Why do we shake hands with other people when we meet? What is the origin of the knowledge that you have to finish your plate? Why do we take off our shoes when entering a living room, although putting them back on and tying the laces is really tedious and wastes our precious time? What is the origin of all the deeply rooted gestures, bodily movements, and customs we follow every day?
Art Leete, Professor of Ethnology at the University of Tartu, explains that no one really knows where some customs have come from: “This is the beauty of culture. Only tentative opinions exist about influences. People don’t make decisions about changing their customs at meetings. These things have just developed to be the way they are.”
From Knights to Politeness
In the Medieval Period and even a little later, politeness was a quality that was attributed solely to knights, as they constituted the higher social class. Many customs that are essential to modern etiquette come from the everyday life of the knights. For example, shaking hands while greeting someone, as well as tipping one’s hat, are thought to be from these old times. Showing a hand without a weapon or raising the visor of one’s armor were signs that the person came in peace, without aggressive intentions.
In the Middle Ages, showing a hand without a weapon meant you did not come with aggressive intentions. Photo credit: Chris-Håvard Berge / Flickr Creative Commons
The Estonian Genome Project is a national super-science project: gene samples from over 52,000 people were collected, which comprises about 5% of the population of Estonia. Now, 17 years after the project began, the Estonian Genome Center will offer personal feedback to people who donated their blood and information.
Tissue samples at the Estonian Genome Center. Photo credit: Andres Tennus
Through the Hardships
It was in 2001 when scientists from a small post-Soviet country came up with the ambitious plan to collect, record, and thoroughly decode the genetic information of Estonians. They hoped that the project would lead to scientific discoveries and help to create more precise medications. In 2007 the state became the project’s main financer and the Estonian Genome Center was united with the University of Tartu. Sample collecting began again, celebrities were hired to raise awareness about the project, and the topic of donating genetic information even appeared in the popular Estonian TV show “Õnne 13”.
The Estonian Genome Center got a new building with the monetary support from the European Union, new, state-of-the-art technology, and also lured back some of the scientists who had left Estonia. By the end of 2010, all the samples had been collected. What distinguishes this biobank from other biobanks in the world is that in Estonia the data collected did not involve only those who were ill, but it also offered a cross-sectional genetic view of the society.