|Al, Brian, Dennis, Mike, Carl … but no Nick|
Nikolaus came to my daughter’s preschool the other day and handed out gifts. It was a major event. It was also the first time I had heard this name, or one like it, uttered among the Estonians. You see, there are no Nicks in Estonia. I know Markus, and Martin, and Märtin and Marko. Kaarel and Mihkel and Luukas and Vello. But as far as I can recall … there is not one Nick in Eesti at all.
I could never understand this. There are Nicks in every other country. Nicola in Italy. Niko in Finland. Nikolao in Esperanto. Sure, I have known some derivatives here in Estonia. There is Klaus, the workman who works on our house in Viljandi. Then there was Nils, the nihilistic musician with the ponytail who wore black all the time and lived next door to us in Tartu. Yet there seems to be an aversion to Nicks. When a friend gave birth to a boy, I suggested the name Nikolai, which I thought could have a certain tsarist flair (because anything old is fresh and new in Eesti-land). The tot was christened Sander instead.
I took up the subject with Sven the baker here in Viljandi (because there are plenty of Svens in Estonia) and he sort of laughed at me and told me it was the simplest thing in the world. “That’s because Nick,” he said, “is the Estonian equivalent of ‘dick.'” And not only. The verb nikkuma has the same meaning as the English verbs “to fuck” and “to screw.” For Estonians, the phonetic “Nick” is a thing or a thing that one does with one’s thing, but not the actual person who has the thing or who does the doing with said thing.
The dialogue with Sven occurred at the local Christmas fair, where I butchered several unrehearsed Christmas songs on stage. I was going to learn “Little Saint Nick,” a rocking Beach Boys tune, but gave up when I realized that my crooner’s voice could not do justice to Brian Wilson’s California surfer cool. “Good thing I didn’t sing that song,” I told Sven. “They would have thrown gingerbread at me.”
I realize that it’s been a while since I last updated my “Gateways to the Northern Dimension” list and that many sterling web logs may have escaped my notice. If you know of anything worthy of inclusion that concerns the northern lands of Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Sweden, and assorted duchies, provinces, and former imperial masters, please share.