Heaven is a place where…

This week, I had a very amusing lesson with my Latvian students. No, really. Any EFL teachers out there who use the New English File series are probably familiar with this one – ‘National Stereotypes: Truth or Myth’.

It’s one of my favourites, as it really gives you an insight into how Latvian people think, and what their impressions are of other nationalities. The one thing everyone agreed on was that the Irish are great fun and very entertaining. Mainly because we’re drunk all the time but still, fun and entertaining. That’s the important thing to take away from this.

Irish people: We're great craic

Irish people: Sure, we’re great craic altogether

After finding out their mostly accurate (and really rather flattering) opinions about the Irish, I went on to see what they thought about Latvian people. So, for those of you who are sick of me spouting on about the Latvians, here it is, straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. (No pun on horse-heads intended here.)

Positive characteristics:

  • Creative – they like to sing and dance
  • Patriotic (more on this later)
  • Hard-working
  • Hospitable (?)
  • Ummmmm…

They asked me to help them out at this point but I had nothing, so we moved on to:

Negative characteristics:

  • Closed/reserved
  • Introverted
  • They like to complain – a lot
  • Angry
  • Afraid of new things
  • Lack initiative
  • Mean…

I got the feeling that they could have kept going on this one but we only had 90 minutes so I had to move things along.

The next part of the lesson was based on the joke ‘Heaven/Hell is where…’ The students have to fill in the blanks with different nationalities. Just in case you’re not familiar with the joke, here it is:


Heaven is where the police are _______________,

the cooks are _______________,

the mechanics are ________________,

the lovers are _________________,

and everything is organized by the _____________________.

Repeat for Hell.

In this particular lesson, I had 7 students – 6 women and 1 guy, in case you’re interested. A depressingly familiar ratio. The first two pairs didn’t produce anything out of the ordinary. The police are American; the cooks are Italian or French; the mechanics are Japanese or German; the lovers are Italian or Spanish, and everything is organized by the Swiss or the Germans.

It was the other group that brought the surprises.

Me: So, what did you write for the police?

Only guy in the room/country: Latvian.

Me: Really?

Only guy in the room/country: Yes. (Like I said, people of few words)

Me: Why?

Only guy in the room/country: Why not?

Me: Ummm…

Another student had told me earlier in the week that the police in this country are actually more dangerous than the criminals, but I struggled to find a way to put this diplomatically. So I said:

Me: I’ve heard that the police in this country are more dangerous than the criminals.

Only guy in the room/country: Yes, but you can bribe them.

Me: Is that a good thing?

Only guy in the room/country: Why not?

Me: (sigh)

A glance at the clock told me that the 90 minutes weren’t up yet so I persevered.

The cooks? Latvian. Really? Yes. Why? Why not.

The mechanics? Latvian. Really? Yes. Why? Why not.

The lovers? (You guessed it) Latvian. REEEEEAALLLLLY? Yes. Why?

Finally, at this stage one of the women piped up.

Gundega: Well, I live with a Latvian man, so…y’know.

Me: I have a fair idea, yes. So, I ask you again, why???

Gundega: Well, y’know.

Me: But why?

Only guy in the room/country: Why not?

You won’t be too surprised to learn that in Heaven, everything is also organised by the Latvians.

Parliamentary meeting

Parliamentary meeting in Latvia

Funnily enough, when I asked the same group about Hell, the police were from Russia.

Me: Why?

Only guy in the room/country: Because you can bribe them. 

Me: But, but, but, you said that was the good thing about the Latvian police!

Only guy in the room/country: (Shrug)

Sometimes, as an EFL teacher, you’re not so concerned about grammar or vocabulary. You’re just happy that you’ve made it to the end of the day without throwing yourself off the top of a building.

About BerLinda

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

72 Responses to Heaven is a place where…

  1. Pingback: Goodbye Mr ‘Why Not?’ | Expat Eye on Latvia

  2. Rael says:

    +100500 to your students. Nice trolling 😀

  3. Martin says:

    I don’t want to judge by stereotypes, but I noticed ho many times you mention “beer” in your blog 😀
    Stereotypes are the result of lack of information. If people don’t have enough money to travel around and see which stereotypes are not true, they just fill in the blanks with what they got. That’s how our subconscious works – it’s hard to admit “I don’t know”, it’s much easier to pretend that I know. And often people pretend so well that they themselves start believing that they know.

