I left my arse in Liepāja

Last Saturday was my friend Guna’s birthday. You can imagine my excitement when it was announced that we would celebrate it by having a girls’ weekend in Liepāja. 

Lazy day on the beach + biking to the restaurant for dinner, followed by crazy dancing at the beach discos…biking around the night town…

While I could well imagine that the biking would take place, I was skeptical about the crazy dancing. Any time a Latvian has ever said to me “You just wait til you see us party – we’ll still be going in the morning!”, I’ve found that by “morning”, they meant 12.01 and were tucked up in their beds by around 12.03. Still, never one to let my cynical side get the better of me, I was looking forward to it. 

I was to be picked up by Guna and Gunta between 8.30 and 9.00. I threw a few bits into a bag and at 8.30, knowing there was no hurry, sat down with another cup of tea. Sure enough, it was close to 9.30 by the time they arrived. In high spirits, we hit the road, the issue of me moving to Germany foremost on everyone’s mind. Or rather, how to stop me moving to Germany. By the time we’d left Riga, Guna had hatched a cunning plot to pin me down and get me impregnated by a Liepājan Jānis. I briefly wondered if rolling from a moving car into a ditch was as easy as it looks in the movies. 

A couple of hours later, we arrived in Liepāja, met up with our friend Ginta who lives there during the summer, reserved a few bikes for later (sigh), and hit the beach. 

Blue flag beach - Liepāja

Blue flag beach – Liepāja

A blissful few hours were spent, discussing hot topics of the day such as “Do you have yogurt in Ireland?”, and turning over every 30 minutes or so. At around 5pm, we packed up and headed to the information centre to pick up our bicycles. As I looked at them, all I noticed was that they were red and had probably been around since Guna’s grandmother’s day. It was only when I was already moving that I realised there were no brakes. 

Arse-killer

Devil bike

Me: Where are the damn brakes?!

Gunta: The pedals! 

I’d forgotten that bikes like that existed. After almost shooting over the handlebars a couple of times, I eventually made it back to our apartment – wobbly but in one piece. Quick showers were had, glad rags put on, and soon we were ready to go to the restaurant. We rode around to Ginta’s place over mainly cobblestone streets. Needless to say, the seats weren’t very well padded and shock absorbers hadn’t been invented when these bikes came into being, so it was a bit like sitting on a vibrating concrete block. (And no, that’s not a good thing.)

Brave little soldier...

Brave little soldier…

We cycled to the wonderfully-located Libava restaurant and took our reserved table outside, overlooking the river. At this stage, I was so hungry I could have eaten a small child, but I settled for the roast pork, which was excellent. (So excellent, I ate it before I could take a picture.) After a while, a speed-boat full of Jānises pulled up and they sat at the table next to us. After some accidental flirting by yours truly, a bottle of wine was delivered to our table. I may have underestimated Jānises.

Still, we had to leave, as Ginta had reserved another table for us at a beach bar where a “concert” was taking place. My dismount at the end of the wooden ramp to the sand was less than elegant. In a bid to calm my nerves, and for the location that was in it, I decided I’d have a “Sex on the Beach”. To my dismay, it was listed in the non-alcoholic section – “Safe Sex on the Beach”. I decided to chance my arm and asked for a “Safe Sex on the Beach without the safety”. This actually produced a giggle from the bar girl and, more importantly, it produced vodka. It turned out I’d need it. 

2014-07-19 20.51.14

Sure that I could feel Elvis spinning in his grave, I took myself off for a little walk. I was rewarded with this nice photo – and my desire to hear again returning. 

2014-07-19 21.09.47

After a while, it was time to head back to the rather fancy Promenade Hotel for dessert. At this point, Ginta, being 4 months pregnant, decided to call it a night. My arse and I also decided that we’d had enough of the bike from hell so a new plan was needed. We went back to the apartment where I deposited my less than trusty steed. The girls were to cycle back to the beach to check out a singles party happening there – if it was any good, they’d give me a call and I’d hop in a taxi and join them. If not, we’d call it a night. (It was just before midnight…)

Watching them disappear into the night, I did what any sensible person would not do and took off for a wander to kill time. I was sure there had to be a party happening somewhere in this town, and just as sure that I would be the woman to find it. Hello Fontaine Palace. Gunta had just called to say that the party was crap so they were having one drink and heading home. The call of a live rock band (and possible fun) calling me, I paid my €3 and walked into the cavernous bar. 

2014-07-20 02.01.54

I ordered a pint and within a couple of minutes, a guy danced over to me. He turned out to be the drunkest German sailor in the world. I couldn’t hear much of what he was saying over the music; also, I had to keep turning away to discreetly wipe his over-excited saliva off my face. Still, he was kind of entertaining and he told me my German was very good so he was alright by me. 

