East is East

I know I said I was taking a little break, but well, then this happened:

http://www.jamieoliver.com/news-and-blogs/blogs/latvia-culinary-gem/

‘This’ is a blog post by a British guy called Kevin Carr who’s attempting to claim the Guinness World Record for ‘The fastest circumnavigation of the world on foot’. Recently, he ran through Latvia and when you’re running around the world, you’re bound to get a bit peckish from time to time. Anyway, he stopped off at a place called Malpils Museum for some grub. His review was glowing – the food was excellent, the waiter was friendly and welcoming with great English, and the whole thing only set him back about £7. He ended the post by saying “It’s one of the first places I’ve stayed at along my route where I know I’ll definitely plan to return to one day on a mini break.”

photo-3

WOW, right? I’ll admit to raising an eyebrow when I read the title, but after reading the post, I instantly put Malpils on my list of places to go. Then, since I haven’t been feeling much love from the Latvians myself lately, I decided to get some vicarious love through Mr Carr’s blog and scrolled down to the comments.

Instead of the “Thanks Kev, glad you had a great time in Latvia! Come back soon and bring all your friends!” I was expecting, this was the first comment:

Please respect countries where you’re traveling, when you write about them.
Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are Northern European countries.

And it got worse. Much worse. You see, Mr Carr had made the fatal error of referring to Latvia as part of Eastern Europe*. They don’t like that. Not at all. The comment thread quickly turned into a patronising ‘bash the Brit’ rant. Having made my mouth water with his post, I found that after reading the comments, I was left with a distinctly sour taste in my mouth. Why couldn’t they just accept the compliment?

Of course, they’re not alone. After the recent Maxima tragedy which killed 54 people, the Defence Minister took time out of his busy schedule to tweet this:

“@BBCBreaking it so unpolite and disrespectful to call Latvia former Soviet rep.We are EU and NATO member and you are not remain British Emp.”

Seriously? 54 people died and you think it’s more important to condescend to the BBC?

It’s easy to see why Latvia doesn’t like being called Eastern European. Just saying the words conjures up grim blocks of flats looming menacingly out of the ice and snow; old men shuffling around in furry hats drinking bootleg vodka; blue-tinged beauties draped over the bonnets of clapped-out Ladas… oh, and there’s this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Uzu58N-Sso

Throw in just about every -ism and phobia you can imagine and you’ve pretty much summed it up.

Northern Europeans on the other hand – well, they’re just lovely people. They’re open-minded and tolerant; they have a good standard of living; their economies are thriving; they have great roads and infrastructure. Northern European countries consistently top the polls when it comes to happiness, transparency, and taking care of their old. Who wouldn’t want to be Northern European?

Due to the geographic location of Latvia, Latvians have the luxury of being able to call themselves ‘Northern Europeans’. But is it really that simple? I mean, a toad can wake up one morning and decide that he’d rather be a deer as they’re a bit easier on the eye. Some people might even humour him and call him ‘Bambi’ but at the end of the day, he’s still a toad.

The problem with Latvia, if it is a problem, is that it doesn’t have a strong national identity abroad. If you say to someone ‘I live in Latvia’, they generally just look a bit confused. However, when you think of other European countries, you immediately start making mental connections – be it the food, the music, the people, the landscape. Sure, they’re not always positive connections, but you do think of something – and you take the good with the bad.

Pride of the Irish

Pride of the Irish

People don’t really do that with Latvia, so yes, they tend to ‘lump it in’ with countries they perceive as similar. And they’re far more likely to say ‘Eastern Europe’ than to put say, Sweden, Denmark and Latvia in the same category. That’s just the way it is. Latvians are more than happy to lump ‘The West’ together when it suits them, or vaguely refer to ‘Africans’, as if there’s no difference between an Algerian, a Somalian and a South African.

So perhaps, instead of bickering about what you’re not, why not show the world who you are? Eastern, Northern, North Eastern? Nobody gives a crap. You say you’re smart, loyal, warm-hearted, welcoming people, nature-lovers and culturally-rich? Prove it. Because, quite frankly, things like this just make you look like a bunch of narrow-minded, nitpicking pedants.

As for Kevin Carr, I hope he’s now running through a country that knows how take a compliment.

* Kevin Carr has since changed the ‘offending’ sentence to ‘in certain parts of Europe’, and apologised in the comments for any offence he may have caused. Personally, I feel this was unnecessary but he seems like a nice guy so I’ll let it go. 

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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 Food, Latvian men, Latvian people, Tolerance and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

155 Responses to East is East

  1. Anna says:

    Yeah, I totally agree that the ability to take a compliment is a skill yet to learn for many (if not most) Latvians. And sadly the ability to accept a critique as well. But you’re good at teaching both 🙂

    • Expat Eye says:

      Ha ha, some don’t like that lesson! Maybe it’s better to say nothing at all – can’t say positive things, can’t say negative things… doesn’t leave much 😉

  2. FringeDivision says:

    Dana Priedniece • 11 days ago −
    Hello Mr. Kevin Carr!
    I love your shows and work you’ve done.
    But please respect countries where you’re traveling, when you write about them.
    Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are Northern European countries.
    ————–
    This is the original comment. She actually loves his shows and anything, where’s the problem? Why concentrate on negative only?

    • Expat Eye says:

      I disregarded it due to general lack of research and blatant ass-kissing. Kevin Carr doesn’t have a TV show. She clearly has no idea who he is – just assumes that he has something to do with Jamie Oliver.

  3. As a Mexican I can somehow relate to the Latvians’ perspective. Some (probably most) Mexicans get upset when someone geographically includes them in Central or South America instead of North America. Why is this important to them? Because the average Mexican would like their country to be more like Canada and the USA (in terms of economical success and way of life) instead of being more like its Latin American neighbors. I can only imagine that the Latvians feel the same national impulse of trying to relate to a group of countries that are perceived as “better” by the international community. To each his own I guess…

  4. rigaenglish says:

    Poor Kevin, he’s really wandered into a minefield. While it’s as geographically accurate as Northern Europe, the problem is that Eastern Europe is only ever used in a geo-political sense to mean “former Soviet bloc” countries. That’s why you’ll never ever hear Greece or Finland described as Eastern Europe even though they’re at basically the same longitude as Latvia. I usually play safe and describe the place as “North eastern Europe.”

