Thursday, June 11, 2009

Child Labor

If there’s one event that marks the arrival of Estonian summer it’s children selling Eesti Ekspress on street corners. One of my favorite things to do is buy from the kids (no, I don’t get a free copy).

“Sixteen kroons!” the children shout. “Four kroons cheaper than in the store.”

This year the city is crawling with salesmen. A few weeks ago Ekspress advertised for the sales positions with a line in the ad that no child would be turned away. So now Tallinn has about five on every street corner, some of them not too long out of their strollers. The youngsters seem to love friendly competition and, unlike Estonian shop clerks, these kids aren’t afraid of conversation.

“Four kroons cheaper?” I said to a salesman. “That’s a pretty good deal.” He couldn’t have been more than ten years old, and I gave him fifteen kroons to hold while I dug in my pocket for a one-kroon coin.

“How much of the sixteen kroons do you get?” I asked.

“Six!” He was proud of it, too.

“So six for you, and ten for Hans Luik?”

He just smiled. He probably had no idea Hans was the paper's publisher, but he wasn’t going to risk a sale by entering uncharted territory.

I didn’t have a kroon coin and so gave him a two-kroon note. “If I give you seventeen, do you get to keep seven?”

“Yes!” He was still grinning.

“OK. Then it’s yours.”

He handed me his last paper.

“So you’re out?” I asked. “No more money then?”

“I’m going right now to get more papers!” he shouted over his shoulder, already running. He was so excited he could have peed his pants. And had I been a rich man, I would have hung around all day and bought papers.


P.S. If you read Estonian, Barbi Pilvre is traveling the US, touring its world of journalism, and blogging about it. Well worth your time.