While we were talking, a guy behind him kept on catching my eye and then turning away. I figured he was Latvian – no smile and a man bag. After the German fell out the door, I was amused to notice that he’d moved one seat closer. He’d go to the bathroom and come back, sitting down another seat closer. This went on for some time until finally he was sitting next to me. Latvians…

Anyway, he turned out to be a nice guy and, as an insanely loud band had now taken the stage, we moved outside. The rest of the night passed in a bit of a blur. I was always ready to leave “after this pint”, but then someone else would come over, a conversation would start, and I’d end up getting another. I even met Latvia’s answer to Matthew Gray Gubler, who, although he’d been drinking for around 3 days solid still managed to look hot…

Up a bit, up a bit...

Up a bit, up a bit…

At around 8am, I decided it was probably time to call it a night day, and headed for home. Waking up at around 1.30, I was relieved to discover that a) the bikes had already been returned, and b) we were still in time for the infamous brunch at Boulangerie. 

2013-06-23-12-59-08

Regaling Gunta and Guna with tales of my adventures the night before, we stuffed ourselves with omelettes, lasagna and crepes, washed down with copious amounts of milky tea – OK, that was just me. 

A few hours later, back at my flat in Riga, I came to the conclusion that although my arse hadn’t enjoyed the weekend much, I most certainly had. Thank you ladies (and Liepājans) for a weekend to remember. And no, in case you’re wondering, I didn’t get impregnated by a Jānis…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Food, Humor, Humour, Janis, Latvia, Latvian people, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 89 Comments

How do you solve a problem like a Latvian?

In my (almost) four years here in Latvia, I feel like I’ve got to the bottom of a lot of riddles concerning this land and its people. However, there are some things that still mystify me, even after all this time. So, as my reign here is coming to an end, I thought I’d put them out there and see if anyone can give my poor tired mind a rest. Here goes.  

1. Why does almost every man in Riga carry a man bag, and what’s in it?

Recent weeks have taught me (the hard way) that they definitely do not contain any deodorant, so I’m genuinely curious. 

The man bags and the glad rags...

The man bags and the glad rags…

2. Why do Latvians wear the same clothes for days on end? 

Unlike your average woman, I rarely notice what people wear – I know, I know, but it’s true. However, when my students keep coming to lessons in the same clothes, I notice. At first, I just thought, “Oh, it’s his ‘Tuesday/Thursday’ or ‘Monday/Wednesday’ jumper…”, then I realised it was probably his ‘every day’ jumper.

An ex-colleague and I were delighted when our miserable boss showed up in the same dress two days running – dirty stop-out. But when she showed up in the same dress every day for the rest of the week, still looking as miserable as ever, we realised that she hadn’t got lucky, she’d just got a new dress and was wearing the bejesus out of it. 

Another guy I know seems to only have a summer outfit and a winter outfit. Day in, day out, he wears the same clothes. I’m not sure how many sets of the exact same outfit he has, but I really hope it’s more than one. 

3. Why do the old people in my building scream at each other through their open windows?

In the good old days, when I had time to take a nap in the afternoon, I was generally rudely awakened by the shrieking old biddies in my block having a conversation at a decibel level that made me fear for the safety of my wine glasses. Why, WHY can’t they just go to each other’s apartments and have a conversation over a nice cup of tea and a slice of cake like normal people? (I crossed out ‘normal’ because it has a different meaning in Latvia.)

4. How can a Latvian go into a café and not order anything?

Or worse, bring their own food? How anyone can walk past the counter, sit down, and then take a yogurt and a banana out of their bags without ordering anything from the establishment they’re taking up space in is beyond me. 

5. How is this an acceptable way to board a train?

Good luck

Good luck

Just to give you a little perspective, the top step is roughly shoulder-level on me. The height of each step is ankle-knee distance. I have to hold onto the railings on either side and haul myself onto the train (très elegant in a short summer dress), then cling to the railings and gingerly side-step down, as the steps aren’t wide enough to actually keep your feet straight. How people in their twilight years do it baffles me. 

6. Why is it the law to keep your headlights on all day?

Yet using indicators seems to be optional, and playing Candy Crush while laughing at the notion of a speed limit obligatory. 

7. Why do parents not discipline their children when they’re being brats in public?

I remember feeling slightly miffed in Ireland when some mother would say “Move out of the nice lady’s way” or “Apologise to the nice lady for almost crushing every bone in her foot”. You see, I still think of myself as a girl – delusional, I know. However, in Latvia, I’ve had kids ride roughshod over me with not a word of reprimand from their parents. And while I’d like to blame the little bastards darlings, the buck stops with the parents. Oh, to be called a “nice lady” here, just once…

8. Why do a lot of women wear shoes that are too small for them?

OK, this is a weird one, I know, but seriously, look at women’s feet the next time you’re out and about – 8 out of 10 times, their heels will be hanging off the end of their sandals or flip-flops…

9. Why do Latvians never have their wallets ready?

You’re behind a Latvian in the queue at Rimi. They stand there watching as the shop assistant beeps through their terrifying-looking fish, kefirs and biezpiens. There’s a pause as the last item hits the bottom of the conveyor belt, and THEN, the Latvian will start rooting around for their wallet.

