R-Kiosk is a Finnish convenience store chain that has expanded south into Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania and beyond. As of my writing this, there are more than 700 of the yellow and blue shops in Suomi and around 200 outlets in Eesti.
There is pretty much something to read for everyone there. Barbie magazine? Got that. Fashion? Take your pick. Home improvement? Get your drill ready, and speaking of which, there is a healthy pornography section too.
But when considering the languages of the magazines in our local shop relative to the demographics of our community, things get more interesting. At the R-Kiosk in town, Estonian publications obviously dominate, and there is a reason for that. Of the 55, 657 people who live in Viljandi County, 52, 499 (94 percent) consider themselves to be "Estonians." The second largest ethnic group are the Russians (1,901 people), followed by Finns (493 people). A quarter of the reading material in the R-Kiosk in Viljandi, though, is in the Russian language, and, at last glance, the store only contained 1 measly Finnish-language magazine. To round it out, there was also a sizable selection of German, French, and English magazines the last time I checked.
From a national perspective, this makes sense. A quarter of the Estonian population is Russian, right? But from a local perspective, I was kind of amused by it. Standing there, looking at all the Cyrillic on the wall, you would think that the Viljandi R-Kiosk served a bilingual community. Viljandi, though, is a monolingual place. While my daughter attends school with and is friends with children whose parents speak Russian at home, all of those children are fluent in Estonian. I speak Estonian, the Swedes I know in town speak Estonian; put any foreigner in Viljandi, and he or she will eventually become an Estonian speaker. I should add here that my daughter learns two "foreign" languages at school -- Russian (spoken by the neighbors) and English (of which she is a native speaker). She is in first grade.
I do wonder how magazines and books are ordered for Estonia's R-Kiosks, based on my experience. I wonder how they are ordered for its Apollos and Rahva Raamats and other purveyors of reading materials. Who decides how many Estonian language newspapers will be available in a shop versus Russian language newspapers? Who decides how many Finnish magazines will be on display? On what grounds are some languages included and others excluded? Do the R-Kiosks in Pärnu and Narva carry the exact same titles as the one in Viljandi? I hope not. That would be silly.
(Originally published online at Itching for Eestimaa, http://palun.blogspot.com/2010... )