators, which it said was understandable given the hard time they’d had under the Russians. But I find it hard to see how they could have viewed the Germans as liberators, since in 1941 they must have seen what had happened to France, Poland, Czechoslavakia etc. and they must have know what the Nazis were about.

According to WikiPedia Estonia had a Jewish population of 4000 before the Germans arrived.

Round-ups and killings of Jews began immediately following the arrival of the first German troops in 1941, who were closely followed by the extermination squad Einsatzkommando (Sonderkommando) 1A…

I’d heard before coming to Estonia that they really don’t like the Russians, and this museum seemed to confirm this. 40% of the population of Tallinn is Russian apparently. It would be good to hear their take on things. I get the feeling there was something being glossed over in the museum’s account around Estonia’s stance during the war. It complained that before the Germans arrived many Estonians had been conscripted to fight alongside the Russians, giving the impression that if they hadn’t been conscripted they wouldn’t have agreed to fight the Germans, or maybe even would have fought alongside the Germans. Maybe some of them did. If that’s the case then, particularly given the number of people Russia lost during the war, it’s as understandable as to why Russians may dislike Estonians as it is that Estonians apparently dislike Russians.

Then there were pictures of the singing revolution of the late eighties, and the human chain from Vilnius to Tallinn. Estonian people in stone-washed denim jackets with padded shoulders, and some TV footage of debates and demonstrations, up to when Estonia finally declared itself independent in 1991. For that they had a couple of T-shirts from the time hanging on the wall and then drawn on the wall in black marker pen were two happy smiling faces. It was a good museum still, but very much from Estonia’s point of view. It showed the period of independence between 1918 and 1940 as a golden age of Estonian arts and creativity. Before 1918 it hadn’t really been independent at all, being passed between the Swedes, the Germans, the Russians, and then going back further, Tallinn was an important Viking port.

Sitting on the bus listening to this Russian talking to his phone I couldn’t help wondering about Russian manners. But people everywhere talk into mobile phones. There’s something about listening to someone talking to a mobile phone that’s far more irritating that listening to two people talking to one another. Even when you don’t understand the language, a normal conversation has a rhythm, like the sound of a tennis match, but when it’s a person talking to a phone there’s some asymmetrical about it which is quite disturbing. To me at least. I was wondering if people from large countries are less polite than people from small countries. That would explain Americans, and Chinese. Being from a large country is a bit like being from a large city. It doesn’t matter if you piss someone off, it’s a big country so you’re not likely to meet them again. In a small country maybe there’s more of a small town feeling, the sense that if you do bad things word will get around and you’ll get a bad reputation.

But I’m sure there are many exceptions to this rule. England isn’t such a big country, and Lithuania is very small. When I got to the bus station I went into a coffee shop but I didn’t have any Lithuanian money and I hadn’t spotted any cash points, but I wanted a coffee and asked the guy in there if I could pay on my card. I asked him in English but he shouted back in LIthuanian with a bit of German I think – I heard zwei. Apparently he didn’t accept payment by credit or debit card.

I got similar responses trying to get a map and then trying to ask which bus I needed to take to get into town. Obviously was quite different to Tallinn and very different to Scandanavia. I’ve gotten used to just going up to people and speaking in English and getting replies in near perfect English back. So here I’ll have to start saying “Ar kalbate angliskal?”

I walked into a coffee shop this afternoon and bumped into a couple of Canadians I’d met in Helsinki. Canada is a big country, but it has a small population. They’ve been here for the past two weeks but are now ready to leave for somewhere more normal. This is the wild west, one of them kept saying. it certainly looks pretty rough in many places. There are crumbling buildings which remind me of India, and the prices are almost as low, but I don’t get the impression there are that many tourists here. Certainly not as many as in Tallinn. But this place isn’t Tallinn. Ryan Air don’t fly to Vilnius yet. When they do they will probably be many more drunken English people like the ones I saw today sitting outside a bar. It was a warm day. Many people were sitting drinking outside bars, but these English ones were shouting and running up to groups of girls.

Forget what I said about people from big countries having no manners. It’s people from rich powerful countries when they go to poor countries who have no manners and treat the country like they own it, expecting its people to serve them… Which is happening outside now as someone is trying to get the woman working in the hostel to call him a cab again after she’s already called one once and she’s telling him he has to be waiting outside otherwise the taxi will come and then it will go away, which it sounds like is what has happened… And expecting them to speak English. Perhaps it would be better if people in the richer countries I’ve been to – Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark – weren’t so ready to speak English and didn’t speak it so well. More like the French. Or the Italians. Then people like me wouldn’t come to places like this assuming people will speak English.

I think they’re Danish, or maybe Germans, outside waiting for the hostel worker to call a taxi to the casino, but they’re speaking to one another in English, talking about how beautiful the women in LIthuania are, and how tall they are. One of them was trying to chat up the hostel women, who is now telling one of the others off for drinking in the hostel again.

The Canadians were going to a club tonight. A place call Broadway-jus. (Lithuanians add jus onto the end of loads of words for some reason. It must mean something.) They told me where it is but I’m quite a way out of town and don’t want to get a taxi. It’s only about a 20 minute walk, but after not getting any sleep last night and only a few hours during the day here today – thanks to more Russians talking in the dorm while I was trying to sleep – I think I need an early night, though it’s gone midnight now. For me anything before 2am is early. From what the Canadians were saying today it sounds like anything before 7am is an early night for them.

One of them has been taking Lithuanian lessons from a Lithuanian woman. A Lithuanian pop star with the number one hit single here. He was talking about Lithuanian customs. They regard talking in the past tense as a sign of weakness. To appear strong you must just talk in the present tense and you shouldn’t ask for things you should demand them; I am here, it is now, I am doing this, I am having this, etc..

It is 00:43. I am sitting on a leather sofa listening to the sound of the tall Lithuanian hostel worker typing on her keyboard as she listens to music – an English language song – on the radio.

It is 00:46 and I am wondering whether or not to write what I just wrote again but now I’m thinking that to wonder is a weakness and wrote is past tense. Strength is certainty, even when you’re wrong. An appendage to a statement is weak. Trust the statement. Commas are a sign of weakness. No more commas. Only full stops.

It is 00:49 and this is the last sentence of this post and I’m thinking it’s weak to refuse to speak in the past tense just because someone tells you it is.