10. Why do Latvians like standing so much?

When I’m on public transport, I like to sit. If I have to stand, I’m always ready to dart for the first seat that becomes available. Not so your average Latvian. If a seat becomes free, they’ll just stand beside it, effectively blocking anyone else from taking it either. 

And finally, just why?

Vodka down neck, cat on neck

Vodka down neck; cat on neck

 

 

 

 

Posted in Expat, Fashion, Humor, Humour, Latvia, Latvian men, Latvian people, Riga, Rudeness | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 162 Comments

Pinning down my ‘process’

When the inspirational Nancy over at My Years of Sweat asked me if I wanted to continue a blog hop focused on the writing process, my initial reaction was a resounding no. I’d never really given any thought to my process beyond pouring a glass of wine, pouring said wine into me, and subsequently pouring my heart out. I’m not even sure that I think of myself as a ‘writer’. But as is her way, she somehow managed to talk me into it. Hopefully, I won’t let her, the blog hop or myself down by continuing the chain! 

My 'process'...

My ‘process’…

The idea is that you thank the person who nominated you, answer three questions and then nominate the next victim blogger. So, thank you Nancy – I think! And here goes:

What am I working on? 

Right now, I guess I’m working on how to transition from Expat Eye on Latvia to Expat Eye on Germany, without losing too many readers along the way. Writing EEOL has been a total revelation and great fun – apart from when half the country wanted to kill me – so it’s going to be hard to say goodbye to it. 

I’ve also been toying with the idea of writing a book for some time now, but the fact that I haven’t actually started doesn’t bode well. It’s tricky as I’ve written most of what I want to write in the blog, and I’m struggling to come up with an ‘angle’ that makes the book different from what I’ve done here. I’m not interested in just regurgitating blog posts – there has to be something that sets the book apart. And that’s where I’m at a loss. If anyone has any ideas, I’m listening! 

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

When I began writing about Latvia, I was probably one of the first foreigners to do so though, in the last year or so, a number of people have started their own blogs on living here. I guess what sets mine apart is that I’ve never pandered to anyone. On occasion I’ve been told, “you’re a guest here – you should only write positive things about your host country”. But the way I see it, I’m a paying guest and I should be able to write whatever the hell I like. 

If I like something, I’ll write about it. If I don’t like something, you can be bloody sure I’ll write about it. And if that’s too much for some sensitive souls, then tough. 

My blog is unapologetic, it’s honest, it’s (hopefully) funny, and it engages people more than many other blogs of its ilk out there. Sure, it’s a bit exaggerated at times, but there’s a kernel of truth in every post and that’s what people like (or hate) about it. It starts discussions; it gets people thinking – but then, I guess some people don’t like that much. But, as the blog has just passed the quarter of a million hits mark, I must be doing something right.

Why do I write what I do?

I write what I do because it keeps me (relatively) sane. When I first started the blog, I’d been living here for almost two and a half years, so I’d built up a bank of impressions and observations. Ideas for posts are triggered in different ways – it could be something I see or hear, something I read, or something that infuriates me beyond belief. I try to post twice a week, so whatever nugget it is has a few days to flesh itself out in my head. 

Most of the posts are writing themselves in my head as I walk around the city, so by the time I put finger to keyboard, they’re almost finished. Sometimes a line or a thought will pop into my head that has me laughing out loud as I’m wandering around – that’s when I know it’s probably a blog post. If it can make me laugh, it can probably do the same for other people – even if I do look like a crazy person when it happens.

The hardest parts of any post are coming up with a witty title, the opening paragraph and the closing paragraph. And of course, trying to maintain a level of consistency when it comes to quality and not just publishing posts for the sake of publishing them.

The level of interaction I have with my readers has kept me going through some pretty hairy times here. Half the time, the comment thread is more entertaining than the post itself, but that’s what makes it fun. 

So, I guess that’s about it. I’m not really sure that counts as a ‘writing process’ but that’s all I’ve got! 

For the final part of the blog hop challenge, I pass the baton to the intimidatingly multi-lingual Lady of the Cakes. She’s been following me since the very beginning and her blog is fantastically entertaining – when she’s not posting pictures of bloody flowers or lanterns, that is. I think we have a similar mindset so I’m interested to see what her ‘process’ is! 

Thanks again to Nancy and good luck to Lady – her post will go up on the 21st of July so make sure you check it out! I’m off to get a refill – all of this reflection is thirsty work. 

