Estonia Culture of Business

By | July 24, 2022

Subchapters:

  • Introduction
  • Addressing
  • Business Meeting
  • Communication
  • Recommendations
  • Public Holidays

Introduction

Estonia is the northernmost of the three Baltic states, but it very proudly considers itself a “Nordic” country, not an Eastern European country. Estonians are patriots and nationalists. They want to be winners in business and show how competent they are. They understand that building informal business contacts takes a long time and that it is neither a quick nor an easy process. In general, Estonians are reserved people. Estonian company representatives do business with businesses, not so much with people, so they don’t feel the need to build a relationship first in order to do business with you. The Czechia is perceived positively and as a close partner. Estonia was among the first allied countries to express solidarity with the Czech Republic in the case of the GRU’s involvement in the explosions in Vrbětice. Czech companies have a good reputation in Estonia, especially for the quality of their products, export orientation and generally high communication skills.

  • Barblejewelry: Overview of Estonia, including popular places to visit, UNESCO World Heritage List, climate, geography and travel advice.

Addressing

How to reach business partners? Estonians are formal and polite. They expect that the last name will be used at the first meeting, or academic title. However, as you get to know each other more, they will ask you to call them by their first name (and expect the same response from the other party). In written form, use the address “Lugupeetud härra/proua” + surname or “Auustada härra/proua + surname” (both meaning Dear Sir/Madam + surname). However, in everyday contact, the use of titles is neither common nor important, and younger generations/startups are addressed directly by name from the beginning. Business cards are always exchanged with everyone, so bring plenty.

Business meeting

In most cases, a business meeting is arranged in advance by e-mail or by phone 1-2 weeks in advance, a private invitation can be arranged at a shorter time. Business meetings are held either in the office (meeting room) or in the restaurant. Morning and daytime meetings take place more often in the office than in a restaurant, especially when it comes to product presentation. Business dinners in a restaurant are quite common. Estonians place a high value on work-life balance, which is why they value their free time. It is therefore advisable to arrange the meeting during normal working hours between 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. (with the exception of work dinners), with the need to fully respect the partners’ non-work commitments. Business cards are almost always exchanged at the first meeting. Giving a gift is considered a nice surprise, but it is generally not expected or considered mandatory.

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Business meetings are held all year round, except for two time periods – the main one is the period from Christmas to the New Year, or even a few weeks before Christmas, when many Christmas events are organized, e.g. at work or among friends. Another is the period around the feast of St. John’s Day (June 24), because in Estonia Midsummer is as popular and important as Christmas, and no business meetings are held. Finding a suitable time can be difficult even during the summer, when Estonians take advantage of the long days to relax and stay at family cottages. It is also a good idea to make sure in advance that the proposed meeting does not fall on one of the Estonian national holidays, as business meetings are not held during them (as well as on weekends).

During negotiations, long pauses in the conversation are common, as the Estonian mentality and tendency towards skepticism require a longer time to think through answers. Interruption is taken as very impolite. Estonians do not like to rush business negotiations, so it may take longer to complete a conversation than in Western Europe. However, it is always based on honesty and openness. Estonians are known for not showing their emotions when discussing business, keeping their “poker face”. However, verbal communication is still direct and honest. Before entering the market, it is necessary to carry out a thorough market research and prepare at least a basic business plan – expected volume of business, product range, costs of penetrating the Estonian market, competitor analysis, method of promotion, etc.

Estonian entrepreneurs are innovative and determined – they know what they want, even if it sometimes starts as a “dream”. They cooperate in business activities and use every opportunity to develop their business. Pride in one’s country in Northern Europe, direct dealings without haste with time space for decisions, several topics to avoid in the conversation and a big difference in the mentality of Russian-speaking businessmen are absolutely essential.

Punctuality is very important in Estonian business, so you should always arrive on time. If the meeting is held during the day, it usually lasts 1.5-2 hours. A business dinner in a restaurant is longer, of course, because there is also another conversation going on during it. xSince Northeast Estonia (Ida-Viru County) is a predominantly Russian-speaking region, the cultural differences of local entrepreneurs compared to Estonians should be taken into account during business negotiations. It should also be taken into account that citizens there often get information from different sources than the rest of the country (watching Russian media, etc.). Business meetings in the office are always without alcohol. On the contrary, it is appropriate to offer wine, for example, at a working dinner.

The recommended clothing for business meetings is the same as in the Czech Republic – a suit for men, a dress, skirt or trouser suit for women. The negotiation team is made up of people according to their expertise, gender and age do not play a role. There is no ideal number of team members either. The meeting is most often led by the director or head of a certain department. In Estonia, it is very unusual to invite business partners to your home.

Communication

Having an interpreter is usually not necessary, especially the younger generation speaks and understands English well. The elderly and residents of the northeastern region may prefer Russian.

The key point is to never refer to Estonians as Eastern Europeans. It is also not pleasant for them if they are referred to as Baltic – they consider their country to be Nordic. So if they are referred to as “Northern Europeans” in conversation, they will be pleased and flattered. Definitely do not develop the topic of the Second World War or the time of the Soviet Union, of which Estonia was a part. Preserving personal space has always been important for Estonians due to their mentality, i.e. no hugging and kissing on the cheek, only shaking hands (this was also limited due to the coronavirus pandemic). Visit Aparentingblog for more information about Estonia culture and traditions.

Estonian business culture is very formal and matter-of-fact, Estonians like to separate their private and work life. Thus, unlike American and European business culture, “small talk” is rare, and when it occurs, it is very brief. Therefore, foreign businessmen should not be offended if, for example, no one asks them about their family during negotiations.

Estonians prefer to use e-mail to communicate because it gives them time to consider a proposal more thoroughly (or to ignore it, which they consider more polite than an outright rejection). The telephone is used for urgent topics and quick personal negotiations in the event of a controversial issue. Fax is basically no longer used in Estonia.

Recommendation

  • Handshakes are common. Due to the strong Scandinavian roots, however, additional physical contact (hugs, pats on the shoulders, polite kisses on the cheek) is unpleasant for most people.
  • Discussions may start with the weather, but always end with business or politics. Personal life is usually not discussed.
  • Although at first glance people may seem reserved and not at all talkative, they are actually very friendly.
  • Interrupting a conversation is very impolite, but long pauses in conversations are common.
  • The Estonian mentality is combined with skepticism, so rushing through negotiations is not common – negotiations can take longer to complete than in Western Europe.
  • Many people in Estonia speak English, but also Finnish, German and Russian. Estonians value their language and culture. They are always very happy if you prove that you know at least a few Estonian words.

Public Holidays

  • January 1 – New Year
  • February 24 – Estonian Independence Day (proclamation of the Republic in 1918)
  • March/April – Easter, Good Friday (moving holiday)
  • May 1 – Spring Festival
  • May/June – Whitsundays (movable holiday)
  • June 23 – Victory Day (1918, the Estonian and Latvian armies defeated the German Landswehr at the Battle of Võnn-Cesis in Latvia)
  • June 24 – the feast of St. Jana/Jaanipäev (Summer Solstice)
  • August 20 – Day of Regaining Independence of Estonia (1991)
  • November 16 – Day of the Revival of Estonia (1988, the Estonian Supreme Soviet passed a law on the supremacy of Estonian laws over the laws of the USSR); is not a working day off
  • December 24 – Christmas Day
  • December 25 – The first Christmas holiday
  • December 26 – Boxing Day

Estonia Culture of Business