As some of you know, last week I wrote a post about moving to Riga. The reason behind it was that I get a lot of emails from people thinking of moving to Riga because they’ve seen a pretty picture or like snow. They have no plan, no job lined up and totally unrealistic expectations of what life here is actually like. So I wrote this post. Did I go a bit overboard on the negativity? Maybe, but quite frankly, some of these people just need a good kick up the arse.
On an average day, this blog gets around 300 hits. Between Friday and Sunday last week, it got 7,500. On Monday, I was contacted by a journalist from a Latvian online news portal – kasjauns.lv. She wanted to know if she could translate this post and put it on the site. In the words of my good friend, I said ‘why not?’ It went live this morning and so far, I’ve had over 13,000 hits.
It’s been a good day for my stats but a bad day for me personally. Having to wade through message after message of hate mail can really get a girl down. A few people have said nice things – that they love it, that they agree with most of it, that it’s nice to see Latvia from a foreigner’s perspective – but the vast majority have been negative. And I mean REALLY negative.
If you’re wondering why you can’t see your comments at the moment, it’s because I have an option to moderate all comments before I publish them and that’s what I’m doing. I will publish/reply to them eventually but right now, it’s all a bit overwhelming so I thought I’d write a blanket response in the meantime.
First of all, just to reiterate, I do not hate Latvia. I’ve been here for nearly three and a half years which is the longest I’ve lived in any country apart from Ireland. Nobody is forcing me to stay against my will. Most of the time I like it, some days I even love it – but are there things that I dislike, that I find amusing, entertaining, bizarre or downright irritating? Sure. Show me a person living in a country, any country – be it their own or another country – that is absolutely 100% happy with everything all the time and I’ll show you an idiot.
I’m sure there are plenty of Latvians living in Ireland who think we’re a strange bunch. (We are.) It’s pretty much part of any expat’s existence to pick up on the unusual or the different. Just because we talk about it (or write about it) doesn’t mean that we hate the country we live in.
So back to the post in question. What people don’t seem to realise is that this is ONE post out of ONE HUNDRED AND ONE posts. The post before that one was about a trip to the doctor’s and the one after it was about brushing your teeth in the shower – fascinating stuff, I know. I’ve been writing this blog since the end of January. Yes, the overall tone of the blog is sarcastic and tongue-in-cheek (and I thought funny) – but it was never meant to be hurtful or offensive, though clearly some people are taking it that way.
I’ve written perfectly pleasant posts about my trips around Latvia, my lovely students, about going rollerblading, about baking, about great nights out, friends coming to visit – all accompanied by plenty of pretty pictures. So why do you think kasjauns.lv wanted to publish this one in particular? Quite simply, because it is a bit negative and because they knew it would upset people and cause controversy – and bring people to their website.
The fact of the matter is people love to complain. I’m no exception, and among Latvians it’s practically a national pastime. The economy, the politicians, the police, the Russians, the roads, the healthcare and education systems, the EU, the wages, the weather (but only when it’s too hot)… the only thing is, and you have to be careful here, you’re not allowed to actually agree with them. (It’s kind of like having a crazy family but you’re the only one who’s allowed to say it. If anyone else does, you have to punch them in the mouth to keep face.) God forbid you should actually start a blog about it. But I did.
And last week, I published a few less than flattering pictures of Riga. So what? I mean, really, so freaking what? This area exists. I live in it. Why shouldn’t I post pictures of it if I want to? Am I bringing shame to Latvia and every Latvian? Am I disrespecting Latvian culture? Am I a stupid, narrow-minded piece of shit in serious need of psychological care because of it? Seemingly so, if you believe the hype.
The majority of negative messages are along the lines of ‘If you hate it so much, why don’t you get the F*** out of our country and go back to your F****** Ireland?’ (One guy even offered to start fundraising.) Well, OK, let’s think about that for a second. If every foreigner who lives here who has ever said a negative thing about Latvia was forced to leave, where would that leave the country? Likewise, if every Latvian who ever said anything negative was kicked out –
Jānis 1: Oh man, my heating bills this month are out of control!
Jānis 2: Get out.
Well, there’d be very few people left.
Which brings us to my beloved Jāņi. Is every man in the country called Jānis? Of course not. Does every woman wear leopard print? No. But both have become a bit of a running joke and a blog theme so I keep them. If a Latvian started a blog on Ireland where every Irish person was called Paddy or Bridget, wore green, drank Guinness and danced around pots of gold, would it bother me? Not in the slightest.
If they went to Sheriff Street or Dolphin’s Barn, took some pictures and posted them, would I mind? Again no, because these places are every bit as much of a part of Dublin as O’Connell Street, Grafton Street and Temple Bar (actually more so than Temple Bar because Irish people don’t really go there). I’d just congratulate them on making it out alive without wearing a bullet-proof vest or having a SWAT team handy.
There are sketchy areas in every city – NOT JUST RIGA. I know this and thought that most people would have the intelligence to realise that without me spelling it out. It turns out I was wrong.
Another group of people wanted to know what I’m doing about the situation in Latvia apart from bitching and whining. I don’t know. I’m doing what anyone else is doing. I’m working, paying taxes, spending my money in the country, teaching people English so they have better opportunities, helping my friends when they need it so they get better jobs, sending representatives of Latvia to international conferences with correct presentations and speeches. I’ve recently joined an expat networking group that aims to help young Latvian entrepreneurs get their business ideas off the ground. Is that enough? Who knows?
Oh, and I also write this blog which, like it or hate it, gets people here and abroad talking about Latvia. Today alone, it’s been read by thousands of people, including politicians and journalists – and probably other people who do matter and can actually change things.
But at the end of the day, it’s just a blog – about Latvia, written by an Irish girl. So I ask you, seriously, in a country where a supermarket has just collapsed killing dozens of innocent people, the prime minister has resigned, the government has been dissolved and a good proportion of the population are hovering around the poverty mark, why is everyone talking about me and my blog?