 

 

 

Posted in Humour, Latvia | Tagged , , , | 116 Comments

You want me to do what?

A few months ago, I received a message from a girl who works at an advertising agency here in Riga. The agency was involved in a pitch to make a promotional video for the Latvian Institute about Latvia taking over the Presidency of the European Council in 2015 – and, get this, they wanted ME to be involved. Seemingly, my foreigner’s opinion and insight would be invaluable. Although she didn’t sound like an escaped lunatic, or seem to be on drugs, I re-read the message a couple of times, and Googled the advertising agency and the Latvian Institute to make sure that they did actually exist.

Even though I was still half-convinced that it was some kind of hoax, or potential ambush, my curiosity won out over my common sense – as usual – and I agreed to a meeting. When I got there, it seemed that everyone in the agency had read the blog as they were all grinning at me; I was just happy they weren’t aiming at me. 

The receptionist offered me tea (“with milk, right?”) and I was shown to a meeting room where an intimidating number of people were assembled. One girl broke the ice by saying “Our receptionist just said “You know you’re all going to be in a blog post tomorrow, right?” and I made a mental note not to write a blog post about it – the next day, anyway… 

It had been a long time since I’d been in an advertising agency or had anything to do with brainstorming sessions so I was really nervous that I’d just be sitting there like a lemon with nothing useful to add. But, as it turned out, they were wonderfully open people with lots of ideas and I realised that I really wanted to work with them – and to produce a video that Latvian people could be proud of (but not some cheesy crap – I draw the line at cheesy crap).

When I got home, I sent a message to my friend, telling her that I was alive, that I’d had the meeting and met some really cool people, including some bloke called Eriks. 

Ginta: Oh my god! Eriks Stendzenieks? He’s like THE advertising/PR guru in Latvia! 

Me: Oops. 

I guess you never know who’s reading your blog…

Anyway, I put together some ideas, wrote a short essay on Latvia and fired it off to the charming, ruggedly handsome Eriks. Around a week later, I was informed that the agency had won the pitch – naturally.

So, we got together a few more times, tossed around various concepts, drafted and fine-polished some scripts and eventually came up with the final version. Unfortunately, I was in Berlin while they were filming it, but when they sent me the final video…

I love it. I think the tone is perfect. I like to think that you can hear a little bit of me in there at times, but they’ve managed to strike the perfect balance between Linda and the Latvians. Even though the weather was absolutely awful that week, they’ve still made the country look amazing. And I must admit that I go a little weak at the knees when the actor smiles at the end. I take my hat off to the fine people at Mooz Advertising – it truly was a pleasure to work with all of you and I’m so happy that I had a small part in making this video. While my blog will probably be my main legacy here, I’m happy that I can also say that I had a hand in this.

So please, watch, enjoy, let me know what you think. I’ll carry on cracking coconuts in the meantime…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CtnIUr8Q4E4

 

Posted in Humor, Humour, Latvia | Tagged , , , , , , | 177 Comments

The master becomes the student

When the wonderful “Lady of the Cakes” published her post on “How to be a hater with German food phrases”, I immediately did what any sane person would do and started insulting one of the (three) people I know in Germany. 

Me: Du gehst mir total auf den Keks! (You are totally getting on my nerves!)

Wolfgang: What? Why?

Me: Das ist nicht mein Bier. (That’s not my problem.)

Wolfgang: You’re mean. 

Me: Das ist mir Wurst! (I don’t give a rat’s ass!)

Wolfgang: OK then, I’ll leave you alone.

Me: (Crap, crap, what’s “I’m sorry” in German? Something with “mir” and “leid”…) Ich mir leid?

Wolfgang: Ha ha! You just said you’re tired of yourself! 

Me: Scheiße.

But, it actually turned out to be quite an appropriate mistake. You see, I am tired of myself. I’m tired of my excuses and my sporadic, half-hearted approach to learning German. While I think I’m quite a good English teacher, it turns out that I am a terrible German student. All of the amazing pearls of wisdom that I dole out to my students fall on deaf ears when I try to motivate myself. 

Work, Facebook chat (and Scrabble), pilates, TV, socialising, blogging, napping – all of these things have won out, at one time or another, over my German studies. It doesn’t help that my tongue just does not seem to work in a German way (which I guess rules out the German porn industry if the teaching thing doesn’t pan out). I listen to the CD or the nice person on Youtube – it sounds pretty simple. I try to repeat it and end up producing word vomit. The German ‘ch’ makes me sound like a cat choking on a hairball, while the articles make me… hmm, is it nap time?

My stupid sense of humour is also a hindrance. For example, when I came across the sentence “Vater, du bist zu dick”, my immature brain had translated it into “Father, you’re such a dick” before I could stop it. Finding out that “dick” is actually German for “fat” resulted in peals of laughter and me heading over to Google Translate to find out what “dick” is in German. Lesson terminated due to general hilarity.

