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Tallinn (recent historical name: Reval) is the capital city and main seaport of Estonia. It is located on Estonia’s north coast to the Baltic Sea, 80 kilometres south of Helsinki.

Estonia Map imageThe origin of the name “Tallinn(a)” is certain to be Estonian, although the original meaning of the name is debated. It is usually thought to be derived from “Taani-linn(a)” (meaning "Danish-castle/town"; Latin: Castrum Danorum). However, it could also have come from “tali-linna” (“winter-castle/town”) or “talu-linna” (“house/farmstead-castle/town”). The element -linna, like German -burg and Slavic -grad originally meant “castle” but is used as a suffix in the formation of town names.


In addition to longtime functions as seaport and capital city, Tallinn has seen development of an information technology sector in recent years; in its 13 December 2005 edition, The New York Times characterized Estonia as "a sort of Silicon Valley on the Baltic Sea." Skype is the best-known of several Tallinn IT start-ups, and a first venture capital firm was founded in 2005. Many are housed in the Soviet-era Institute of Cybernetics, which is said to been one of the seeds for Estonian adoption of computing technology. Despite this, the most important economic sectors of Tallinn are the light, textile, and food industry, as well as the service and government sector.

Estonia Tallinn photoEconomic autonomy was a key demand from Estonia during the negotiations that led to its independence. The Baltic states were the most prosperous areas of the former Soviet Union and they were keen to develop economic links with their Western neighbors outside the straitjacket of central planning. Other than oil-shale, which is present in significant quantities and provides the basis of the country’s power generation, Estonia has few raw materials of its own and relies mostly on imported commodities to produce finished goods. Light machinery, electrical and electronic equipment and consumer goods are the main products. Fishing, forestry and dairy farming dominate the agricultural sector.

Estonia Tallinn photo

Estonia’s infrastructure, particularly the road network, is well-developed by regional standards. Post-Soviet economic policy has followed a customary pattern of deregulation and privatisation. In June 1992, Estonia became the first former Soviet Republic to introduce its own currency, the Kroon, which is the legal tender and is now fixed in value to the Euro. Estonia’s service sector was the most developed in the former USSR, and has since expanded further with increased tourism and Western investment. There is also a thriving financial services industry. Overall, trade with the West has increased dramatically with important trading partners (as above). Despite this, Estonia still has fundamental economic links with the Russian Federation, and the 1998 Russian economic crisis led to a recession in Estonia the following year. Growth in 2004, however, was around 5 per cent. In 1999, Estonia joined the World Trade Organisation, adding to its previous membership of the IMF, World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. In May 2004, Estonia, along with its Baltic neighbors and seven other countries, achieved a long-cherished ambition when it joined the European Union.

  • GDP: $19.23 billion.
  • Main exports: Machinery equipment, foodstuffs, furniture, wood/paper and textiles.
  • Main imports: Transportation equipment, textiles and foodstuff.
  • Main trade partners: China, Finland, Germany, Japan, Scandanavia and Sweden.


The Estonian language belongs to the Finno-Ugric family of languages, closely related to Finnish and more distantly related to Hungarian. It is among the most difficult languages in Europe, with fourteen cases for the declension of nouns and complicated rules for their use. There are no articles, however, nor any grammatical gender in Estonian. Indeed, the same word is used for both “he” and “she”: tema. Over the years, the language has been standardized, but many dialects and accents remain, especially on the islands. Most of the foreign words used by Estonians come from German. Russian, Finnish, and English also have influenced Estonian, especially in the formation of slang.

Business Etiquette

  • Estonia niguliste church photoIn general, business behavior in Estonia is similar to that in the rest of Europe. Business is conducted formally. A handshake before and after a meeting is customary and acceptable. Care should be taken to shake hands with everyone present at a meeting. Office hours: Mon-Fri 0800-1800.
  • Immediately after shaking hands at the start of the meeting, it is customary to exchange business cards. See that you have a sufficient quantity of business cards.
  • The acceptable dress for a business meeting is a business suit for men. Women are recommended to dress fashionably, but not loudly.
  • Most business people in large cities in Estonia, particularly those under the age of 30, have a good command of English. Nevertheless, a few words in Estonian will turn the meeting into a warm and friendly encounter. The Estonian word for ‘Hello’ is ‘Tere’. It is recommended that a few words be learned in Estonian to thaw the atmosphere. The presence of an interpreter will help a business meeting to progress.
  • At first meetings, until a contact has been established, Estonians display affection very sparingly, for example: a pat on the shoulder and the like. Nevertheless as the relationship is created, the Estonians are excellent hosts. An excellent place to warm up a relationship is at a meeting in an Estonian pub.
  • The Estonian sense of humor is fairly sarcastic. Visitors from Britain will feel at home.
  • Estonians are very sensitive as regards Estonian culture. Jokes that may be offensive to their culture should be avoided. The Estonians greatly appreciate talking about their historical heritage.
  • Acceptable gifts for business meetings are items for the office, pens (including pens with your company logo) as well as selected wines.
  • It takes some time to be able to fix a meeting. Remember that frequently, senior executives acquired their experience in the former Communist regime. Confirm in advance, before the meeting, by fax or letter, that the meeting will take place.
  • You are recommended to avoid business meetings in the months of July and August or around the times of national holidays.

Sources used:

Mary Bosrock
International Education Systems
1814 Hillcrest Avenue, Suite 300
St. Paul, MN 55116
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