10 Things You Might Not Know About: Estonia

Formally, Estonia is the most northerly of the three Baltic states (Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia itself.) Most Estonians, however, feel culturally closer to the Finns than the Latvians and Lithuanians. The Estonian capital Tallinn and the Finnish capital Helsinki are only 85 kilometers apart – to be overcome in 90 minutes by ferry.

Estonians and Finns also share the same ancestors: the Finno-Ugric tribes who immigrated from the Urals. And their languages ​​also derives from the same language family. But there are quite a lot of things and facts that they don’t share with any other country! 

1) Estonian Cuisine in Space

Estonia produced the very first meal for the astronauts of the Societ Space Program in 1962. A factory in Põltsamaa started packaging pre-prepared food into tin tubes since this was the only available option at the time.

2) Bookworms

Credits: Leora Dowling

Estonians love books. A recent study by the Australian National University and the University of Nevada showed that Estonians lead the world on the number of books owned per person. The average Estonian owns 218 books per household, and 35% of Estonian’s inhabitants even own 350 books or more.

3) The True Masters Of Wife-Carrying

Credits: AFP/Scanpix

Even though it were the Finns that started it, Estonians mastered the art of the non-Olympic sport of wife-carrying. So far, Estonian couples took the victory home for 11 consecutive years between 1998 and 2008 in the Wife Carrying World Championships. How men carry their wives – piggyback, fireman’s carry (over the shoulder), or “Estonian-style” – is up to them. The World Wife Carrying Championships are held annually in Sonkajärvi, Finland. The first prize? The wife’s weight in beer.

4) Their Beaches Can Sing

Credits: Laulasmaa Spaa Hotell

It’s not only the Estonian residents that enjoy singing but also some of their beaches! The strange phenomenon of “singing sand” happens when you step in the sand on the islands of Hiiumaa, Saaremaa, or Laulasmaa. The resulting sound resembles one of a violin playing. No one has yet found out how or why it happens, only that mainly quartz sand will do this if the grains are well-rounded and spherical.

5) Sauna Marathons

Credits: Matt Seymour

Otepää in southern Estonia is the venue of Europe’s largest sauna marathon taking place every year. More than 70 different saunas are spread over Otepää, and everyone who participates must find their way, while using a map, to each sauna as quickly as possible. Once in a sauna, they must spend at least three minutes inside. You’ll get bonus points if you take a plunge into an ice hole, cold pool, or any other challenge created by the sauna owners. The team that visits all saunas in the shortest time wins.

6) Sparse Population

Credits: Julius Jansson

Even though Estonia covers a little over 45,000 km2 (~17,375 square miles), it only has an estimated population of 1.3 million, since almost 50% of the area is covered by forest. This makes it one of the most sparsely populated countries in Europe.

7) The Silicon Valley of Europe

Credits: Mario Gogh

Estonian is a country of quite a lot of bright minds that are not afraid to try new things. There’s a fair amount of startups that started in Estonia with some of the more famous ones include Skype, Transferwise, Pipedrive, Cloutex, Click & Grow, Grabcad, Erply, Fortumo, Lingvist, Taxify, Funderbeam, and more.

8) Non-Believers

Credits: Elen Juurma

According to a poll in 2011, Estonians consider themselves one of the “least religious” countries in the world. Only 29% of the population declared that religion was an essential part of their daily lives. That doesn’t mean, however, that the rest of Estonians are atheists. Over the last decade, there has been an increase in Neo-Pagan, Buddhist, and Hindu beliefs. At the same time, however, the Madeline’s Church in Ruhnu, built in 1644, is one of the oldest wood constructed buildings in Estonia.

9) Online Voting and WiFi Everywhere

Estonia was the first country in the world to allow its citizens to vote online in 2005. And in general, the country is one of the most digitally advanced societies in the world. There are WiFi hotspots all over the country – even in the forests. 

10) Country of Women

Credits: Ilya Orehov

Estonia has distinctly more women than men – for every 100 females, there are 84 men. Only the Northern Mariana Islands, a US territory in the Pacific, with a population of around 50,000, has a smaller percentage of males. And as another fact: Estonian women live ten years longer, on average, which could also explain the uneven distribution.