The upshot of all of this is that I now know I am not a good solo student. While I think I sound angry in German, the only speaking “partner” I have is my new pet fly, and he’s not great at giving feedback.

Ah, da bist du ja!

         Ah, da bist du ja!

But thankfully I’m not alone when it comes to language-learning woes. Naturally, I’m really fond of my students and it makes me happy when they do well. However, now that I’m a fellow student, it also comforts me (slightly) to know that I’m not the only one who makes a complete balls of things sometimes. I give you a selection of some of the weirder conversations I’ve had in the last few weeks: 

Me: (showing a picture of a shifty-looking woman sneaking around an office) What adjective would you use to describe how she looks?

Jānis: Fertile.

Me: Perhaps, but I think the word you’re looking for is “furtive”.

Dangering: Are you tasty?

Me: (Bom-chicka-wah-wah) What??

Dangering: Are you tasty? Is you tasted? Did you tastering? 

Me: STOP. Do you mean “Have you tasted it?”

Dangering: Yes. 

Me: (Bleep)

Gunta: I’m having some dark curtains made. I can’t sleep because it’s so bright all the time. The only problem is, it will take about a week to get them. 

Me: You could try black sacks in the meantime.

Gunta: Black sex?

Me: That could work too. 

Probably not as effective as black sex

Probably not as effective as black sex

Anyway, I’d better go and make sure Wolfie is still talking to me. God knows, I need all the practice I can get. 

 

 

Posted in Expat, Humor, Humour, Language, TEFL | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 113 Comments

An open letter to Latvijas Pasts

Dear Latvijas Pasts, 

Having lived in Latvia for almost four years now, I truly thought that I had scraped the bottom of the barrel when it came to deplorable customer service. However, on Thursday afternoon, your Čaka Street branch plumbed new depths. 

It being Mammy O’Grady’s birthday next week, I thought I’d be a good daughter and send her a card. Naturally, in order to do this, I would need a stamp. I popped into your Čaka Street branch on my way to a lesson, and was rather surprised to see that you’d done away with the 3 or 4 button system. Now there was just one button to push to get a ticket. Push it I did, and then I waited. And waited. And waited. 

When no new customers were called within 15 minutes, I left, vowing to return on my way back from my lesson. My lesson with Dangering complete, I went back. I pushed the button again and got my ticket. I was number 310. 295 was currently being served. I sat and waited. And waited. And waited. (And sweated. Ever heard of air-conditioning?)

45 minutes later, they were serving number 206 but I’d had enough. No new customers had been called in the previous 15 minutes as both (yes, there were only two members of staff) assistants were dealing with customers who wanted to post multiple packages. I wasn’t the only person to leave without doing what they had come to do. Six or seven usually placid Latvians also lost patience and left. 

I have previously compared the speed at which Latvians move to that of a severely hungover slug. I now take this back. In fact, I reckon slugs probably make jokes about the speed at which Latvijas Pasts workers move. 

However, for once, I don’t blame the staff members. I blame your ridiculous system, or lack thereof. What’s especially mind-boggling to me is that you actually had a system that worked, then got rid of it. Why, WHY, would you do that?

As for Mammy O’Grady, I’ll be hand-delivering her card at Christmas as I’m not wasting one more second of my life in any of your ‘fine’ establishments. It will probably be faster that way anyway.

Yours sincerely,

Linda O’Greidija. 

Posted in Humour, Latvia | Tagged , , , , , | 156 Comments

(North)EastEnders

One thing my students say which never fails to amuse me is, “The best English is spoken in London”. Once I’ve picked myself up off the floor and wiped my eyes, I tell them to look up “EastEnders” on YouTube and come back to me when their ears have stopped bleeding.

Ah, EastEnders – the most depressing show that has ever graced TV screens. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, it’s a long-running soap opera set in London’s East End, with more ear-splitting, chavvy women and knuckle-dragging, beer-bellied men than you can shake a stick at. And I’ve just started watching it again.

Now, before you judge me, I’m not doing this for entertainment purposes; it’s purely for research reasons. You see, EastEnders has recently introduced its first Latvian character and I’ve been checking him out.

There are several things I find unconvincing about this character. First of all, his name is Aleks Shirovs. In a rare bid to be diplomatic, let’s just say that this is not a Latvian name. But then, maybe the writers thought that Jānis or Roberts would be too difficult for the other characters to say (or the British viewing public, for that matter).

