If you’ve been reading the comments on some of my posts, you might have noticed something of a pattern developing.
Me: “Most Latvians look like a leopard threw up on them.”
Latvians: “That’s not us. It’s the Russians.”
Me: “Why do Latvians look like they’ve been chewing on lemons?”
Latvians: “That’s because of the Russians.”
Me: “Latvian winters make me want to lie down in the snow and die.”
Latvians: “We blame the Russians.”
OK, so the last one is a stretch, but you get the idea. And now that I’m at a safe distance in England, I think it’s time I finally addressed the Russian issue.
First of all, who are they and why are they in Latvia? In a nutshell, most of these ‘Russians’ are migrants from the Soviet era and their descendants. A large percentage of them have non-citizen or alien status in Latvia.
If you do ever visit this fair land, be prepared for a conversation like the one I had not long after I arrived:
Me: So, where are you from?
Sasha: I’m Rrrrrrrussian.
Me: Oh, OK, whereabouts?
Sasha: Well, I was born in Riga.
Me: So, you’re Latvian.
Sasha: No, I’m Rrrrrrrussian.
Me: Do you have a Russian passport?
Me: Have you ever been to Russia?
Me: But you’re Russian.
You can see why a poor little expat might be confused. A lot of ‘Russians’ here manage to make it through their entire lives in Latvia without ever learning a word of Latvian.
Understandably, a lot of Latvians are less than impressed with this state of affairs. They are incredibly proud of their language and claim to be honoured whenever a foreigner attempts to speak it. Yet on a practical level, whenever I try to speak it, most Latvians answer me in English with a dismissive ‘Latvian is very difficult for foreigners’. Maybe it wouldn’t be so difficult if they actually helped us learn it?
They claim to hate that the Russians don’t speak Latvian, yet instantly switch to Russian whenever they’re speaking to one. The vast majority of Latvians also swear in Russian as the Russians are so much more creative when it comes to bad words and insults.
Some Latvians I’ve spoken to also freely admit that a lot of things were better under Russian rule – the education and healthcare system being just a couple of areas the Latvians have managed to run into the ground over the last twenty years.
Also slightly confusing is the Latvian attitude to the ‘Russians’. This is another actual conversation I’ve had:
Me: How do you feel about the Russians?
Janis: I hate them.
Me: OK, any plans for tonight?
Janis: Yeah, I’m going to a party with all my Russian friends.
Me: You have Russian friends?
Janis: Yes, of course. The Russians are way more fun.
Me: Being slapped around the head with a wet fish is more fun than the average Latvian.
Janis: Ja. Wait, what?
Me: Nothing. Byeee!
I’ve even been asked by Latvians why I’m bothering to try to learn Latvian at all, as Russian is so much more useful. To this, I always patiently answer that it’s because I’m living in Latvia, not Russia.
I wonder what ‘identity crisis’ is in Latvian. Or Russian for that matter…