Encounters with the Really Smart Cab Drivers

In October, I had what I figured to be one the weirdest cab rides ever. Our driver in Tokyo revealed surprising knowledge of Estonia and the Baltics, which he gained through his interest in… maps. If you assumed that the brave men of this trade limit themselves to just studying local street names, think again. (5 minute video clip of that ride available on Blip.tv)

Now, half a year later in London the following dialogue took place in an ordinary black cab, heading home with friends around midnight.

Driver: “Excuse me, listening to you speak I can’t help but wonder – are you from Norway?”

Us: “Close, but it’s actually Estonian”

Driver: “I though it sounded Scandinavian! I’ve never met Estonians before! Actually, you’re right, I was quite off – your speech sounds more like Finnish. Suomi, or how you say it. But again, this is the same Fenno-Ugric language group as Estonian, silly me…

You know, I know some Turkish and there are some resemblances there as well. If I’m not mistaken, Estonians started moving from the Altai mountains towards Europe, along with Finns and Hungarians about 10,000 years ago, wasn’t it? Hungarians came in waves, right, there was some tribe first and then the Magyars… Did you know that Turks have this interesting legend that their Heartland once expanded as far as Finland?”

Us: “umm… uuuh?”

Driver: “Coming from Scandinavia, I’m sure you like Knut Hamsun? I just love him, you know. His writing has this sense of clarity…”

Us: “He could have been in our mandatory reading in highschool, but can’t really remember…”

Driver: “Really? That’s surprising, I would have imagined that in Estonia you read more of Bulgakov and Dostoevsky. I do love reading these chaps as well! In Master and Margarita, I’ve always admired how Bulgakov teases the Russian Orthodox church, that was not a common practice at all at his time…

But speaking of these lads, you have to agree that they could not have been if it wasn’t for Mikhail Lermontov. That Raskolnikov character in Crime And Punishment would never have existed if there wasn’t the legacy of A Hero of Our Time…

Other than these, I don’t really appreciate Russian literature of the 19th century… Too streamlined, if you asked me, to be honest. A Hero of Our Time truly was ahead of its time, written in 1890, was it, but the rest of it…

Anyway, don’t want to keep you for long, lads, here we are. Very nice chatting with you, let’s carry on next time, ‘aight? Cheers!”

And off he drove.

Leaving me and my friend no other option than sit down in the closest pub to transcript this encounter with a suspected literature and linguistics professor in disguise. He did miss with that Lermontov date by a few decades, but still…