The second thing that’s a bit off about Aleks is that he is, quite frankly, far too handsome. Well, too much diplomacy is boring, right? A quick Google search gave me the answer to this one – the actor is not Latvian at all. He’s German. (And I’m now even happier I’m moving there.) You’d think with the number of Latvians in England, they could find one struggling actor, but no. Still, I’m not complaining…

Swoon

Swoon

I’ve only seen a few episodes that feature Aleks but another odd thing is that the ladies seem to love him. This is not something I’ve ever seen happen with a real-life Latvian man. English men come here and drool (rather pathetically) over Latvian women; I can’t say I’ve ever seen an English woman do the same over Latvian men. Therefore, I conclude that Aleks also wears deodorant, something that is a bonus rather than a given with a lot of Latvian guys.

The last thing that jars with me about this character is that he doesn’t like children. I’ve yet to meet a Latvian man that doesn’t like/want children. One of my male students even went so far as to tell me that if I didn’t have kids, I’d be “wasting my natural resources”. I almost wasted his “natural resources” for that one…

On the other hand, there are several things about Aleks that ring true. For one thing, he’s dodgy. As market inspector, he turns a blind eye to several nefarious goings-on – as long as he gets a cut of the profits. Less forgivably, he may also be responsible for bringing this particular trend to Walford…

Ak dievs...

Ak dievs…

Secondly, and even less shockingly, it’s been revealed that he has a wife and child back in Latvia – but, dun, dun, dun, he’s having an affair! Oh my god, a Latvian man cheating on his wife?! That’s only about as common as, well, potholes in Latvian roads.

But wait, there’s more. It seems that you can take the man out of Latvia, but you can’t quite take the Latvian out of the man – his taste in women is about as (Russian) Latvian as you can get…

Guess which one he's sleeping with...

Guess which one he’s sleeping with…

So, what do you think? Is Aleks representative of “Latvian” man? Is it a good thing to finally have a Latvian, who’s really a Russian Latvian, being played by a German, in one of the most popular British TV shows of all time? Bearing in mind that a lot of British people don’t have the foggiest idea about Latvia and this is the only “Latvian” they will ever “know”? Thoughts please!

 

Posted in Humour, Humor, TV, Expat, Latvia, Latvian men | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 234 Comments

Where have all the Jāņi gone?

While on a walking tour in Berlin, I got chatting to a guy – as I do.

Me: So, where are you from?

Guy: I live in Nürnberg.

Me: (Instantly suspicious) 

Guy: And you?

Me: Well, I’m from Ireland but I live in Latvia. 

Guy: What?

Me: LAT-VEE-AHHH…

Guy: No, no, I’m from Latvia! 

Resisting the urge to belt out a “Whoomp, there it is!”, we got talking. He’d been living in Germany for a long time and hadn’t visited Latvia in many years. But, as luck would have it, he’d be visiting his grandparents in the arse-end of nowhere in July, after a few days in Riga. To say he was dreading it would be an understatement. He seemed to think that there would be scammers, muggers and knife-wielding maniacs around every corner. In fact, it was the first time in my life that I had to try to convince a Latvian that Latvia really isn’t that bad.

Me: People go there and survive all the time! 

Jānis: Survive?!?!?!?!

Me: I mean enjoy! Love, even! Survive was a poor choice of words. Just don’t pee on the Freedom Monument. 

Jānis: Why would I do that?

Me: I don’t know. 

Suffice it to say, Jānis is never, ever, ever, ever moving back to Latvia. And I doubt he’s alone in this. It’s no secret that Latvians are leaving the homeland in droves – last year an estimated 22,600 people took their leopard print-lovin’, white footwear-rockin’, man bag-totin’ selves off to pastures new. But that’s OK, because Latvia has a plan.

Bustling Riga

Bustling Riga

The plan is that all of the people who’ve left will, one day, come back with their Scandinavian/British/German/Irish/American/Australian “learnings” and save the day. Naturally, nobody knows what exactly it is they will have to come back to. But sure, some will probably come back and stay; some will probably come back and leave again. And some will never come back.

More bustle

More bustle

Sure, they talk a good game – “Oh, I’d move back to Latvia if I could… I miss my home and ‘the nature.’” (Honestly, to hear these people, you’d swear no other country in the world had nature.) But, in reality, they’ll come home maybe once or twice a year, hug a tree, kiss a granny, and get back on that return Ryanair flight before you can say “šaursliežu dzelzsceļš”.

Bustling Daugavpils

Bustling Daugavpils

Of course, there’s another problem if they do come back, and that is that people don’t really want to hear their “learnings”.

Jānis 1: So, how was Ireland?

Jānis 2: Yeah, not bad. The people were really friendly, and the customer service, in general, is great. 

Jānis 1: Well, if you love Ireland so much, why don’t you f*** off back there then? 

You see, people don’t really want to hear that something is better somewhere else. What they really want you to do is come back with your tail between your legs, admit that you were a bad little Latvian, and promise never to leave again.