  5. Daina says:

    Living in the U.S., where Americans barely know their own geography, this topic certainly resonates with me. I once took some Latvian candy into work, and left it in the breakroom with a note, “Candy from Latvia – enjoy!” A colleague (admittedly one who is NOT the brightest bulb in the chandelier) emailed to ask, “Who is Latvia?” As a couple of other folks have mentioned here, i often use the description “Northeastern Europe” if necessary. I figure that way even most Americans would realize Latvia is not near Spain or Greece… I am not a big fan of the description “Baltic state” when used in the U.S., as for many Americans a state (i.e. California or Michigan) is part of something larger. They don’t necessarily think state = country. And, of course, there is the whole Baltic and Balkan problem. So, yeah, Latvia needs a huge world-wide branding and marketing campaign so that a) people learn where the heck it is, and b) understand what Latvia is all about. Anyway, another great post, Linda. 🙂 I agree that people should’ve been nicer to the poor chap!

    • Expat Eye says:

      Ha, yeah, the poor guy! I keep meaning to read some more of his posts from other countries 😉 Maybe he gets bashed everywhere 😉 Love that ‘Who’s Latvia?’ – kind of sums it all up! 🙂 Linda.

  6. Livonian says:

    “So perhaps, instead of bickering about what you’re not, why not show the world who you are?”

    Er… why exactly do you think it is our job to jump through hoops just to prove to you that we exist and that we are who we are? As long as I’m concerned, I know that I am Latvian and I know what that entails. I don’t need to go out of my way to prove my existence to a person who is too lazy to look at the map or open the history book. You are visiting there yourself, it is your job to learn about the place, and that you have chosen to describe it in a humorous, yet snarky and bitter way, is up to you. But don’t expect us to jumps through hoops for you just to prove that we are different from Swedes and Russians, because frankly I see no need for it. It should be obvious to any intelligent person. Latvia has done plenty to show who it is. Do you ever watch sports? Do you know that we are among the top best ones in the WORLD in hockey, bobsleigh, luge? For a population of 2 million, that’s a LOT. I know it’s probably too much to ask of somebody who’s favorite pastime is pub-crawling, but did you know that Latvians are overrepresented in classical music? I meet people here in the US who know Mariss Jansons, Garanca, Opolais, Vasks. If you are too lazy or arrogant to learn about Latvian culture, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist or that is has nothing to share with the world. 🙂

    How much does your average European (or global citizen for that matter) know about other small countries, such as Qatar, Kuwait, Albania, Bahrain, Samoa? How much do you know about Luxembourg or Faroe islands? Do you expect them too to jump through hoops to prove to you that they too have a unique identity?

  7. Livonian says:

    Btw speaking of identity – we might want to look at religion. Latvia traditionally is mostly Lutheran and Catholic. Much more so than its Eastern neighbors. Currently it is secular – just as secular as Scandinavia. More so than Poland, Russia or Ireland.

  8. Livonian says:

    It’s sad that there were these feisty comments, because the English guy’s remarks were nice and Latvia does really have nice places like that.

    The UN classifies the Baltic states as Northern Europe. The US State department runs a policy called e-PINE – cooperation in the Northern Europe, that groups the Nordic and Baltic countries together. http://www.state.gov/p/eur/rt/epine/

    The EU also has a working group for Nordic and Baltic ministers that is separate from all others.
    This is just regional policy.

    It is also clear that ethnically, the Baltic people are clearly Northern European. When it comes to identity though, I’d prefer the Baltic states to stand as a separate entity. We have a culture and language that is quite distinct from Scandinavian. Regionally, we should identify and bond with Finns, Karelians and people around St.Petersburg. Polish people too. We have a distinct, lovely region which has many advantages. Even things you won’t find in many Western European countries.

    Politically too the Baltics should carve their own policies. There are many good things in the Nordic countries, but also things that would be highly hazardous for the Balts (that we should never adopt).

    I would suggest the author and readers not to make the huge mistake of comparing three small post Soviet states that have had their elites destroyed by relatively recent war to countries that have had decades of freedom, American protection, natural political progress, etc. 🙂

    I don’t mind the term Eastern Europe. The problem with the term is that, for instance, Americans have a very broad understanding of EE, they sometimes include even Armenia.
    Also, can all EE countries be grouped in the same category? Can Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus be put in the same group as Estonia or Czech republic? What about Russia – some call it Eastern Europe, which it is partly, although Russia stands on its own as a separate civilization.

  9. bevchen says:

    Unable to take a complimnt? Are you sure they’re not British? 😉

  10. barbedwords says:

    Everything I know about Latvia has been learnt from you so I’ll go along with whatever you tell me 😉

  11. Mūdzis says:

    This reminds me of a trend I’ve noticed in some news resources.

    If the article’s about the Northern Europe and the Baltics, then the Baltics are in the Northern Europe. But if the article’s about the Eastern Europe and the Baltics, then the Baltics are considered as a part of the Eastern Europe. And then there are times when the Baltics are treated as a completely separate category, neither Eastern nor Northern…

    In other words, when it comes to the geography, we get tossed around like a hot potato.

    (I personally prefer the Baltics being their own category. Hey, what can better than having our own little, exclusive club?)