  4. Krišjānis says:

    You do know that the whole idea behind the “why not” is just a Latvian way of messing with you, right?
    Anyway, I don’t really like some of your posts because they are offensive and biased, with a lot of the facts being distorted in your favour. For one, you, Linda, shouldn’t really be complaining about the way Latvians pronounce or write your name, should you?
    And what’s more, if I would go to Ireland, do you think people would call me Krišjānis? I don’t even want to get into that. It’s normal for people in other countries not to know how to pronounce your name correctly. Really, it’s no big deal and no reason for thinking badly of another nation. It just shows your own lack of open-mindedness.

  5. Pingback: A brush with a Latvian | Expat Eye on Latvia

  6. archecotech says:

    Everywhere you put Latvian – remove insert Russian – same answers (LOL)

  7. Richard says:

    Love the blog as I’ve said before. But would like to read again why you first went to Latvia and why you stay. Could be helpful to us considering the move.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Maybe you should read the ‘about me’ section again or else send me a message at linda_ogrady@hotmail.com.

      • Richard says:

        OK re-read the “about me”. I can’t wait to get there because I grew up in a place where everything “good” used to be cooked (fried) in lard and peas (black eyed) were cooked with salt pork (salted cured pork belly). In the U.S. deep south the pig is king and nothing is wasted-ever tried pickled pigs feet or pigs ear sandwich or for something really unique deep fried souse (pigs snout, ears, and innerds cooked into a slurry and formed into a loaf). Latvia is sounding like my kind of place.

      • Expat Eye says:

        Jesus, that sounds like the stuff they make people eat on those awful reality TV shows! I think I’ll give breakfast a miss 😉

  8. gina4star says:

    Oh, love it. Can relate to these sorts of classes from my time as an ELT teacher. Painful. Love the only guy in the room/country’s answers, it’s made it very clear for me!

  9. 1WriteWay says:

    Introverted is not a negative characteristic … well, unless the introverted also hates people. Then it’s awkward at best 😉

  10. barbedwords says:

    Ha ha, very funny. I’d have to question the choice of Italians as chefs too…Italian food is so overrated. Having never met a Lativan I can’t comment on their suitability (or not) for any of the jobs!

  11. polyglotfun says:

    Excellent! 😀 Very funny stuff.

  12. AquaArchitect says:

    This exercise is hilarious as it reminds me of a joke I read somewhere:

    “In Hell: the cooks are English,
    the policemen are German,
    the mechanics are French,
    the lovers are Swiss
    and the bankers are Italian.”

  13. AquaArchitect says:

    Hi Linda. I have a question: should someone coming to Latvia and eventually settling there, invest in learning Latvian or Russian? It seems more prudent to learn something more widespread but I also fear the consequences when Latvia does not recognize any other language.

    This is a repost plz delete duplicates

    • Expat Eye says:

      Hi there, thanks for the comment. Russian definitely seems like the more sensible choice – the problem with that is that a lot of the younger generation are choosing not to learn it now. People will appreciate it more if you try to learn Latvian, I think. But hey, you can always learn both! Linda.

  14. rigaenglish says:

    Alternatively, Hell is an English class where you’re stuck with some unimaginative northern European businessman type for 90 minutes!

  15. M.E. Evans says:

    Laughing my ass off. I need to visit Latvia now. Also, I can relate to this. Trying to apply English speaker culture to other cultures is impossible. I remember I asked a group of my husband’s friends once about relationships. “Is cheating wrong?” The answers were unanimously “it depends.” I said, “no, just yes or no. Morally, do you think it’s wrong to betray the trust of someone you care about.” They shrugged again, “how is it betrayal?” was the universal response. I sighed and ordered another glass of wine.

  16. Mūdzis says:

    Well, that was amusing.
    Mean as it may be, but I’m really wondering where one has to advertise their school / language courses to get such… interesting students. 🙂

    Though, being a chronic devil’s advocate, I must say that I don’t think that introversion should be seen as a “bad” characteristic.