Bustling Jelgava

Bustling Jelgava

The thing is, you’re not a “real Latvian” any more. If I had a euro for every time someone told me that so-and-so isn’t a “real Latvian” because they lived in such-and-such a place for a couple of years, I’d be… well, I’d be out tonight, not sitting here writing this. A student even told me during the week that Ernests Gulbis isn’t a “real Latvian” any more because he’s lived out of the country for around 10 years.

You can probably win back your “real Latvian” status if you never again mention the other country you dared to live in, never again say that anything is better anywhere else, repeat “Latvia is the best country in the world” over and over again, and basically just keep your head down and accept that everything is “normal”.

See? Isn’t that better? Good little Latvian…

 

Of course, I’m not a Latvian, real or otherwise, so I’m really interested to hear from Latvians, real or otherwise, on this one. So, a few questions:

If you’re still living in Latvia, have you ever considered/would you ever consider leaving?

If you’re living abroad, would you consider moving back?

If you have lived abroad and moved back, how are you finding it? 

And, as usual, all other comments are also welcome – just not “get out of our country, Irish whore” because well, that’s been done…

 

 

Posted in Expat, Humor, Humour, Janis, Latvia, Latvian people, Social Issues, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 212 Comments

Unleashing my inner German

I’ve just got back from six days in Berlin, and wow, what a fantastic time I had. Berlin is an amazing city, full of life and energy. I did some touristy stuff, did some less touristy stuff, met some great people, checked out various neighbourhoods, went to the beach, drank excellent beer, ate delicious sausages, went to the Pride parade, watched a lot of football, and basically, had an absolute ball.

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Needless to say, I’m not overly thrilled to be back in Riga. Today, the temperature is 13 degrees, it’s raining on and off, and my heating is back on – in late June. Even though it’s Līgo today, my heart just isn’t in it. (A walk around Riga earlier revealed the same miserable-looking faces, only now with flowers in their hair and leaves on their cars.) In short, I think my days of trying to get excited about Latvia are over. If that makes me a Līgo grinch, then so be it. Instead, I’m going to try to keep the German feeling going.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I’m planning to move to Germany in September, and I’ve decided that Berlin is the place for me. So this trip, while a bit of a jolly, was also intended to see if I could actually ‘do it like a German’. Step one was to rent an apartment instead of a hotel.

The apartment had looked nice on the website, had had a couple of good reviews, and was close to a tram line. Funnily enough, it was located just off Baltic Sea Street, which should have given me a clue as to the weirdness that ensued. On entering, I was surprised to see that the living room contained a sex swing and a complicated series of ropes hanging from the ceiling. There was also a rope ladder to nowhere.

Probably not a sex swing but still funny

Probably not a sex swing but still…

Ropes

Ropes

Rope ladder

Rope ladder

OK, I thought, a bit odd, but maybe this is how Germans spend their free time? I know they’re quite active people so maybe they like making moving around their apartments more of a challenge? I promptly tried to make my way from one end of the living room to the other without touching the floor, but clearly, I was not German enough yet.

I moved on to the bathroom where everything was relatively normal, apart from the bizarre toilet flush which liked to spurt water all over your hand if you held it down for too long. More exercise in the form of leaping backwards and yelling – clever Germans…

Surprise!

Surprise!

There was also this little mirror, positioned at crotch level, that gave you a very nice view of your feet. I deduced that foot care and the correct footwear are also very important to Germans. However, after a day or so, I noticed that if you sat on the loo and leaned forward, you could smile at yourself in the mirror. This seemed like a far more likely use for it, as Germans (from what I can tell so far) are a cheery, friendly bunch. I suppose they smile at themselves in their little mirrors first thing in the morning to give themselves a little extra pep in their step for the rest of the day. It was what I started doing anyway.

Guten Morgen!

Guten Morgen!

Of course, the other reason for renting an apartment was that I figured I could save a bit of cash on eating out all the time. First stop was the Penny supermarket across the street to buy teabags, eggs, bread, milk, biscuits and, naturally, wine. I’ve clearly been in Latvia for too long as the speed that the cashier beeped everything through made my head spin. I was half-trying to put the first item into my bag when she’d finished. Then I was rummaging around for my card in a panic, while a growing queue of Germans waited. And of course, my card didn’t work, so I desperately had to scrape together every bit of change I had in my wallet. I gave myself a ‘Disappointing. Must do better.’ on this particular aspect of becoming German.

Another thing that I had failed to factor into this money-saving scheme was that cooking at home produces waste. In my apartment in Riga, this is no problem – everything goes into one black sack and then, while I can still carry it, out to THE bin.

Easy.

The Latvian system.

In Germany, it’s not quite that simple. Everything has to be separated in order to go into the correct one of 4 million bins.

