Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the most miserable of them all?


It’s even possible to make a living out of looking miserable.

Walking around the streets of Riga, facial expressions range from dour to miserable to downright homicidal. If you’re hoping for a cheery smile or a nod to brighten up that bleak wintry morning, you’ve come to the wrong city.

When I first got here, I used to smile at people in cafes, shops and at bus-stops – as is the done thing in Ireland. If you see a cute baby, you smile at the baby, then at the mother in a ‘Well done you!’ sort of manner as she melts with gooey pride.

This is not the reaction here. The mother growls at you as if you’re about to attempt to kidnap her (frankly, angry-looking) little darling. I persevered for a while but the day even the baby gave me a withering look was the day I decided enough was enough.

Instead of letting it depress me, I decided to turn it into a personal challenge. I was going to  out-glare and out-glower every Latvian in Riga. Do you remember the scene in ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’? Her final training task in order to become a fully-fledged geisha was to make any man stop in his tracks with just one coy glance. I have gone one step further and can now make any person die a little on the inside with what I coin my ‘Latvian Look’. It’s kind of a cross between ‘Blue Steel’ and a razor. Sometimes I actually scare myself when I catch a glimpse of my face in a shop window.

I fear my mission may have had a slightly negative effect on my psyche though. Now when I see someone smiling, my thought process goes something like this:

1. They’re foreign.

2. They’re a bit simple.

3. They’re after something.

The idea that they might just be friendly or in a good mood never crosses my mind.

While this new persona has helped me blend in with the locals here, it doesn’t go down quite so well when I go back to Ireland for a visit. I have to cope with the hurt looks of bus drivers I don’t thank; the confused faces of people in shop queues as I coldly look them up and down; the tears of the babies I scowl at… Sometimes I don’t even realise I’m doing it any more.

But of course, there’s always a bright side. If what my mother says is true, and frowning really will ruin my ‘beautiful face’, then I’m hoping to start a profitable new sideline as the ‘Amazing Woman who Aged 30 Years in 3’. Any takers?

About BerLinda

Adjusting to life in Germany, after living in Latvia for four years. Should be easy, right?
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12 Responses to Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the most miserable of them all?

  1. Anna says:

    Oh dear. I was laughing so hard, I was snorting!

  2. John says:

    Reverse culture shock will surely kick in when you hit the shores of the emerald isle (or any bit of western civilisation.) After 6 years teaching there, I abandoned Latvija for sunny Spain in 2011. First time shopping there a guy was in my way so I rudely pushed past him as I was used to doing in Riga. He actually apologised to me. To my shame I was so shocked that I hurried on without acknowledging.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Cringe! Yes, I worry about myself in Ireland this weekend. Glaring at people in the streets, putting the money on the counter in shops, sighing and tapping my foot when the woman in the queue in front of me has a little chat with the cashier! I fear I may be becoming more Latvian than I want to admit!

  3. ‘oh no! Do not let it change you! I am American and we like to wave with our hands to say hi, or bye. When we moved to Germany to a really cute little town everyone would stare at us as we waved hi and bye, even the kids on tricycles would stare at us with confusion. When we left 3 years later we had the group of neighbors waving hi and bye! You sound lovely, keep on smiling!

    • Expat Eye says:

      Ha ha thanks! I try! It’s hard sometimes though – they look at you like you’ve got two heads 🙂 I’m going home for Easter so 4 whole days of smiling people should bring back the real me again! Or else I’ll look at them like they’re crazy!!

      I’ve been to lots of different places in the States and I really think Americans are the nicest, friendliest, most helpful people ever. I’ve had lifts, tour guides, dinner offers – in New Orleans, I got tempted by a breakfast burrito in BK (for shame, I know!) and was horrified that they didn’t do hot tea – only ‘Joe’!! The lady who worked there microwaved me Lipton Iced Tea and even added milk for me – there aren’t many places in the world where that would happen!!! It had a bigger head than most pints I’ve had but it was the thought that counted!

  4. traveller says:

    Nice one. I love a good Eastern European scowl. If you actually do get a smile eventually then you know you are really worth it:)

  5. OMG that is so true and can so well apply to my fellow Lithuanians, and me too. I’m also one of those who do not smile all that often in public, but when i do I also get lots of these quizzical frowns of ‘why are you smiling, huh?’ kind. but well when you grow up here you kind of think that’s normal behavior.

  6. Mareks says:

    the truth is out there between latvian blake faces and american false smile

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