She works hard for the money

When I lived in Ireland, I had just one job. I was a copywriter in an advertising agency. After almost 3 years in Latvia, this now seems rather lazy. Here, I freelance for 3 English schools. I travel the city every day teaching Business English and General English, groups and individuals from beginner to advanced level. I’m a presentation consultant. I do the odd voice-over gig. I have my own company in which I fill every position from CEO to Marketing Manager to Debt Collector to Proofreader to Teacher to Tea Girl. And yet, somehow, I have exactly 3 lats and 31 santimes in my bank account at the moment.

Actually, this isn’t strictly true. In another account, I have money. But I don’t think of this as my account. This is essentially my landlady’s account as whatever money goes into it, goes straight into her account at the end of the month. (At least one of us is making easy money.)

I remember when I got here first, I thought everything was soooooo cheap. I couldn’t understand how a Latvian could sit in a cafe and not buy anything when a cup of tea was less than a lat. Now I cling to every santime as if my life depends on it – it kind of does. You’ll find me shuffling around in my dressing gown in the semi-darkness of my flat; obsessively touching my radiators to see if the heating has gone off yet so I don’t have to pay the outrageous heating bill this month; hovering over my mobile phone waiting for the ‘battery full’ message that means I can plug out the charger and save half a santime on my electricity bill. I can make myself feel better about all of this by pretending I’m doing it for the environment but really, I’m just being tight.

I suppose, in a way, it’s a good thing. It certainly makes me think more carefully about how I spend my money – something that never really crossed my mind in Ireland. In Latvia, I actually know how much things cost. I look for discounts. I buy ‘own brand’ products. I swipe my loyalty card every time I go to the supermarket to see what’s on special offer. (I did a happy dance in Rimi today when I discovered there was around 80 santimes off Heinz Beans. My main worry now is that I’m going to turn into a slice of beans on toast.) I’m forced to ask myself difficult questions like ‘Do I want that bottle of wine or do I want to eat for the next 3 days?’ Of course, the wine wins every time but I feel very sensible just asking myself the question. In short, I’m a much wiser (and thinner) woman than I once was.

The bare necessities

The bare necessities

One of the main problems in Latvia is that everyone wants to improve their English but nobody wants to pay for it. So you’ll get an email from a friend along the lines of ‘Could you have a quick look at this presentation? I’ll buy you a pint!’ You click on the attachment to find a 25-page document in which someone has taken a machete to the English language. 25 hours (and a lot of new grey hairs, sweat and tears) later, you send it back. The pint never materialises.

An introduction to a Latvian in a bar is also something to be treated with caution.

Janis: So, what you are doing here?

Me: I’m an English teacher.

Janis: (now with jackpot symbols in his eyes) Oh, maybe you can help to me! I want to improve English. Is not so good now. Please, correct me if I making some mistake.

Me: (busying self with pint) Mmm hmm. How’s your weekend going so far?

Janis: Oh, is very wonderful. In afternoon, I was walked in forest. I had been picked up some mushrooms and berries. After then, I go to river. There I catched some fishes and then I rided my bicycle to home. My mother was cooking them for the dinner. She is very good cooker… Did I made some mistake?

Me: Nope. That was perfect.

Much as I love what I do, I don’t do it for love alone. A girl has to keep herself in beans somehow. Now I just need to find a bottle of wine for less than 3 lats and 31 santimes…

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About BerLinda

Adjusting to life in Germany, after living in Latvia for four years. Should be easy, right?
This entry was posted in Humor, Work and business and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

40 Responses to She works hard for the money

  1. Oh, this all sounds very familiar! I had just the same experience teaching English in Istanbul and also here in Sicily.
    Do you find people usually assume you have heaps of money just because you’re foreign? After 8 years of being Mrs. Skint in Sicily, greengrocers and other nitwits still try to charge me tourist prices when they hear my accent. I’ve even had it in the supermarket!!!
    I like your your way of fending off bids for free English lessons! I’ve updated my approach, and nowadays I tell people I barter for lessons if students have no money, so what can they offer me of equal value? It’s actually working quite well: I’ve had my car washed, received carrier bags of lemons and sometimes a ready made dish of lasagne.

    • Expat Eye says:

      That sounds like a useful approach in Sicily! Here I’d probably get some mushrooms and berries from the forest… πŸ˜‰ I wrote that post in hopes that people would stop assuming I’m a rich foreigner! There are plenty of them here but unfortunately I’m not one of them!

  2. 1WriteWay says:

    My dear girl, perhaps you should consider another country before you totally waste away from too few beans and too little wine! I’m impressed that you’ve lasted 3 years; that’s one year longer than the Peace Corps. I never was in the Peace Corps but my husband (friend at that time) was (Ecuador, 1984-1986), and I did visit him for about 3 weeks there. I guess that’s one reason why I enjoy your blog so much … living vicariously through another’s international experience without having to leave the comfort of my own well-heated home.

