University of California at Berkeley scientist Ron Chalfant (left) has proven Estonians are indeed friendly. "That whole withdrawn thing is an act," says Chalfant, who recently published the results of his experiments in the academic journal International Stoic.
Chalfant's work centered around former Soviet peoples' rigid adherence to assigned seating. "My idea was to put a leper in an advanced stage of the disease in a not-so-good seat in a movie theatre and then assign an Estonian the seat right next to him. In an otherwise empty theatre, would the Estonian choose another seat?" The Estonians, in fact, insisted on sitting next to the leper, even in cases where the leper's skin would fall off as Dolby Surround Sound shook the theatre. Chalfant then repeated his leper/Estonian experiment in other venues such as empty buses and trains. "In all cases, the Estonians insist on sitting next to the leper," said Chalfant.
Chalfant's peers argued that the experiments proved only that Estonians are lovers of silly rules, but Chalfant dismisses those concerns noting that in stage two of his experiment when the leper struck up a conversation, Estonians participated. "What did the leper say to the prostitute?" was one of the conversation starters offered by the lepers in the movie theatres. "The answer is," said Chalfant, "'Keep the tip!' Pretty funny, huh? But it's still science!" Dr. Chalfant will join Tartu University as a guest faculty member in the spring.