Ice Ice Baby

After you’ve pissed off an entire country, there’s really only one thing left to do, and that is go to a place where there are lots of people from that country moving around, at speed, on very sharp objects. Yes, it was time for me to go ice-skating – for the first time in years.

I’d had an invitation from a Latvian girl I know, called Ulla, who was organising a surprise ice-skating party for her American boyfriend, Nat. A novel idea if ever I’d heard one. Despite the fact that the party was taking place the day before I was due to leave for Ireland, I decided to throw caution to the wind and accepted.

I made my way out to Majori on the train and paced around outside the station waiting for Ulla’s sister to meet me. Then I waited some more, and then I waited some more. To keep myself entertained, I played ‘That’s probably not Ulla’s sister’ with any bald men or stooped old ladies who happened to pass by. After around 15 minutes, I decided to make my own way to the ice rink before I froze to death.

I set off at a trot in what would (of course) turn out to be the wrong direction. I decided to stop a likely-looking passer-by and ask him for directions. I racked my brain and even managed to dredge up the Latvian word for ice rink. Very pleased with myself, I waited for his response. As luck would have it, he didn’t speak a word of Latvian but (reminiscent of Brits on the Costa del Sol – “EGG-O and CHIPS-O”) proceeded to explain to me, IN VERY LOUD RUSSIAN, where it was.

Naturally, I couldn’t understand a word of this but I do understand the universal language of pointing. And so, around 20 minutes later, this happened.

Why did this seem like a good idea?

Why did this seem like a good idea?

Realising (after I’d put my skates on) that I still had my handbag with me, I had to make my way across the lethally slippery reception area tiles (to the horror of the staff) and ask them to put it in a locker for me. For some reason, even though this is a rather large sports centre, some bright spark had deemed that around six lockers behind the reception desk would be sufficient. They weren’t. Stuffing my phone and wallet into my already bulging coat pockets, I had to leave my bag under a bench beside the rink and hope for the best.

When Nat appeared, we all burst into a round of ‘Happy Birthday’ and he couldn’t have been more pleased or surprised that we were all there – good job, Ulla! Then, unfortunately, it was time to get on the ice. I don’t know if there is a way to make clinging to the railings look graceful, but I sure as hell didn’t find it. My confidence grew with each inelegant shuffle though and soon I was doing (rather slow) laps around the rink, unaided. Even though one kid appeared to be taking pot shots at us with an ice hockey puck, we all managed to survive, unscathed.

Elegance personified

Elegance personified

Nat, the birthday boy

Nat, the birthday boy

With my dreams of one day playing for Dinamo Riga utterly dashed, it was time to head back to Ulla’s place for cake. Taking two cars, we eventually pulled up outside a house that wouldn’t have been out of place in Beverly Hills, 90210. And while I ambled about, feeling about as useful as, well, me in a kitchen, the Latvian ladies managed to produce this…



Plonking myself down beside two sausages that I just knew would feel better in my belly, I looked up to notice around 8 horrified faces staring back at me. Quickly checking to make sure I hadn’t sat on their beloved cat, Jānis, I asked what I’d done. It seemed I’d inadvertently fallen foul of a Latvian superstition – sit at the corner of a table and you won’t get married for seven long years. As seven years didn’t seem nearly long enough, I stayed exactly where I was, and we all dug in.

Conversation flowed, and after a while, Ulla’s mum and stepdad joined us. When ‘James Joyce Quiz Time’ began, I was rather relieved by the distraction of the birthday cake. And what a cake it was…



But before we could eat it, we had to wait for it to be cut. This led to a discussion of another superstition – what happens if you eat a piece of cake that has fallen on its side? I can’t remember what the dire consequences were but they were probably something to do with (not) getting married.

Most Latvian superstitions seem to be designed to persuade women that they’re nobody until a Jānis has shoved a ring on their finger.  Luckily, as getting married is roughly as appealing to me as corpsewater, I would have quite happily eaten the cake upside-down off the floor with a rusty spoon. (It would have been worth it too – it was a mighty fine cake.)

Just as the games section of the night was getting underway, a new arrival in the form of a handsome young gentleman appeared.

Not Jānis: Hey, don’t you write that blog?

Me: Right, gotta go!


