Meet the Powerpoint People, donkey jockeys, and government sponges. Find out how to survive an onslaught of American cruise tourists. Learn to speak British English. And of course gain access to the most carefully guarded secrets of tantric love. "Tantraman" is Vello Vikerkaar's survival guide to Eastern Europe in the 2000s, the long-awaited follow up to his 2009 worldwide best-seller, "Inherit the Family: Marrying into Eastern Europe." Excerpts: Estonians generally resist flattery, but one surefire method to please them is to talk about how difficult their language is. Its difficulty, in fact, is a point of national pride. In the early 1990s, I heard a guy remark at a conference that Estonia offered a more sanitized, civilized way to experience Eastern Europe. “Like a drive-through zoo,” he said, “where you see the tigers from behind the safety of your car’s windshield. But in Russia,” he noted, “you have to actually climb into the cage with the animals.” Imagine everybody who has ever wronged you being in one place at one time, trapped somewhere they cannot escape. For anyone who has ever built a house in Estonia, that place is the 9:30 p.m. Friday ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn. It is packed stem to stern with gastarbeiter returning from a week of blessing Finland with their craftsmanship and work ethic. I wondered if the developer’s brief to the architect had been: "Apartment must impress Mexican drug lords." It was one of those houses in Viimsi that resembles Darth Vader’s head. Some are white, some black, but all are dark and imposing. You approach cautiously as if a laser cannon might fire at any moment. For me, a yogi will always be a bear. Or a malapropist baseball player. But to Liina, and to much of the rest of the world, a yogi is a yoga practitioner. And some of them are operating an ashram in my house. I grew up hating the Japanese. Not for their slanty eyes, or because of World War II, but because of the way they played golf. “Perhaps a tad bit of Lapsang Souchong?” offered the businessman, “before I tell you about my philosophy of life?” His sentence contained two clear reasons to run the other direction and normally I would have, but I was being paid to interview him. But for money or not, if I was to endure what was surely to be a cliché-ridden, borrowed outlook on life, I was going to need something stronger than tea. “Got any whiskey?” I asked. “So what is it you do?” I asked one of the men sitting across from me at the dinner party. But it was clearly the wrong question. “I’m an intellectual,” he said, exhaling dramatically to indicate that I was a complete idiot for not knowing who he was. “Oh, I’m sorry,” I was tempted to say. “I thought you were just an asshole.” There are periods in a summer’s day when entire Old Town cafes are taken over by Americans. As if Baghdad isn’t enough, they have to have Tallinn, too. I was there one rainy day when a group of seven American cruiseboat tourists held us all briefly hostage. It might have ended peacefully…
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Vello Vikerkaar was born in 1965 in Scarberia, Toronto. After a stint in the Canadian Army (missions: Drinking Molsons, being polite abroad), he moved to Estonia in 1992.
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