Someone talked to me at the Viru väljak tram stop yesterday. A stranger. It was dark at 5pm and 38 degrees F and lightly misting. He didn't want anything or even need information. He did ask me if the tram had just left (the next one was already in view) but this was just a lead-in. He went on immediately to volunteer a bunch of information about himself. What he did for a living, for example.
His teeth were a little crooked and he was wearing the close-fitting condom sort of cap that is the main winter headwear style here, so it was easy to take him at first for a bit of a simpleton. (I have the same kind of cap, incidentally.)
Because people don't talk to each other on the street, in Tallinn. Or in most places. Unless they're casing you as a possible mark. Certainly they don't tell you what they do for a living. Generally they whiz by in Audis and BMWs and you wonder what they do for a living that they can afford their rides in a country with the average salary being what it is.
He said he was a freelance journalist for Postimees. OK, you're a freelancer, I thought -- and I'm a consultant.
Then he told me about a party he had covered, a party thrown by brother and sister entertainment celebrities Gerli and Tanel Padar. And that he had a country home around the same area as the Padars.
Ah, I said. How was it? This went on for some time, as long as the tram ride lasted.
I kept on thinking, "OK, now here it comes -- the invitation to his church." But it didn't come. He was just killing time by conversing pleasantly with me.
I'm afraid I acted like a typical Tallinner -- at first I acted suspicious and then curt, while making a show about being cordial.
What's happened to me? Not so long ago, I thought highly of a line from the Garcia-Hunter song Scarlet Begonias" -- "strangers stopping strangers, just to shake their hands". Nothing seemed better than superimposing a rock festival vibe on everyday life.
What if they did? Wouldn't that be far preferable? Or at least a "hi". It would cost nothing.
Or would we all lose face somehow?
Anyway, saying hi also qualifies you as a true frukt.
When I lived in a quiet rural neighbourhood outside Tallinn, we made an effort to be friendly. But one day I had a group of five-year-olds tell me, You don't need to always say hi.
Geez, such sophistication at such a young age. I wondered if they expected a faint knowing nod, wise to the wise, or if they just wanted to be ignored...
An exception to all this was when Morgan was a baby and I walked around with him in a sling. Old dour ladies in a country where pensioners have a reputation of being bitter and mean, actually smiled and greeted us. I never really figured out why. Morgan was photogenic in a certain way, but I never caught him doing anything funny anytime I walked past a mirrored office building.
Anyway, because it is one of the few things to even remotely break the routine in the winter gloom (kids are great and work is interesting, but we're all in a holding pattern until spring) I started somewhat delusionally scouring the encounter with the stranger on the tram for meaning.