The other day in the sauna after my swim I was stretching a bit. One of the sauna cohabitants was an old woman; a woman of the age where I'm impressed that she has made her way to the pool and sauna at all. She looked at me stretching and started speaking in Russian. I speak no Russian. Well, I know "yes", "no", and "thank you", but they serve little purpose if the only question I might understand is "Do you speak Russian?" – "Uh, no." But as often proves to be the case, whether or not I speak Russian was largely irrelevant. I could imagine enough of what she intended to smile and nod through it. My imaginary transcription took form, "Oooh, look how supple you are. I was once supple, fit, and strong too. We used to do all the exercises every day like so, like so, like so", as she slapped her upper arms in turn.
More recently we went on a day-trip to Räpina. Upon entering the local museum, we met its keeper and tried to get started in English, but it proceeded a bit haltingly. He asked if we understand Estonian, to which I gave the standard yet in my case totally accurate answer, "A little." "Well then, we'll just go slowly and I'll tell you about a few things." Somewhere between the few words that I did catch, accompanied by pictures and maps, we seemed to absorb information. But more than that we were sharing in some kind of exchange beyond quantities of information: he was giving us his time and expertise, and we were giving him our attention and interest. He could've concluded that there's no point in speaking to people who barely command the language, or we could've concluded that there's no point in taking a tour that we won't fully understand, but in the end the experience had little to do with such considerations.
Shortly thereafter, on our way to lunch, the shoe was on the other foot. I wanted to peek inside the church that had been closed earlier. Just inside the door there was a man who gestured that it's alright to go inside, and then he asked what language we speak, maybe German? After a look at the church interior we took up a conversation with him. We didn't actually ask, but it seemed he was either someone tending the garden, or he could have been the pastor himself tending the garden. Either way, with his big face and his big hands he apologised for his poor memory of the German he had learnt at school. Then, in explaining that we're not from Germany but that we live there, we somehow got on the topic of Europe. His limited command of the language could not technically express his thoughts and feelings, but the sentiment was clear. Basically, God bless Europe, including Germany and Angela Merkel. The union is not without its failings, but Estonia is thankful for it. And oooh, the Russians, God bless them too, but that cheeky rascal Vladimir... We must hope and pray for peace.