  12. brathahn says:

    haha i thought how sad it is that you took a break as soon as i saw the article and the comments 🙂

    and thanks for the “Eastern European Men School” video, that was great. It definatly improved my success with eastern European women 😉

    • Expat Eye says:

      Ha, I just had to do one last one last one when I read it! 🙂 Should probably just have shut up but I guess my mind doesn’t work that way 😉 Glad you enjoyed the vid – I watched it with 2 Latvian guys who were crying with laughter watching it 😉

  13. Everyone knows where Finland is because of everone knows where Santa Claus comes from 🙂
    For those who does not know where is Latvia I always tell that it is south of Finland and is one of the former Soviet union countries 🙂

  14. Hi Linda, once more great blog 🙂 Will agree with you, latvians are eastern europeans, especially in their minds.
    I read the english man’s article as well and all I felt was happiness about the fact that latvians can cook 🙂 and do that with great pride. I will definitely try to find time to go there next time we are in Latvia.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Yeah, I will definitely try to make it there in the new year too! Stunned by how expensive eating out is in Ireland so it will be nice to have a lovely, inexpensive feed when I get back 😉

  15. Vicky says:

    Wow, I thought I was bad at accepting compliments! I’ve never really considered the north, south, east or west of it. When my friends and family pulled the oh-so-familiar look of confusion and asked where Latvia is, I always replied “In the Baltics.” Still confused? “Next to Russia.” Ah, now you’ve got it.

    Anyway, I really enjoyed reading this and cried with laughter at the Eastern European Men School! What a find!

  16. NorthbyNorthEast says:

    [A big sigh] I think this discussion has been taken much farther it should ever been taken (and now not only by Latvians). It was a snowball effect caused by one single comment that actually started with words “I love your shows and work you’ve done…” and some more people thanked him for compliments to LV. Overlooked is also the fact that quite a few Latvians actively struggled against ‘N Europe’ label and threw all sorts of explanations in the face of those who said the country was in N Europe. Poor Kevin just happened to be in the hotspot, his post was just one of the too many still using the term Eastern Europe (no one meant to blame only him).

    If this subject is still of any interest, I’d say Latvia is in the Baltic states or Baltic region. Latvia is neither fully East nor North. Culture (which includes many things), ethnicity, mentality, architecture even according to archeology and lifestyle (sharing the same Baltic sea) Latvia are much more Northern most people think. And Northern doesn’t mean Scandinavian – no one was saying Latvians are about to compete with Swedes or Norwegians. We all know that is many areas Eastern European influence is apparent (including politics and economy) but it is all relative. I’d say if one wants good for Latvia one has to admit the Northern side of it since it is not just a fantasy there are many facts that approve it and it can also serve as a direction to look at. Latvians often criticize their own life because they do compare it to the one of their Northern neighbours. And if calling themselves Northern Europeans means adopting their business-mind, self-esteem and efforts for their standard of living, what’s wrong about it?

    • Expat Eye says:

      There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it! And when I start seeing evidence of it, I will applaud it.

      And by the way, KC doesn’t have a TV show – she obviously thought he had something to do with Jamie Oliver and was using that as a little + before the lecture.

  17. Aussa Lorens says:

    Weird. I’m sensing a definite trend here.
    And no, Latvia doesn’t have any sort of “branding” like many other countries. Pretty much the only things I associate with Latvia are your blog and the occasional reference on the show “New Girl” because one of the guys played pro-basketball in Latvia.

  18. xyz says:

    I was unpleasantly surprised about the negative comments from latvians about the positive review of Kevin Carr. Didn`t mind his term “Eastern Europe”, actually didn`t give it much thought while reading the article.
    but… I dont utterly agree with you about “east is east” because GEOGRAPHICLY Latvia IS in the North of Europe. POLITIALLY it is Eastern Europe (as in: Eastern Europe and Western Europe)
    For example, if I talk to ppl about Latvian economics or politics, then yes, i would refer to it as Eastern Europe. but if someone wants to know where Latvia is then I would say it is the North of Europe because this is where geopgrahicly it is. and i am perfectly fine with being called an ex Sovietic country.
    the same is valid (for me), for instance, for German cities: if i wanted to know it`s location, i would expect to hear if it is in the norh/east/west/south. if i wanted to know about it in historical, economical context, i would ask if it is Eastern/Western Germany.
    that being said, I do agree with your point about Latvians being very sensitive about being called Eastern Europe and ex Sovietic country and many times I myself want to tell them to relax and to accept the sad truth that we are not Scandinavia 😀

    • Expat Eye says:

      Ha, do you ever do it?? 😉

      You make some really good points about the geographic/political location. I agree with you actually! The title of the post was more to be catchy (it’s the title of a movie) than anything else – coming up with the titles for posts is often the hardest part!

      And I also agree that people here are very sensitive. It’s like walking on eggshells, wondering where the next offence will be taken! I actually hadn’t even noticed the Eastern Europe thing until I read the comments – I had to scroll back up again to see where he’d said it! If anything, they just drew attention to the fact – I’m sure most people reading it didn’t even notice. Just saw the glowing review!

  19. Pēteris says:

    I just say Latvia is a small country in Northeastern Europe and everyone is happy

  20. TRex says:

    What, more outrage? I’m outraged by all this outrage!
    I blame the weather which is pretty bloody outrageous!. Some UV lamps, a nice salt water aquarium with nice tropical fish and everything will be just fine. 🙂

    Sorry, I just don’t get the whole fixation with North vs East Europe and I’ve had this argument with my lawyer who can best be described as a Latvian nationalist. Latvia is one of the Baltic States to me.

    • Expat Eye says:

      At least everyone can agree on that! Well, apart from the people who get Baltic and Balkan confused 😉

      • Dm says:

        In the English-language geography, the primary division of Europe is East/Center/West. The connotation of North isn’t geographic – it’s racial, as in Nazi theory of superior Nordic race. People who insist on being called Northern and never Eastern are just worked up about their presumed racial superiority; it isn’t geography on their minds

      • Paul says:

        Sorry “DM” I have to disagree.

        The EU and United Nations officially split Europe into 4 groups, Northern, Southern, Eastern and Western (no Central). http://unstats.un.org/unsd/methods/m49/m49regin.htm

        Latvia is officially classified as Northern Europe.

