Kärt: Kas teil leiba on? (Do you have any black bread?)
Me: Ei ole. (No.)
Kärt: Aga kas teil saia on? (But do you have any white bread?)
Me: Kahjuks meil ei ole. (Unfortunately we don’t.)
Kärt: Aga kas teil siis sepikut on? (But do you have any brown bread?)
Me: Ei. (No.)
Kärt: Aga mida te siis sööte? (Then what do you eat?)
The next day I went to the A ja O and bought a big loaf of sai (white bread) and another of what I thought was sepik (brown bread). When I got home, though, I noticed that my sepik was actually a new invention called saib, which marries sai (white bread) with leib (black bread). I’m still not sure what to do with the mysterious saib.
I am even more at a loss when to comes to describing Estonia’s varieties of what we English speakers simply refer to as “bread.” Leib, for instance, is not always black. And sepik is often more beige than brown. The words refer as much to consistency as to color. But there is no catch-all word for “bread.” Estonians are particular when it comes to their leib, sai, sepik, and saib.