The Language Inspectorate (Keeleinspektsioon) told fast food outlet Hesburger in December that the company was in violation of the Language Act in having a visible "Drive-In" signage, without a translation into Estonian, ERR reports.
Ilmar Tomusk, the Language Inspectorate's director, said that they keep an eye on commercial signage, adding that their recommendations are often heeded.
A letter sent to Hesburger, which is Finnish-owned, referenced section 17 of the Language Act, which states that consumers have the right to information and service – in turn referencing the Consumer Protection Act, as well as citing section 16 of the same act, which states,
inter alia in subsection (2) that:
"The translation of the text into a foreign language may be added to public signs, signposts, business type name and outdoor advertisements; thereby the text in Estonian shall be in the forefront and shall not be less observable than the text in a foreign language."
"Please add an Estonian language version for all foreign language information pertaining to fast food restaurants, in accordance with the language law," Tomusk told Hesburger, in the letter.
The inspectorate recommends using the Estonian terms "sissesõidurestoran" or "kaasaost", the former being a closer match to "Drive-In", the latter meaning takeout [food].
With such text, the business would be able to have text in a language other than Estonian, in addition, the inspectorate said.
Tomusk told ERR Monday that his organization enjoys a good relationship with Hesburger, and have proposed a temporary solution in accordance with the law.
However, Hesburger is certainly not the only business whose drive-in signage has come to the attention of the inspectorate.
"There are eateries all over Estonia - all over the place, and the fact that Hesburger has now been approached in December doesn't mean it is the only one [to be approached]. Of course, we have been doing the same thing in various Estonian cities," Tomusk said.
"'Drive-in', 'take away', and other foreign language expressions can mean one thing for one business, and something else for another. In some cases, 'drive-in' means entering, in the second purchasing, in the third the distribution of goods," he went on.
Tomusk said that while it is likely to deal with other infringers, they will not be able to get round everyone.
Toomas Veersalu, Hesburger board member, said in a response to the inspectorate that they had forwarded the request to the company's headquarters in Finland, but as the inspectorate's letter arrived late last year and the company was on holiday from late December to the first week of the year, no concrete decision had been made.
"At this point, we can make it clear that we are expected to apply real, definitive, comprehensive measures by the end of July 2019," said a Hesburger spokesperson.
Tourist information must also be in Estonian
The Tallinn Enterprise Board (Tallinna Ettevõtlusamet) also attracted the attention of the Language Inspectorate, in the form of a letter last week complaining that foreign-language information was provided in the Old Town's Tallinn Tourist Information Center.
An official had found that while there is foreign language information on the door at the Information Center, there is no information in Estonian (see gallery – in fact there is some information in Estonian on the tourist office signage-ed.).
Tomusk pointed out that it is not only foreign tourists who come to Tallinn, and a map of the city may also be required by domestic tourists. Thus, it is self-evident that the information must also be in Estonian, he said.
"The language law can be very liberal in its application; it simply says that Estonian must be there, and other languages can also appear, as many as required," he told ERR.
According to Tomsuk, the law is similarly open with regard to foreign language brand logos/trademarks. In the case of these, the Estonian language does not have to be preeminent or in larger fonts. For example, with Hesburger, it is sufficient that information in Estonian be presented in A4 format to meet requirements, he said.
After the T1 Mall opened in the Ülemiste district of Tallinn in late 2018, the inspectorate said it received many complaints simply due to the fact that people only noticed large text on the center's walls. According to Tomusk the law is satisfied since the mall's signage has "shopping mall" in Estonian ("kaubanduskeskus") on display.
The words "Drive-in" may also be permissible in larger English text than the Estonian text, if it is part of a brand/trademark, he said.
Tomusk said that while in general businesses cooperate with it, with most formal letters not needing to be followed up by a hearing, the body can impose fines in excess of €600. This happens rarely, he added.
Editor: Andrew Whyte