        Whilst the likes of you and me can be excused, the large media organisations like the BBC should (and do) know better and by deliberately getting it wrong, they are pushing the (UK Government) propaganda agenda.. currently exciting the UK population to EU migration restrictions from “Eastern Europe”.

      • IsIs says:

        Wow, didn’t know there was a race ‘Nordic’ and if a person possesses blond hair, listens only to Sibelius, enjoys choir singing and skiing, he has a high risk of becoming a racist and superior over someone… Scary 😀

        Btw, for some entertainment, here is the way Latvians see themselves in Europe:

        and here’s the Estonian way which might as well be the TOP 1 of the funniest world views: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUgqXGu_gTQ Cracks me up every time.

        Some people might’ve seen this many times already but still…. Merry Christmas!

      • Expat Eye says:

        Ha ha, I love both of those! I hadn’t seen either before so thanks for sharing! Hilarious! 😉 Merry Christmas to you too!

    • Livonian says:

      Dm, if you really insist on going into Nazi ideology… the Balts were classified as “Aryan” by Nazis and their plan was to assimilate Balts into the Germanics through territorial expansion. If they had ever thought of Latvians as “Eastern”, they’d never even consider such a mix. Ethnically, geographically, archeologically and, yes, racially, the Baltic people are Northern European. But that’s not saying much, because the English, Scots and even some Slavs are Northern European and those people are unrelated to us. The Baltic people are a mix of Indo European (Baltid and Nordid race) with a very strong Finnic component. The Baltics have some of the highest numbers of blonde and blue eyed populations in the world. The Nazis wanted to incorporate that population into the Germanic race. Latvians are racially more related to Finns and Estonians (not Germanics!) than any other nation, so there you go. We don’t care about being likened to the Nords, as our identity and heritage is unique and good enough as it is. By the way, Latvia (especially Courland) has a very strong presence of R1b gene – and that is a Western (Celtic) gene which is prevalent all over Northern Europe, including Iceland, Norway, the Isles, and even in Poland.

      • rigaenglish says:

        Actually, most of the Balts were not considered “Aryan” in Nazi ideology. Read any of the books on General Plan Ost and you’ll see that the plan was to eliminate almost all Lithuanians (90%) and half of Latvians and Estonians, replacing them with Volksdeutsche and other German settlers. Those Balts that remained behind would have had their languages and culture banned and would have been forced to speak German.

        Despite contemporary Russian media propoganda, support for Nazism isn’t much greater in the Baltics these days than in the rest of Europe, however there is, unfortunately, a tiny hardcore of Latvian nationalists who seem to think that a German victory in World War 2 would have been better for the country than the subsequent Soviet occupation. No. It would have been much, much worse.

  21. linnetmoss says:

    I’m glad I know about that particular chip on the shoulder of Latvia. Maybe it is a bit like saying that Ireland is part of the “British Isles”? No doubt if Mr. Carr had said it in person, the people would have been more gracious. There’s something about the internet that brings out the ranters!

  22. snaipere says:

    Thanks for the great post Linda! It is good you brought this up.

    I have also been surprised many times by how desperately some Latvians try to refer to themselves as Northern Europeans. I never take offense if somebody says that Latvia is a part of Eastern Europe. Imho, it is true and there is nothing we should be ashamed of.

    Let’s face it – Scandinavia is obviously out of our league. I mean, in terms of living standards. My friend who works in Helsinki, for example, earns more than 2 000 Eur a month and it is not considered to be a very high salary there. Besides, Finland is even not the richest country in Northern Europe. Meanwhile, I am about to get 450 – 500 Ls per month at my new job that I got recently. And, honestly, I feel very happy for that. It is more than the average wage in Riga… I am sure no Scandinavian would ever refer to Latvia as “Northern Europe” (: There is no need to take offense of that, let’s just be a bit more realistic.

    P.s. I loved the idea of “A cold look at living and working in the Balkans” 🙂

    • Expat Eye says:

      Ha ha! Glad you liked it 😉 Probably won’t do it – there’s enough debate over the Eastern/Northern thing without adding the Baltic/Balkan confusion to it 😉 Totally agree with you on the standard of living thing too – saying Northern (or anything else) doesn’t actually change anything – it’s not like the standard of living is suddenly going to rise, the level of corruption is going to drop, the roads are magically going to fix themselves, etc etc! 🙂 Seems like people are focusing on the wrong thing!

    • Livonian says:

      snaipere, nobody should be comparing countries that had decades of freedom to any ex Soviet state. Btw, did you only notice the Scandinavia salaries? What about the prices?

      The Baltic / Balkan confusion is outdated. I haven’t heard people say that in years. Most people in the EU know where Latvia is these days. For the people outside of the EU, we can’t blame them, as we ourselves don’t know all the little countries in Asia, etc. I wouldn’t be worried about “Balkans”.

      • rigaenglish says:

        Yes, the prices might be higher in Scandinavia but the point is that the salaries are easily enough to allow people to pay those prices and live comfortably. That’s why there has been no exodus of economic migrants from Scandinavia but over 10% of Latvians have voted with their feet in the last decade and left the country.

        The blame the Soviets thing is becoming very outdated. Latvia has had nearly a quarter a century of independence free from Russian control. It wasn’t the Russians who forced Latvian citizens to vote for corrupt oligarchs like Slesers, Lembergs or Skele, people more concerned with lining their own pockets than improving the country. Yet those people dominated the political scene for the first 15 years of independence. Latvia these days in doing much better, but still has a long, long way to go before it can be spoken of in the same sentence as places like Sweden.