The German system

The German system

After a day in the apartment, I was wandering around a bit like Quasimodo, only repeating ‘the bins, the bins…’ Bottles, plastic, paper – OK. But what about other stuff? I’d heard stories of people being complained about for not separating their rubbish correctly. Take a tea-bag, for example – do you have to take the paper tag off the tea-bag and throw that into a separate bin? Do people really check this stuff? Clearly, I have a long way to go on this score also.

Still, all in all, I felt like the week was a massive success, even though I have some stuff to work on. As well as my German, I may also have to master my volume levels as some German men actually prefer to listen to the football commentary rather than an Irish girl cheering in their ear…

But for now, it feels like Berlin and I will be a good fit. I think German toilet roll sums it up perfectly.

I think so too.

I think so too.

 

Posted in Expat, Humor, Humour, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 149 Comments

Who’s your daddy?

A couple of weeks ago, I discovered a funny thing about Latvians. Yes, another one. But first, a little background…

I recently met a couple of really nice Latvian girls – it seems they do exist. While I was out for a couple of drinks with Gunta and Ginta on the Friday night, it emerged that Ginta has a country house (surprise, surprise) not far from Riga. As the weather was supposed to be good the following day, I was invited along for a little sunbathing soirée in the garden. As I’m not often out ‘in nature’, I decided it might be good for me.

I got off the bus after around 45 minutes at the stop I’d been told to. It seemed the only thing for miles around was the bus-stop so it was hard to miss. I called Gunta who told me to start off down a dirt track at the side of the road and she’d come and meet me on her bike. Bottles of wine a-clanking, I did just that. After around 5 minutes, a cheery sun-burnt Gunta came rattling along and led me to the house. The only rule, she informed me, was that we couldn’t go topless as Ginta’s dad was working in the garden. Fine by me.

Ginta met me with a mojito in hand (the best way to greet me), or maybe I should call it a Lohito (Latvian mojito) as it had a distinct Latvian twist, containing strawberries and rhubarb from the garden. I highly recommend Latvianising your mojitos – it was bloody good.

Yum

Yum

I said hello to Ginta’s dad (who was allowed to be topless) and started wandering around the garden, checking out the fruit and veg growing there.

Me: Wow, so fruit and vegetables actually grow IN THE GROUND? I always thought they came in plastic containers in the supermarket! 

Latvians like when you say stuff like this. Probably.

Her dad is quite the impressive man. He’d built the house with his own hands, and a sauna at the end of the garden. He didn’t stop all day, running around tending things, watering things, and doing whatever else it is people who grow stuff in gardens do.

2014-06-07 16.50.04

Where fruit and vegetables come from

We lounged around in our bikinis, listening to music and discussing the latest trend in Latvian nail fashion – painting one nail a different colour to the others. Every now and then, Gunta would converse with Ginta’s dad across the garden.

Me: Ha ha ha! It’s funny how you call him “Ginta’s dad”! 

Gunta: What’s funny?

Me: It’s just funny!

Gunta: What else should I call him?

Me: I don’t know – his name? Or Mr (Whatever)?

Gunta: Ha ha ha! No Latvian would ever do that! 

Me: Huh… (This blog post started taking shape at that point.)

After spending a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon in the garden, and amid dire warnings not to write anything bad about the garden, we headed back into town. The trip was blighted slightly by a total jackass on the bus who had a problem with girls laughing and talking on public transport. Needless to say, he got an earful in return. (And then a girl recognised me as Expat Eye, which I’m sure created a wonderful first impression. To that girl: I don’t normally shout at people on public transport but he was a complete asshole. And he was carrying two umbrellas. Who needs two umbrellas? Asshole.)

Anyway, the conversation during the afternoon got me thinking. If I met a friend’s dad for the first time, I’d call them by their first name, or Mr Whatever until they told me to call them by their first name. But seemingly, that would just be bizarre in Latvia. After quizzing another friend on this phenomenon, it emerged that it also extends to other family members; she’d even heard a woman introduce herself as Jānis’ wife before, instead of using her own name.

Now while this may seem appealing initially – after all, you wouldn’t really have to bother remembering people’s names – I’d imagine it could get confusing. Especially in a country where most men are called Jānis.

Me: Hi Jānis’ mum and Jānis’ dad. I’m Jānis’ girlfriend. Nice to meet you. Oh, you must be Jānis’ brother and Jānis’ sister – I’ve heard a lot about you! 

Jānis’ mum: Do you have a big family?

Me: Funnily enough, my dad and brother are also Jānis so I guess you could say I’m Jānis’ daughter and sister and girlfriend haha…

(Steely glare from Jānis’ mum) 

In conclusion, I think I’ll stick with my way of addressing other people’s parents - even if it does make me a social outcast.

 

 

 

Posted in Culture and Traditions, Expat, Humor, Humour, Janis, Latvian people | Tagged , , , , , , , | 178 Comments