    Extroversion and introversion is not about how friendly or confident somebody is. It’s about what kind of stimulation one prefers: extroverts generally prefers external stimulation and “charge” themselves by being in contact with others while with introverts it is vice versa. Despite that the society generally favours extroverts, being an introvert is not better or worse. Just different.

    • Expat Eye says:

      I can’t possibly say which school – it might get me fired 😉 I generally never write about current students but this one I just couldn’t resist! Why not?! We did actually have a discussion about introversion and whether it was good or bad. I think in moderation, everything is OK!

  17. Anna says:

    I would lose my mind teaching that group. I need people to be interactive. I might have to bring in a group of [pre-bribed] Russian policemen to create some motivation.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Now there’s an idea. I told them in the 5th or 6th lesson that it was like walking into a funeral every time I walked into the room. I can understand it if they’re not speaking English, but not even speaking to each other in their own languages? It’s just weird. And the room is set up in pairs of desks – everyone sits by themselves first 😉 Even though they know I’m going to move them as soon as there’s a speaking exercise!

  18. pollyheath says:

    Ohhh, New English File. Teaching the stereotypes class always set me up for a bit of teeth gritting or head banging after the discussion. Nothing like rampant/irrational nationalism…

  19. Laine says:

    Hi again, off topic, but I seem to either have lost your email or have it in my work email only. Could you maybe email me at my gmail address? Thanks. Else lets see if our favourite coffee places are the same.

  20. Ye Pirate says:

    Oh dear…I do find such nationalism unbearable…I thought there was no-one worse than Hungarians…certainly looks like there is at least similar!

  21. rigaenglish says:

    The cooks are Italian? Personal choice, but I don’t think that being able to rustle up a pizza or a bit of sphagetti is all that much to write home about. American cops? Have they actually watched any dramas or reality shows featuring tazer happy American police?

    It’s weird as well the stereotypes people come up with in different countries, ask people in Ireland or UK about Russians and you’ll usually get things like bearskin hats, cossack dancing and mafia, which Latvians never mention.

    It’s bizarre that they think that bribing the police is a good thing. That’s why the number of deaths on the roads here is the highest in Europe, too many people who would have lost their license long ago in any other country still driving just because they’ve slipped a few Lati to the cop that stopped them. In Kazakhstan apparently, the going rate for the cops if you’re caught red handed after committing a murder is $150,000. I think I’d prefer to live in a bribe free place!

  22. Lila says:

    so i guess for latvians everything in hell is supposed to be russian? ah well…

    • Expat Eye says:

      No, the hellish food was Indian or anything with spice or flavour 😉 And the lovers were German – too punctual 😉 “At 8pm, we will go to bed. By 8.05, I will have removed your clothes etc.” 🙂

      • Lila says:

        the saddest thing is, its true… having had my experience with german men… jeez at least the russian were not that predictable. the germans are stiff and cold and when u r on a date with a german guy u cant even get it whether he likes u or not, there are like no sparks no flirtation and then… suddenly.. will u come to my palce and we`ll have sex? i really want to have sex with u. just like that out of the blue. and they were so suprized when i declined that tempting offer. even if i had been loose and horny i need at leats some foreplay of compliments and flowers and at leats i want the guy to pretend that he cares. but with germans there s no emotions. smth tells me that latvians and scandinavians must be similiar on dates… am io wrong? and the best lovers must be british for sure=))))

      • Expat Eye says:

        Ha, I might have a sort of date with a German soon! 🙂 I’m really looking forward to it now!

      • Lila says:

        hope u will enjoy it=) just dont be shy and take the matter in ur own hands)

      • Expat Eye says:

        I always do 😉

    • Nene says:

      Tuh, don’t know what your prob is with German lovers?? They just like to be efficient! You can never get that “wasted” minute spent on foreplay back y’know! Duh! 😉 😉 😉 😉 😉

  23. Funny and interesting. I really had to laugh that Americans are chosen for police…not sure why. I guess it’s a new one for me. I can’t imagine how long that 90 minutes had to have felt!

    • Expat Eye says:

      They said it’s because they actually seem to follow the law – which you’d imagine is good in a police force! 🙂 Bribing aside clearly 😉

  24. lafemmet says:

    I will have to try this… though with 10 year olds, I may have to change up things like lovers. 😉 But I can relate after only 4 classes ever.

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