  23. I find it disheartening that they couldn’t accept the compliment and correct him in a more positive way. If it is offensive, they could’ve simply educated him instead of assuming that he did it maliciously. You should treat people the way you would like to be treated and IMO they proved all of your stereotypes and humor to be true.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Yeah, that’s the shame of it. It’s not often that Latvia is called a ‘culinary gem’ – that’s what the focus should have been. Oh well. Maybe next time… 😉

    • wasd says:

      Unfortunately, that is how our internet people do. If the post is too good, you will see very few comments about it, because there is nothing more than to smile about it.
      If the post is generaly good, but they can find this one little thing to rant about … oh boy, better hold your pants, we are coming. Still they refer to 0.0000000001% of what all latvians think, but they still can make such a big cry about it.
      You can observe that in most of portals. And since this brings more people and more clicks for adverts, our portals mostly publishing negative or gossip articles, to see them ranting about post and other commenters opinions. (not shure if this is only trend in Latvia)
      Our internet identity should be old grumpy man, who likes to scream at everything and everywhere, how bad it is.
      – Greetings from Latvia.

      P.S. Sometimes we realy need posts like thiese to wake some of those grumpy bastards up.

      • Expat Eye says:

        Thanks for your comment! Unfortunately, the grumpy bastards have probably already moved on to their next happy victim and won’t see any sense in this sort of post! 🙂 Linda.

  24. Paul says:

    and now the definitive definition..

    Eastern Europe Map
    http://www.mapsofworld.com/europe/country-groupings/eastern-europe-map.html

    Western Europe Map
    http://www.mapsofworld.com/europe/country-groupings/western-europe-map.html

    and finally..
    Northern Europe Map
    http://www.mapsofworld.com/europe/country-groupings/northern-europe-map.html

    Just to keep the comments coming.. we of course know that Americans are famous for knowing their geography 🙂 🙂

    • Expat Eye says:

      I wonder how many Latvians could correctly place all states on a map? 😉

      • Paul says:

        Well the Latvian sitting next to me hasn’t a clue.. all he does is lie on his back, sleep, snore, fart and meows when he is hungry.. 🙂

        btw.. The United Nations also officially define Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia as “Northern Europe”

      • Expat Eye says:

        He sounds like an ex-boyfriend of mine. Without the meowing 😉

        And great, I’m glad that’s all sorted – I guess there’s nothing else to complain about now. Everything is perfect!

  25. Jānis says:

    Maybe we should call Ireland – “former part of British Empire”?

  26. Kevin’s piece is really a delight, and I really can’t get why so much negativity in comments. Well, a tag of ‘Eastern Europe’ might not be all that fun, but it’s not all that wrong. Recently some ruckus was made cause some BBC or whatever ranked the best looking towns’ Christmas trees, and this Top ended up calling Vilnius’ tree the best either among the best in the Balkans 😀 So almost everyone around were writing angry comments on ‘how dare they call us Balkans?’ and suchlike, and meanwhile all I could do was laugh out loud. Damn it people, try to find some positivity, and look at it like our Christmas tree is da best 😀

    • Expat Eye says:

      Ha ha, that’s the attitude! I might change my blog header to ‘a cold look at living and working in the Balkans’ – really confuse people 🙂 Happy Christmas to you! Enjoy the most amazing tree! 🙂

  27. Luis says:

    I could go very philosophical about it and see the reasons behind such sensitivity but other people already did that so I’ll just tackle this whole issue in a very simple and technically appropriate way.
    Latvians are northeastern Europeans and that should methinks settle all the arguments 😉

  28. letterfromlatvia says:

    Hmmm, I’m a little more sympathetic perhaps. I do find Latvians astonishingly sensitive about their country and I have definitely unintentionally offended people here by making offhand (and I thought harmless) comments, And yes that can be very irritating and alienating, however explicable by history it may be. But I do understand that they don’t want to be thought of Eastern European, because quite simply, they’re not. Maybe in terms of the social conditions and economy of the country, but definitely not culturally. It does show a certain ignorance on the part of the writer about the place that they’re writing about. I would actually feel the same way if English people were described as European, as we often are by Americans; geographically it’s true, but culturally it’s not (which I think is in many ways a shame). That would show that the writer had not gone to the trouble of trying to understand the country. I wouldn’t be angry about it, but maybe I would think they were a little lazy. And I definitely wouldn’t leave an abusive comment below the post, but then I sadly lack the wit and eloquence of the average indignant Internet user.

    • Expat Eye says:

      I’d cut the guy some slack. He’s running around THE WORLD. Running – on a deadline. How much research do you realistically expect him to do on each country he visits? Maybe it was a bit of a faux pas – he certainly wasn’t the first to make it and he won’t be the last. The point is that what he wrote was overwhelmingly positive and was just met with negativity and condescension.

      And shit, does that mean that Ireland isn’t ‘European’ either? Did I miss that memo?

      • letterfromlatvia says:

        Oh, I agree it seems mean-spirited. I just don’t blame Latvians for wanting to assert their national identity when it’s been trampled on so many times.

        No idea about Ireland – I don’t feel I know enough about the country to decide. Just a personal feeling about my own country, which incidentally is something I dislike about it very much.

      • Expat Eye says:

        I just wish they’d do it in a slightly more positive way. Some of the people who commented even addressed him as ‘Jamie’ – like Jamie Oliver has time to run around the world and visit Malpils along the way. I wonder how much of it they even read or did they just get to ‘Eastern’, go into a self-righteous frenzy and go straight to the comment section??

      • letterfromlatvia says:

        Probably. But I think that’s pretty typical of the behaviour of a lot of people on the Internet anywhere – not just Latvians.

  29. I’m confused. Are Lithuania and Latvia the same coutry?

  30. Jack says:

    Great blog. After living in Latvia for 8+ years I can only say that Latvia has done some steps forward, but tolerance and open-minded is not on the list.

    However, I do see and hear a small change in the tone from the younger generation. I have worked together with many young people and they do see what is going on and they do realise what still needs to change – attitude!

