Every Estonian word I learn has its origin. It was from watching Urmas Ott interview Tallinn Mayor Edgar Savisaar that I first heard the word arvamus (“opinion”). And it was the writer Andrus Kivirähk who blessed my vocabulary the words tallalakkuja (“bootlicker”), lipitseja (“brown noser”), and porihing (“dirt soul”).
My vocabulary is expanding constantly, and when the cover of the tabloid Õhtuleht greeted me the other day with the headline: Eesti mehed on jobud? (“Are Estonian men jobud?”) I understood it. Estonian manhood does seem to be going through some kind of crisis and the word jobu* encapsulates what Estonian men see as wrong with themselves. I have even heard there is a Jobu magazine in development. But what does the word even mean?
I’m pretty sure it was Epp who taught me the word jobu, though I can’t remember which jobu she was talking about at the time. At first I thought jobu meant a drunk. But, as I have learned, a jobu is not merely a drunk. A jobu is something different, something more profound. My favorite online English-Estonian dictionary equates jobu with the following terms: birdbrain, blithering idiot, bumpkin, daff, jerk, prat, turkey, and zombie(!) Is this really how Estonian men see themselves?
It gets worse. From the articles I have read, the archenemy of all jobud is the foreign man, in other words, me. The foreign man is everything the Estonian man is not, allegedly wealthy, supposedly slick; a smooth operator. In one recent column, the Estonian man actually went so far as to give up smoking so that he could compete with the foreign man, because the foreign man doesn’t smoke. I actually find this soul searching necessary, because if the specter of the foreign man can get some Estonian guys to eat right and quit smoking, if their foreign foe can get the average male’s life expectancy to inch over 70 years, then I’m happy to play the villain. Competition is good.
Still, there are critiques I hear from jobud that are troublesome. One is that by marrying foreigners, Estonian women are somehow betraying their country. There are so few Estonians, this argument goes. Estonians need to make more of them, together, in Estonia. By partnering with a foreigner, the pure bloodstream of the Estonians is tainted, polluted. The future of the nation is flushed down the toilet the second that foreign sperm connects with Estonian egg.
This is not true. Biological diversity should be welcomed, not shunned. National homogeneity is wonderful if you want to study rare genetic diseases, but it’s not going to make your population any more flexible or open to the world. And the tragedy of the slow death of the “pure” Estonian at the hands of swashbuckling foreigners is that, as political scientist Rein Taagepera describes the local attitude, “There are only two real Estonians in Estonia, me and you, and I’m not so sure about you.” Scratch an Estonian and you’re bound to find some other nationality. I’ve even heard that there is an abundance of brunettes on Saaremaa because some Portuguese pirates once went on a spree. The well was contaminated long before I showed up.
And not only by foreign men. I have met plenty of women in my travels, women that were once desperate and lonesome, that is, until the day that some guy named Uno or Raivo walked into their lives. I’ve met Americans, Brits, Swedes, Finns, Russians – all of whom just couldn’t resist the temptation of the Estonian man. And, for some reason, Estonian women don’t resent these foreign women for choosing an Estonian husband. The lecturing only goes one way.
It’s a shame that jobud detest the foreign man. They don’t understand their strengths. One can only imagine the sharp pangs of shame the foreign man feels when his Estonian partner discovers that, unlike most Estonian men, he doesn’t know how to build his own house. Or so it seems. Because as the time a foreign man spends in Estonia increases, the probability of him becoming involved in a grueling construction project approaches 1. By that point, when he’s sweaty and covered in sawdust and paint and pauses to seek some relief in a beer after a hot day of work in the countryside, it doesn’t really matter if he’s local or foreign. He’s bound to look like a jobu anyway.
* Jobu is pronounced with a soft ‘j’ — “Yo-boo.” The plural of jobu is jobud.