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"satavaziru"... what does it mean!?
April 13, 2011 4:02 PM   Subscribe

A guy in Tallinn pointed at me and said something that sounded like "satavaziru!" (emphasis on the "zi" syllable). What might that mean?

I have no idea what language he was speaking, though Tallinn means Estonian, Russian, or Finnish are likely -- my Estonian friend says it doesn't sound like anything in Estonian, though.

So, hive, I have enlisted you to help me solve the mystery.

Other potentially useful background info:
- He was middle aged, did not appear to be crazy
- He was standing maybe 8-10 feet away from me and pointing at my body (upper torso-ish, sort of boobs area, but I was wearing a zipped-up coat)
- He said this phrase with conviction, as if he may be either insulting me or warning me about something
- I'm a 20s F
- I transcribed what I thought it sounded like within about a minute of him saying it, but it was quick and obviously I don't speak the language, so my transcription is likely mistaken in some way.

So... what language, and what does it mean?
posted by mokudekiru to Writing & Language (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
It doesn't sound like anything in Russian, either, although I suppose the "satava" part sounds like "sotovyi," which means "cell phone." "Ziru" is not a fragment I recognize from anything.
posted by nasreddin at 4:13 PM on April 13, 2011


Latvia is also next door. "Tava siers" would be "your cheese" but that sounds like a crazy person.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:58 PM on April 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Was your skin or hair visible? What colors are they? (In Russia I quite frequently had people commenting on my hair.) Was there anything unusual about how you were dressed, or do you obviously look like a foreigner? Those are my best guesses of the sorts of things someone would be pointing and shouting about, unless you were in the process of walking into traffic, so a few more clues might help narrow it down for those who speak the languages. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:28 PM on April 13, 2011


This is what I looked like that day. I look foreign but not alien-from-another-planet foreign, I would guess (purple jackets are rare I suppose, but I saw weirder things). We were on the grass somewhere near a road, no traffic :)
posted by mokudekiru at 5:46 PM on April 13, 2011


I speak Estonian and a fair bit of Russian (unfortunately) and it's not ringing any bells. "Savusauna" is Finnish for a type of old fashioned smokey sauna so maybe he thought you were overly wrapped up in your zipped up coat and was making a joke or something.
posted by joannemullen at 6:54 PM on April 13, 2011


On a whim, I threw "satava ziru" into Google translate and it told me that "[they] are not yet able to translate from Bosnian into English." I know it's a pretty far distance between the two places, but given that the nearby languages aren't ringing any bells, perhaps it's time to expand.

Were there any other notable details about the area you were in? Were there significant similarities or differences between the two of you, such as clothing? Maybe it had something to do with your necklace?
posted by CancerMan at 8:09 PM on April 13, 2011


Estonian, Russian, or Finnish are likely

This is all pretty vague because it's tough to transcribe something you heard once, but if you're close with it, I'd first focus on it being Russian. Your native Estonian-speaking friend said it doesn't sound like Estonian, and as someone with a linguistics degree, interest and exposure to Finnic languages, and a very basic knowledge of Russian, I'd guess that Russian is the most likely source for a couple reasons:

The transcription doesn't sound like Finnish or Estonian morphology-- the emphasis sounds like it's on consonant changes rather than vowel harmony, like an Indo-European language rather than a Finnic one. Also, whether that's a word or a sentence, emphasis on the third syllable isn't what you'd expect in Finnish or Estonian. First or second is more likely. Hardly conclusive, but if I can't give you an answer I can give you a reasoned opinion on how to look.

And this might be a controversial observation, but culturally a Russian speaker is more likely to point at a stranger and make an observation. Not that it's standard practice for Russians any more than most people, but as you're no doubt aware, Finns and Estonians are notably reserved around strangers. This is not an absolute; there are gregarious and loud Finnic people, but I believe it's accurate in a general sense. I hope that doesn't offend anyone, I mean it as a generalization that doesn't fit every individual and it's not a bad thing. Likewise, I am not suggesting that Russians are likely to make loud, random observations about strangers.
posted by Mayor Curley at 3:25 AM on April 14, 2011


I am a native Russian speaker and, as I said above, the transcription doesn't sound like any sensible combination of words, much less a combination of words that one would shout at a random stranger.
posted by nasreddin at 8:45 PM on April 14, 2011


Also, Russians don't point with their index fingers, it's considered very rude.
posted by nasreddin at 8:47 PM on April 14, 2011


(This applies even to pointing at objects and locations. You're expected to use your whole hand in a vague indicating gesture.)
posted by nasreddin at 8:49 PM on April 14, 2011


Also, Russians don't point with their index fingers, it's considered very rude.

Is that a broad cultural taboo? I'm familiar with the fluttery swiping gesture that my Russian and Ukrainian friends make, but I was personally pointed at by an ethnic Russian at a mall outside of Tallinn a number of years ago. He said "Excuse me. Do you [point] speak English?" and then invited me to his shop/cafe in a little hut behind the mall to sell me warez. He was polite and he led me to his friend's kiosk where I bought some antique Soviet trinkets. I'm certain that he pointed at me, but he may have been culturally acclimating.
posted by Mayor Curley at 1:58 PM on April 28, 2011


Is that a broad cultural taboo? I'm familiar with the fluttery swiping gesture that my Russian and Ukrainian friends make, but I was personally pointed at by an ethnic Russian at a mall outside of Tallinn a number of years ago. He said "Excuse me. Do you [point] speak English?" and then invited me to his shop/cafe in a little hut behind the mall to sell me warez. He was polite and he led me to his friend's kiosk where I bought some antique Soviet trinkets. I'm certain that he pointed at me, but he may have been culturally acclimating.

Well, people who sell shit to tourists are not typically known for their politeness and reserved demeanor. I suspect he's just gotten used to interacting with people who don't think of it as a taboo (tourists rather than Estonians, I'd expect).
posted by nasreddin at 9:17 PM on April 28, 2011


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