    Add anti-depressive to the water like the irish has added fluoride) (to improve mouth hygine) and you might see wonders.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Ha, true! 🙂 I do see a shift in the attitudes of younger people, it’s true. But when it comes to homophobia, racism, anti-semitism… some of the stuff I hear makes my ears bleed – and I think it will take a long, long time for it to be eradicated. Thanks for the comment, Jack. Linda.

  31. Paul says:

    There are are couple of points here..

    Latvia, geographically is almost at the very centre of Europe. I believe the actual centre point is close to the Latvia/Lithuania/Belarus border. So saying Latvia as in Eastern Europe is like saying Birmingham is in East Anglia! or Dublin as western UK.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extreme_points_of_Europe

    When people ask me where Latvia is, I now say its just south of Sweden, I used to say its one of the Baltic countries, but many people still confuse Baltic with Balkan!

    Most of “eastern” Europe is actually Russia and Latvians do NOT want to be perceived as Russian.. so better and possibly truer to be seen as akin to Northern European Scandinavians..

    Secondly, Image and identity ARE important, especially to a newly liberated country fighting off the scars of Soviet oppression only 22 years ago. When people say “Eastern Europe”, you know what sort of negative image that infers.. To do that you denigrate all the sacrifice, hard work and the massive achievements Latvia has had in recent years..

    Latvia is now one of the “stars” of the “Eurozone”. Since effectively joining the Eurozone in 2005, Latvia suffered from the same “depression” as the rest of Europe, but worse, as it co-insided with its own initial EU expansionist bubble bursting..
    However Latvia bit the bullet early and decisively. Latvia is now one of the fastest growing economies in Europe.. most of which (apart from Germany) are still in negative growth..

    Less than 100 years ago Ireland was part of the UK, I do not think many Dubliners would appreciate still being called citizens of a former British Dominion.. especially in a stressful time of grief.

    On an aside, as I understand it, “the Celts” tracked west across Europe.. but appear to have originated in BBC “Eastern Europe” (Poland, Czech, Slovakia) 🙂

    • Expat Eye says:

      Just south of Sweden would more accurately describe Germany or Poland. The southernmost tip of Sweden seems to be bang in the middle. Latvia is east of Sweden.

      I’ve been called a ‘West Brit’ plenty in my time – mainly by other Irish people, from ‘the country’. And no, it doesn’t bother me.

      And sure, Latvia is one of the fastest growing economies, yet a huge number of people can barely afford to live.

      And I think putting Latvia in the same bracket as Scandinavia is faintly ridiculous, to be honest.

      • Paul says:

        My thinking was.. If people don’t know where the Baltic states are, then the location of Finland might also be a bit vague to them. However Sweden (ABBA et al) is a good bet that they know where it is.. South of Sweden might not be fully accurate (picky) but good enough as a generalisation.. lets face it parts of Sweden are only 120 miles away from Latvia (EAST) 🙂
        In future I will accurately tell people.. Latvia, 180 miles south east of Stockholm Sweden! 🙂

        N.Eur/Scand.. Not as ridiculous as you think!.. if you look back at Latvia’s history, the cultural and trading links from the pre-Vikings to early 20th century.. Back in the 17th century Riga was the 2nd largest city in the Swedish empire!

        Even when occupied by other blocks, trade was generally with Baltic Sea countries, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Russia..

        Latvia was one of the last bastions of pagan culture (mid-summer/winter et al) still practised in most Baltic (and Scandinavian) countries along with a a crazy passion for sauna etc

        Different topic..
        Yes, Latvia has (too) many poor people just like most rich countries!

        The positive point is that Latvia is growing fast and getting richer.. You only have to try looking for a parking space at any of the many crowded shopping malls filled with many many “J Plated” newly registered cars..

        The negative issue, as always, is that the poor usually stay still and the middle and higher earners get richer.. and that is a different big discussion.. I just hope that by getting richer that some of that wealth also reaches down to the needy..

      • freebutfun says:

        At the risk of offending people here, from my Finnish point of view, the Baltic countries are “eastern Europe”. However, that is not in my mind a negative thing!!! And whenever I have to explain where Finland geographicly is, I use the R word, saying the “northeast corner of Europe, between Russia and Sweden”. Why not simply say Europe, west of Russia, by the Baltic sea? Sweden is kind of far fetched… I mean, location is geography, not identity. However, welcome back to the trade liasons! And yes, the Baltic countries have worked hard and come an impressively loooooong way in 20 years. For me, however, all countries have politics, I don’t agree with, all countries have less positive history too, all countries have traits to be proud of, all countries have jerks, and all countries have lovely people in them. That makes us all equal. In my opinion, if one wants to create a new association, it would be better to focus on what we are rather than what we don’t want to be. However, what I often associate with “eastern europe” is seriousness and limited ability to laugh at oneself. Prove me wrong ;)! (Btw, i am very awar those go for many Finns too… maybe even me?!)

      • Expat Eye says:

        You seem to have a perfectly healthy ability to poke fun at yourself! 😉 Thanks for the comment!

      • NorthbyNorthEast says:

        Hey freebutfun! I agree with you and one other user that Eastern Europe is sometimes more like state of mind (in fact, for some time now the concept itself has lost its meaning and does not exist anymore) and a person can have a EE attitude even though they have no connection to EE as most people know it. I wanted to ask you how do you feel about Finland which was also been placed in E Europe, if not in this then in some of the past centuries? I often hear that people compare Helsinki to Riga and even say outskirts of Helsinki are like some block-building neighborhoods in Riga. But personally, I think Finns are the people who can relate to Latvians very well. But all in all, in S America says – We are all alike, Europeans will say – we are all incredibly different 🙂

  32. East is East is one of my fave films of all time 😉

    There is a ray of light… I’m sure you saw the comment on that thread, posted by a Latvian guy, which reads “We are never pleased, that is our hobby.” I love him, LOL!