    By the way, I watched an episode of Wallander the other night, a BBC production based on Henning Mankells’ novels (Swedish). Anyway, this episode partly took place in Riga and so I was closely watching to see if any of the Latvians smiled. Interestingly, a couple of the male roles (Latvian detectives) gave big friendly smiles to Wallander, the Swedish detective investigating the murder of a Latvian detective. Of course, their smiles made me suspicious and rightly so: they were both villains! Well, actually one of the actresses playing a Latvian woman did smile a little bit, but she was being seduced by Wallander so … . I thought of you and your post on smiling and I just had to smile πŸ˜‰

    • Expat Eye says:

      I may have to write another post on ‘ulterior motive smiling’ and ‘smiling at foreigners for perceived financial gain’!! I love that you were thinking of my blog while watching it ha ha! My mother is in the same boat as you – she thinks I’m wasting away as well and wants me to move somewhere warm where people are friendly! I’m starting to come round! πŸ˜‰

  3. Marianne says:

    Hmmm … it’s a difficult balance, especially with friends πŸ™‚

  4. Get it girl! Just reading that wore me out. Maybe we should come up with a better job description for the bar. Like, ‘Professional Linguistic Correspondent’…intimidation. OR ‘Oh, I’m sorry. That’s top secret.’ (Because I don’t want you to know)

    • Expat Eye says:

      You’re right! Maybe I’ll just say tea girl from now on πŸ˜‰

      • This is weird and one of those 15 random things that I probably will never put on the blog: when I was just out of college, I moved to a new state and would tell randoms that I was ‘Kitty’ a 3rd grade teacher from San Francisco. My friends had a full story to go along with it. So weird.

      • Expat Eye says:

        That’s a level of crazy I can only aspire to πŸ˜‰ Kudos to you my friend!

  5. Antuanete says:

    You can well imagine then, how is the life for doctors everywhere. “Oh, you are pediatrician? Yesterday, my baby’s poop was in such strange color…” – and it all goes on at the table in dinner party πŸ™‚

    • Expat Eye says:

      Ha ha, poor you! At least my job doesn’t involve any messy bodily functions! The odd case of BO maybe but that’s as bad as it gets! πŸ˜‰

      • Antuanete says:

        Oh no, I’m not a doctor myself, but have heard enough from some friends πŸ™‚ Also, it’s the same for IT people; my ex-boyfriend had to help my mum with computer every time we visited my parents. And to explain something about computers to my mum is much harder than to correct Janis’ English, believe me (now I’m in charge with that computer)!

      • Expat Eye says:

        My mum is exactly the same when it comes to computers – give me Janis any day!! I’ve been guilty of the IT thing myself – my computer has a lot of problems, bless it!

  6. astrameklere says:

    Linda, I am happy that we could help you at least with those Heinz beanz… Maybe lets move to retail, beause I hardly know,ow much something costs… πŸ˜€

    And the excersise is: imagine how those 40 – 60% of Latvian people who earn less or around 200 lvl (minimal salary on the state) manage to pay their bills…

  7. Gypsy says:

    Eons ago I worked as an editor/translator. Thankless work; but it was for the Provincial Government so the pay was decent. AND it was 9 to 5.
    Here in Qatar, I initially got a lot of attention from Nationals when I’d mention I speak French (albeit bastardized Canadian French if you were to ask the true Francais de France).
    I’ve since perfected my “I no speak da French, non, non” routine and marketed myself as truly ignorant in the language of love. It’s just not worth the hassle of being asked to tutor (read “babysit”) thankless and clueless 2-yr-olds hyped up on chocolate and Tom & Jerry.
    On a side note, I once gave up wine in an attempt to save money. Two hours into that commitment, I decided boozing was as good a way to waste my money as any, and I’ve been blissfully unawares since πŸ™‚
    Awesome blog BTW … the wine-induced haze only makes me love it more.
    Cheers from the desert …

    • Expat Eye says:

      I figure I still need one little luxury! If I didn’t have wine, I just don’t know what the point would be! At least you lasted 2 hours πŸ˜‰

  8. Charlie Maddaus says:

    You’re not alone I’m sure. Many have confused a pint with currency–a common pitfall!

  9. Oh my, I can relate to this!!! Just last night when I got back home, there was an email from my landlady asking me to translate something into German for some clients. Luckily, it was just a few sentences. Still, obsessive as I am, that took me bloody half an hour. Everything I ever get in English needs a total re-write. At least with German, they don’t bother fucking with it first, it goes straight from Spanish to German, or the other way round.
    My landlady does take me out for meals, though. And I’ve just managed to get her to reduce my rent. So I can actually afford the heating! Hurrraaaaah!

    • Expat Eye says:

      Nice! She sounds like a keeper! I never see mine – just get an invoice once a month 😦 I’ve had proofreading jobs here that had already been sent to a professional translation agency. They looked like someone had just put them into Google Translate and sent them back – I could do that!

      It always takes me ages to do those jobs as well. They usually require total rewrites, not just a word change here or there! But the client always wants them back ASAP – and then takes months to pay…sigh.

  10. Maybe my next pairing post will be what is the perfect wine for those beans. Yum!

  11. Saryne says:

    Janis changed to Irish:
    Oh fek, is very wonderful. In te afternoon, I was walked in forest, don’t cher know. I had been picked up some mushrooms and berries, but fek was it hot. After then, I go to river, and blimey were the fish a bitin. There I catched some fishes and then I rided my bicycle to home. My mother, god bless her heart, was cooking them for the dinner. She is very good cooker, don’t cher know… Did I made some mistake, feked if I did?

    • Expat Eye says:

      It would probably be more like ‘It was feckin’ deadly/rapid.’ Irish people don’t say ‘blimey’ so you let yourself down a bit there, Welsh boy! ‘Me ma’ not ‘my mother’. ‘Did I feck up? Feck off fecker. Who gives a feck?!’

  12. Saryne says:

    Voice over? God help them, “Tere are tirty tree trees near te teatre.” πŸ™‚

  13. rjschutte says:

    Great blog. I know exactly what it feels like. But there is still hope. Romi has a good white for 2.5ls πŸ˜‰

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