I seldom think about my old age. I assume that I won’t live to see it. On the rare occasions that the thought does flit across my mind, I picture myself as tiny and white-haired, more gumption than gummy. In my mind’s eye, I’m sitting on my porch, brandishing a gnarled stick at the neighbourhood kids, while chortling to myself and sipping my mid-morning brandy. I may even take up pipe-smoking.
However, on the off chance that I do see old age and decide to spend my golden years in Latvia, I may have to rethink this vision of Linda Ol’Lady.
According to recent research by Global AgeWatch, Sweden is ranked the number one country to grow old in. My curiosity being what it is, I had to have a gander and see where Ireland and Latvia came in. Ah yes, there’s Ireland at a semi-respectable number 12 and Latvia is… (scroll, scroll, next page, scroll) number 45 – just ahead of Bolivia.
My vision has now shifted slightly to me standing outside Central Station with all of my worldly possessions in two bags, ranting at total strangers.
You might think I’m exaggerating, but bear with me.
Some bright spark (or more likely, committee of bright sparks) has decided that the absolute minimum amount needed to survive in Latvia (iztikas minimums) is 178.85 lats (255 euro) per month. And the State will generously provide you with a pension of 180.83 lats. So, with your survival assured, you’ll still have a whopping 1.98 lats left over, just for yourself. (Would that cover a brandy?)
With this in mind, it pays to try to keep your spouse or partner alive for as long as possible – it doesn’t matter if you can’t stand the sight of them. Just think of the worlds that will open up to you when, at the end of the month, you’ve got 3.96 lats left over… Let’s get this party started!
If you’re the kind of person who ‘aaaaaaahs’ over cute little old couples, walking along hand in hand, Latvia is not the country for you. I’ve been here for 3 years and I’ve yet to see one. But then, if you’ve got less than 4 lats a month to play with, I guess it’s not overly surprising. Going out for an afternoon stroll and a cup of tea and a cake probably aren’t your main priorities.
Actually, you don’t see that many old men here at all. The average life expectancy for a man is only 69 years old. The women don’t die of a broken heart shortly afterwards (they’ve probably seen a few husbands off at this stage); they more than likely die of being downright broke around 9 years later.
But don’t worry, there are always options to make some extra cash. Even as a pensioner. If you’re really lucky, you can supplement your pension by an extra hundred lats or so. This will involve getting up at the crack of dawn, clearing leaves and cleaning streets so that tourists can exclaim ‘My, it’s so clean!’, as they spend more than your entire pension on one dinner.
On top of this, you’ll also get free public transport. Unfortunately, as you’ll probably be living on the 15th floor of a block of flats in the middle of nowhere, you’ll have to make your own way down the stairs before you can take advantage of it.
But if you do make it, maybe you should see if that free transport card can get you all the way to Sweden.