    • Expat Eye says:

      Me too 😉 I must try to date him. Damn, maybe I really have been horny too long time 😉

      • wasd says:

        I am sorry to dissapoint you, but I am already takken. 🙂
        About that comment, I bet you can observe that in daly life in Riga and especially in internet, we love to rant and be picky about stuff that shouldn’t even bother us much. And yes, we totaly missed realy lovely compliment of our country, and I somehow find it hilarious – one of the gems of latvian people.

      • Expat Eye says:

        That is a real gem! Gutted you’re taken 😉 That was my plan for next year!

  33. Annija says:

    Judging by comments on internet.. not the smartest idea.

    As a Latvian living abroad I can only say – it gets super annoying when to ‘I’m from Latvia’ the best thing you can get is something like ‘Oh, I know someone from Vilnius, you’re a part of Russia, right? ‘.
    That’s why I get that some people feel the need to write comments like that.

    If we wont put ourselves on a 21st century map, noone else will, and after many more years there still won’t be an image of Latvia, just hiccups from Russia.

  34. Anna says:

    1-If I make it to Riga, we must go to Malpils Museum
    2-I can understand about the classification gripes, it REALLY bugs me when someone writes about Russia/groups Russia cartographically as an Asian country. In what effing world? But. Unless the whole write-up was about Russia as an Asian country, or the implications thereof, I wouldnt dream to harp on THAT as opposed to the remaining 99% of the peace which was actually complimentary of the country. Honestly, that kind of ‘seek out the negative in everything, including the positive’ mentality, is VERY Eastern European. I would know.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Ha, yeah, it was ONE word – and somehow it totally negated the 1000 positive words. And yes, we will go there and eat like queens – for 7 quid 😉

  35. Ye Pirate says:

    I was actually telling my lovely Latvian soulmate the other day that you want to be selling ‘Expat Eye voodoo dolls’ and ‘blow up doll dart sets in Riga’, you’d do well I think..

  36. freebutfun says:

    I’ve been asked, if we have even toilet paper in Finland, been told that I can’t be Finnish because I’m too blond and been believed when I said that mostly we sit in our igloos and drink vodka. Oh, and going to U.K. the customs guy told me I had a poor fake passport as it claims Finland is a part of the EU. So much for Finland being known for something as a north European country 😀 but my god, this makes life hilarious!!!

    • Expat Eye says:

      Ha ha! Yeah, I get the same thing about Ireland – and weirdly, mainly from English people! I’ve had a (now ex) boyfriend’s mum painstakingly explain to me VERY LOUDLY that Eastenders (a soap opera based in London) is not actually real. That they’re just characters in a TV SHOW. I was like ‘um yeah, we get Eastenders in Ireland. I know what a soap is.’ 🙂 I don’t think she really believed me though. She might not have thought I was speaking English at all now I come to think of it 😉

    • Ye Pirate says:

      My dear Latvian friends, hope you read this charming comment to see how you can take it with a ‘pinch of salt’ – ie not seriously, although the only thing I read was that you were not as north as you want to be. I think for ignorance we British do very well, but then I’m voting for Scottish independence anyway, so you have 2 countries to face instead of 1 in the future. Hyva Joulu everyone.

  37. nancytex2013 says:

    Oh fer fucks sake. Methinks someone has too much time on their collective hands.

  38. cantaloupe says:

    Haha, I say my background (Polish and Latvian) is Eastern European all the time. Did not know I was offending my heritage. Oops.

  39. pollyheath says:

    The current national/political identities of the former Soviet Union is something I studied quite a bit in school, particularly in relation to the Baltic states. I’d have to disagree with your statement that it doesn’t really matter where Latvia’s grouped. I’d argue that self-identity is one of the most important factors of how states interact with each other on an international stage and is particularly critical for countries (like Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, etc), who have made HUGE changes over the past decades.

    Now as to the true identity of Latvians (hm, sounds like I’m going to reveal their superpower, doesn’t it?), I won’t comment on my opinion. They’re a feisty bunch over here and I’d like to keep all my fingers and toes attached!

    • Expat Eye says:

      I wish you had revealed their superpower! 🙂 As to where they’re grouped, I guess I just meant that most people don’t give it a lot of thought. As Kevin said in his comments, he’d never heard of the term ‘Northern European’ before. I hadn’t either before I moved here. But you live and learn! I just think that the country should focus on the positive and work on their own image instead of trying to be like somewhere else.

  40. Zane says:

    You’re ranting again. About comments? Really?

  41. Ye Pirate says:

    Superb post. I worked in Eastern Europe for quite a while in the 1990s, and it is quite something to see the old sensitivities are still around. Even when behind the iron curtain, ie the Warsaw Pact countries of Central and Eastern Europe barely traded with each other. People like that minister of defence need to do their job, which is to apply for NATO grants to get his army up to standard, since that is the way Latvia has chosen to go. His job is not to mount a defence of his country by spot-checking comments made in the press. I do feel you’ve been very kind to the Nordic countries, where I live! – However, if we take Finland as an example, which by poll is easily the most patriotic country in the EU, one of the things you LEARN about being northerners is that they are happy to chat about why someone might dislike their country or culture. It is a very pleasant experience. If they don’t feel like having that chat they just don’t have it, and the very last thing they are bothered by is if someone actually like them or not. I must just add that you should hear what the Swedes have to say about the Finns, and you don’t want to know how some Finns use and abuse Estonia as their playground. Dearest Latvians concerned, concentrate on your strengths and stop being to sensitive. To the others, love that singing, the unique femininity and much more. Recognise you have a way to go. A few hundred years ago Scots went to Poland en masse to work, now Polish is the 2nd most spoken language in Scotland, and Ireland. Things happen, things change. Relax.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Fantastic comment. I hope everyone reads it!

