Saturday, April 12, 2008


There is an interesting Estonian phrase, “Ei sobi mulle”, which has a number of meanings depending on the context. “Ei” means “no”, or a negative, while “mulle” is “to me”. The interesting word is “sobi” which does not seem to have a direct translation. Let me try to explain how this phrase is used.

Suppose you are shopping, and you try on a coat, and find that it is too small. You would say “ei sobi mulle” meaning that it does not fit you. If you try on the coat, and it fit, but you do not like the color, you could also say “ei sobi mulle” and mean that the color just does not go with you. That is, you are not compatible with the color because it makes you look too fat, or too short, or something. The coat could be the right size and the right color, but it might be too expensive, and you would again say “ei sobi mulle” meaning that it does not go with your budget. There are probably several other meanings, but you get the picture.

I was thinking of this phrase when we were furniture shopping. A piece of furniture would have to have numerous attributes, all of which would have to answer to the “sobi” if it is to be bought. It has to be the right type, color, and price, and it has to go with other pieces of furniture or rugs (real and imagined). It has to appeal to the purchaser on some subliminal level, working deep in the subconscious to dredge up childhood memories. Colors and patterns that brought happy moments long ago would come bubbling subconsciously to the surface and cause you to make decisions. Similarly, unhappy memories (for example the dentist office or something you did not like about your childhood home) will cause you to say that something does not “sobi”.

Now if three different people are trying to buy one piece of furniture, there is a good chance that in every case, with every decision, at least one of the persons will conclude that the item simply does not “sobi”. The statistical probability then of actually buying anything diminishes exponentially. Suppose the chance of one person buying one of ten available chairs is 10%, or one in ten. The chance of two people coming to the same conclusion is 0.1 x 0.1 = 0.01, or one in a hundred. When you add the third person, there is a one in a thousand chance (0.1 x 0.1 x 0.1) of consummating the purchase. On average, therefore, this trio of purchasers will have to look at a thousand chairs before buying anything.

I am pleased to report that Bill, Libby, and I have now looked at 853 chairs and 792 couches. We are well on our way, and should conclude our shopping before Christmas.


Triin said...

Thank you for putting it this way! I'll keep it in mind next time Andres and I are out shopping for something. Indeed, the occasions where we both have had a "wow" moment about an item have been rare. I'm sure, Andres, too, will appreciate this very statistical explanation, being the numbers and facts person he is.

Triin said...

Just this morning I was thinking about your "ei sobi" comment for some reason and it hit me: try "ei lähe" instead. It has even more meanings. Consider this:

- You are pushing a car, and it's not moving. Ei lähe.
- Somebody asks: "Are you planning to go to the store today?." Ei lähe.
- You are trying on a jacket and the size is not right. Ei lähe.
- Same as the previous one, but the color is not right. Again ei lähe.
- The city government is trying to pass a law that everybody is universally mad at. Nii see küll ei lähe.
- Etc. etc.