This was the first, and probably the last time, I will ever be thankful I left my packing until the last minute. I never did find out what he thought of the blog…



About BerLinda

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

114 Responses to Ice Ice Baby

  1. Not Janis says:

    Hey Linda! Not Janis here 😀 Ulla told me about this article and that I’m even mentioned here. It is strange how fast (2 weeks) I got from “I’m reading some stranger’s blog” to “Hey, I’m reading about myself on that very same blog”.
    You didn’t have to run, I actually like your blog and I was looking forward to hear more stories about our quirks. 🙂

    • Expat Eye says:

      Ha ha, sorry for running – I really did have to pack though 😉 And I’d had some pretty negative reactions to it at that time, so I thought it was safer 😉 I do remember your real name by the way, just thought I’d let you remain a ‘mystery man’ – Janis/Not Janis makes life simpler 😉 So was it weird to suddenly find yourself on the blog?? Linda.

      • Mystery Man says:

        In high school teachers frequently mixed me with someone else so I was/am used to other names, but I have to admit that Not-Janis is something new for me 🙂 Yeah, it was a bit unexpected 😀
        Anyways it was nice meeting you and I hope to see you again 😉

      • Expat Eye says:

        Me too! Maybe at Ulla’s birthday party – if she has one 😉 We’ll have to get Nat on the case!

  2. polyglotfun says:

    Russian only comes in LOUD, right? I keep hearing people talk about these Bellow Russians…

  3. Marija Kalniņa says:

    Hello! My name is Marija and I am currently studying in 11th grade right here in Rīga. I don’t mean to sound like a total creep, but I think I actually met (more like saw) you in Muffins and More today, but unfortunately (or fortunately), I’ve never been the kind of person to confidently walk up to strangers. However, I wanted to use this opportunity to say how much my friends and I enjoy reading your blog. It’s really interesting to read about how you see our common everyday lives from a different perspective. Reading your blog is both entertaining and insightful. Thank you!

    • Expat Eye says:

      Hi Marija! Yes, that was me! It was my first time there actually but seriously, how good are those muffins?! You should have come over and said hi – I don’t bite 😉 I’m really happy that you and your friends enjoy the blog – I haven’t been feeling very popular lately so it’s nice to know that somebody likes it!
      P.S. Your English is perfect 😉

  4. Daina says:

    Ah, yes, Latvians and their superstitions! While living in Riga, my eldest niece was told she’d freeze her ovaries if she sat on the ground on a cold day.

    There’s also the one about the piece of cake – if it tips over on your plate (vs standing upright), you’ll never get married. (I hope I’m remembering it correctly.)

    And let’s not even discuss ‘caurvejs’ (drafts) and the horrible, terrible, awful illnesses they can inflict on people!

    • Expat Eye says:

      I’m hoping to do a post on superstitions some day soon! I’ve got a Latvian friend on the case at the moment so watch this space 😉
      I sat on the ground in Poland once – they said I would ‘catch the wolf’ which I think meant get haemorrhoids…I wasn’t too concerned… 😉 Thanks for the comment! Linda.

  5. 1WriteWay says:

    At least you were standing upright on your skates in your picture, even if not for long 🙂

  6. Anna says:

    Why did you run away from the handsome Janis? That was your your opening to start a spin-off ‘Sex And The Janis’ blog!

    Ice skating is suicide. I can barely stand on the skates, and ONLY when holding off to the wall. However little balance I have on a horse, I have even less on two sharp blades tied to my feet.

  7. LatDiva says:

    You have bananas in Latvia?

  8. M.E. Evans says:

    Love it. Going viral sounds awesome until you realize that nobody else has a sense of humor and the locals GET PISSED. I’m happy to hear that you have not been lynched or quartered. There is a lot of pressure in Italy to marry too, although, they all want to find husbands but wait to marry until they’re forty-five. It’s a very confusing thing. “MARRY! YOU MUST FIND A MAN! WAIT! NOT NOW! LATER! BUT DO IT! BUT LATER! BUT FIND HIM! BUT LATER! NOT THAT LATE!” Sigh.

  9. is that a point on the top of your pink hat? because it should be. fab foto.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Yes, it’s a shiny, pink, pointy, party hat! 🙂 I don’t know why Nat wasn’t wearing his – I just look like a twat on my own now 😉

  10. Andra says:

    once again a very funny episode of Linda’s sitcom! I’m Latvian and am laughing…though I cannot guarantee that there are many Latvians who would do the same.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Ha ha, thanks! I didn’t think there was anything that could POSSIBLY offend anyone in that post – but then again, this is Latvia… 😉

      • Andra says:

        no, not offended, but I believe there are plenty who wouldn’t just laugh at that corner story, for example. But for me it seems that you’ve really got a talent for writing sketches.