    • Zane says:

      All I can say about this – you can’t want a person or a country to strive for better and show their best if you constantly remind them what they used to be (and not by their own choice in case of Latvia). That’s why it’s so hurtful. Instead of calling caountry by it’s name and seeing what has been done in these past 20 years when FINALLY no one was sitting on it’s neck, it’s constantly reminded that yeah – this is the post Soviet Union country, this is the Eastern Europe. It’s like bringing down a drug addidct after recovery and reminding – yeah, you remember what you were before, instead of congratulating on what has been done.
      My country has been through a lot and no one likes their scars to be opened again, again and again. You don’t go around in Germany and tell everyone – Hail, Hitler! Do you?
      I don’t expect anyone to understand this but the least that people could do is just respect it.

      • Ye Pirate says:

        My dear friend, if someone is “constantly reminding you of what you used to be” it is because YOU are doing something that reminds them of how you used to be. Hurtful? Where does it ‘hurt’ exactly! If you hear the same criticism 10 times could ‘they’ be right? You have gone down the old ‘victim’ role agan here. Of course nothing was your fault. Why take responsibility for anything? Your country, like MANY I have worked in, has been through a lot, but your reference to Hitler is disingenuous, as yes, my German friends DO make jokes in bad taste about this. I often ask one pal where his black shiny boots are etc when we talk politics. One thing he does not do, nor find humourous, is dress up in SS uniform to remember the good old days, as in your country and Estonia – an utter disgrace. You have a charming country. But respect needs to be earned. Less of ‘poor us the victims’ might help. I am not walking around any country congratulating people on what has been done! Absurd. Especially as you yourself know exactly what has and has not been done. Your English is excellent, by the way. Congratulations. There you are!

      • wasd says:

        Sorry, Zane, but I have to dissagree, we realy love to keep our vounds open, just check your callendar, and mark all the days when we need to mourn about events from the past, I would prefer one or two days, but we have few every month. Mostly foreigners refer about us what a long way we have made, since we break loose from USSR.

        Since 20 years are not so much for our mental mindset to change, our parrents still teached us the old way, how to stay alive and not to end up in Siberia.
        Noone really from outside of Latvia picks on us. I mostly see this mistake somewhat similar what people from Asia have to live with (All middle east are terrorists now, and all Asians from East Asia are Chinese).

        You can get this image just by reading few comments on this blog – people who have lived here in Latvia, or had some relations to it, knows where it is and what we are, for others that is just another location in theyr daly life, and if you still feel offended about it, then it’s just you and people who think alike.

      • Molly Davis says:

        I would support Zane’s comment if only because it is a two-way process when one is reminded of smth. and remembers it. All Latvians want is a bit more understanding regards to their identity and place in the world. I don’t think Latvians should be blamed for pretending to be victims or opening their own wounds (Regarding this post, there isn’t any reason for that). After the genocide towards their people before and during WWII (which is not a popular subject across borders and for which Russia will never want to assume responsibility), Latvians actually are rather level-headed. Can they be blamed for having a complicated history? After all that has happened, they are entitled to one or two sad moments in a year and an occasional nervous reaction to comments like “Oh, it’s all clear, you are the former SU state and now in Eastern Europe…What business relations could we possibly talk about?” right after they’re introduced themselves. Younger people (who don’t have the painful memories) don’t want to think about depressing things. They have to think about future! Attitudes and knowledge outside the country are very different – some people (even thousands of miles away) know everything about Latvia splendidly, some know enough, some dwell in stereotypes while some next-door neighbors don’t know anything at all. Every day someone reproaches and compliments Latvia at the same time so every day Latvians are both aggrieved and cheered up. It seems that all this fuss is about a mere clarification not a major insult. It would be great if the identity issues could be resolved on a national level which would lead to one identity formula. National identity matter a great deal. Even easy-going Canadians don’t want to mixed with Americans and what about the famous A. Christie’s Hercule Poirot? “No, I’m not a French frog, I’m a Belgian frog.” 🙂

      • Zane says:

        Ye Pirate, thank you for complimenting my English. Had major doubts about it, actually. 🙂

        But the thing I want to respond on this list is about marching around in SS uniforms in Latvia and Estonia. Shoot me, but I think this is perceived so wrong because of the media. It’s always made about politics and not about the people. Baltic’s were torn apart by Russian Red Army and German SS during the WWII. Therefore there literally still are stories about how brothers faced each other on the battlefield and they literally had no choice than to fight each other or they would be killed for betrayal. That’s why it’s normal that both sides want to remember their deceased and long gone friends and family. It’s not about the politics, it’s about soldiers who died for the ambitions of politicians. And if you want to complain about SS, then visit the Victory Monument on 9th of May. You will see more Red Army medals and uniforms than in any museum.
        My personal belief is that both sides have earned a chance to honor the killed ones who were scarified for “greater good”, though it brought none to the Baltic’s. Both have the right to put flowers on monuments, sing songs and mourn. It might be meaningless for us, but for those who still remember it’s important. Therefor, I definitely won’t be judging any of the sides as I have never gone through what they have gone through. And I hope none of us ever will…

  42. That was an awesome post.

  43. Wow, those Eastern Europeans are easily offended aren’t they! 😉 I think some people just feel the need to complain about something, anything…

    • Expat Eye says:

      Clearly! Imagine if he’d written something bad! Do the Italians sit around congratulating themselves on being ‘Southern Europeans’??? 🙂

      • Ooh, the ones from northern Italy certainly don’t!

      • Expat Eye says:

        Ha ha! I guess every nation has its ‘thing’ 🙂

      • IsIs says:

        “…..those Eastern Europeans”… will we ever grow intellectually and come to a mutual respect if we keep using words like ‘those’, separating THEM from US (only WE are the most logical, always correct and trustworthy source). I think we all have to change and open our eyes even wider. For instance, some places in Italy (like Sicily) has rampant Eastern European attitudes and Berlusconi could be as well crowned as Mr. Eastern Europe. Someone made 1 comment under a blog stating his/her point of view, and all this international tragedy follows… Why?

      • Expat Eye says:

        I’d hardly call it an international tragedy! 😉

  44. Liene says:

    ‘Technically’ isn’t Latvija in central Europe?

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