Doing business in Estonia is relatively simple. Estonian people are very pragmatic at heart. This, of course, has a lot to do with their history. Tallinn was a trading city from the very beginning.
Probably, the first thing, which foreigners tend to notice about Estonian character is that Estonian people are very reserved. Much like their climate, the tall blue-eyed people are very cold by nature and very rarely show any hints of emotion. At first, it may seem that an Estonian people could be hostile. This could not be farther away from the truth. Most probably, you’re reading them incorrectly.
When greeting an Estonian person, you can say “tere” which means hello. Further attempts to demonstrate your mastery of Estonian language should not be necessary. Give a good firm handshake whilst maintaining an eye contact. When greeting Estonian women it is probably best to wait for her to make the first move and extend her hand before you.
Handing a business card to an Estonian is a crucial part of business interaction. A business card is not obligatory, but it can be a very strong benchmark for good business relationship.
Estonian customs and traditions don’t require you to do anything extra ordinary, but showing your potential partner that you have done some research into Estonian history and language can be a very beneficial thing. For example, Estonians tend to think of themselves as Nordic people, not Eastern Europeans and not Russian. Estonian language is similar to Finnish. The two languages are very similar that pretty much is true but they are still two different languages.
As a country, Estonia is very transparent. One could easily go on the Internet and find out everything about a person and his company. For a few euros you can even get a full financial report on the company if you want to check its credibility. Estonian people are very used to this kind of transparency and will not consider it offensive if you mention that you did some “digging” about them.
In Estonia bureaucracy has been fully conquered. Thanks to the information technology solutions provided by the government of Estonia, one can easily sign any digital document. These digitally signed documents are as valid as a real signature or a stamp on a sheet of paper. It is good to keep that in mind because a lot of business processes tend to become times faster than in any other country in the world.
Tipping in Estonia is completely up to you. Traditionally, Estonians follow the rule where 10% of the bill is left as a tip. But, as said before, tipping can be very deliberate and nobody will hold a grudge against you if you don’t tip.
When it comes to dressing, typical Estonian people take a very conservative approach. A casual suit and a tie would be ideal for a business meeting. In the corporate world bright and colorful tones may be considered as somewhat immature. Smart casual is an average Estonian day to day outfit.
Estonian people are very punctual. Try to do your best not to be late to a business meeting, unless you want to make a bad impression.
In a dialogue, try not to raise your voice too much and stay as reserved as possible. Big emotional talk, like in Italy for example, can be sometimes interpreted as a mark of lack of seriousness.
When dining in the restaurant, wait for the host to start first. And wish everyone a good appetite (“head isu” in Estonian). Estonian dining at a good is very similar to German. Try not to put your elbows on the table or make any unpleasant sounds while eating. After the meal is finished complement the host on the quality of food. Be warned, that Estonian food is rather heavy so before choosing the size of the portion try your best to estimate how much can you actually eat.
If you get invited to an Estonian home, it is definitely a strong sign that you are making a good impression. Estonian homes are very private and it is quite rare for Estonian people to invite guests even amongst good friends. Offer genuine compliments, but not too frequently. The reserved nature of Estonian people makes them pretty suspicious, when somebody is overly flattering.
And finally keep in mind, that Estonian people are traders by nature. Such was the history for 1000 years. They will be pretty relaxed if they see you lack knowledge of their culture or country. If you show genuine interest they will most likely endorse you for it. Hopefully, this article gave you some insight into Estonian culture and corporate etiquette.
Have a productive visit to Estonia.