      • Expat Eye says:

        Thank you! Anybody who doesn’t just laugh at that corner story is a weirdo – and that’s a fact 😉

  11. C2C says:

    I’ve never been ice skating and aside for a huge pile of money persuading me to go, I never will. So, good for you! But you should’ve stayed….especially for a hot Jānis! Aren’t they as rare as unicorns?

  12. jaghetter says:

    You better listen to some real latvian songs…

  13. linnetmoss says:

    What is James Joyce Quiz Time???

  14. eNVee says:

    There was some rule in english. I can’t repeat it exactly, but idea was – 2 times negative makes it positive.
    So, if you sat at the corner of that table and ate cake that was fallen on it’s side – you should expect proposal any moment. 😀

  15. Is that pink pointy thing part of your woolly hat or something in the background?

  16. You should have stuck around to see what he had to say. Fodder for your blog!

  17. barbedwords says:

    We have two or three ice-rinks in Rome, it’s pretty popular (and my favourite place to visit when the summer temperature gets too much for me). Obviously, if you sign up for lessons, it’s compulsory to wear white leather boots, tight blue trousers and a white, padded designer jacket (seriously – the cost gets added to the price of the lessons!)

    I love the two sausages per plate presentation, very Nouvelle cuisine…

  18. Pecora Nera says:

    I love the hat 🙂 The ice skating rink was outside???? Are you mad??? It looks freezing and cold

    • Expat Eye says:

      Freezing and cold haha! 🙂 I’m made of stern stuff having lived here for 3.5 years now! It was actually inside but a bit flimsy 😉

      • Pecora Nera says:

        I don’t think we have ice skating rinks in Italy, I’v never seen one, Maybe the Italians are too worried about catching Cervicali from the quick change in air temp from hot to cold.

      • Expat Eye says:

        It’s very hard to make those boots look stylish – maybe that’s why the Italians shy away from it?! If anyone could manage it, it would be the Italians though!

      • Pecora Nera says:

        That will be the reason, In England the boots were made of plastic and left marks on your ankle.

        I used to go Ice skating with friends when I was younger (lots younger) One night the DJ turned the hall lights on and killed the music, he said “someone has just lost one of their contact lenses, could everyone please have a quick look near their feet to see if they can find it”

        He was serious 🙂

      • Expat Eye says:

        Ha, my sister was left with bloody rings around her ankles the one time she went ice-skating!

        I’m rendered speechless by that DJ story! 🙂

  19. pollyheath says:

    If you sit on the floor, you go barren. Duh.

  20. Sure you didn’t deliberate sit in the “wrong” spot?? (what a crazy superstition)??

    PS For a Canadian from Winnipeg – home of multiple winter sports – I don’t skate, ski, curl… am peculiarly inept at them all! Only member of my entire family who has zero skills in these areas.

    So admire brave soul’s who tackle such things!

    • Expat Eye says:

      Believe me, my ‘skills’ were nothing to write home about! But then, I’m Irish and we’re not exactly known for our prowess on the ice! It would be too much pressure being a Canadian! 🙂

  21. Kaufman's Kavalkade says:

    Why are you wearing a pointy cap? LoL.

  22. runcz says:

    Eating a cake on it’s side is bad? Really? As far as I’m concerned, that’s the only way to eat a cake. Somehow I can’t eat them any other way than putting it on it’s side and working my way “up” (icing is always the best part).

    You know, on every other post it feels like you are living in some kind of parallel universe version of Riga since I recognize the pictures (I have even skated quite a lot in that rink) but I’ve never encountered a lot of things/situations/etc you write about. And I’ve been here for over 20 years.

    I suppose one can never know everything…(sigh)

    • Expat Eye says:

      That’s why I’m here – you get to see a whole new side of Riga 😉 Totally agree with you on the icing part! They should just make entire icing cakes!

  23. Mr Kev says:

    This is an eerily pleasant event in Latvia. What will the sensationalist press say! 😉

  24. Luis says:

    Forget about anything else…I just couldn’t go beyond your hat on that ice skating ring!! …I am now playing Joe Cocker’s legendary song and staring at that photo…that’s for moments like this that life should be lived 😉

  25. I approve of that cake. I think I’d much prefer fallen cake to corpsewater, as long as it’s equally effective at preventing marriage.

  26. noveerotaaja says:

    Don’t tell me you didn’t know before that you can’t sit on the corner – that’s one of the basic rules!
    P.S. Cool surprise birthday party idea – and well done, brave lady!

  27. nancytex2013 says:

    Aww, come ON! You didn’t seize the opportunity to discuss the blog with a hot young not-Janis? What’s wrong with you??

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