Latvians are not the most verbose of people. In response to my ‘So, did you have a nice Christmas/New Year?’, I received, ‘Yes’. OK, OK, so it was a closed question – I should have known better. I quickly realised my mistake and switched to ‘How was your Christmas/New Year?’. The response? ‘Nice’.
Aside from these riveting conversations, I’ve also discovered that Latvians will greet each other with ‘brīt’ in the morning. This is shortened from ‘labrīt’ (‘good morning’), which it seems is just too much like hard work. As ‘lab’ is ‘good’ and ‘rīt’ is ‘morning’, I guess this would translate into English as ‘dmorning’…
However, this all changes if you put a phone in their hand. They immediately morph into the chattiest people on the planet. Walking, cycling, skateboarding, driving – nothing gets in the way of a phone conversation. Naturally, this renders them even more unaware of other people on the streets, which is
mildly incredibly irritating when they’re walking, but positively lethal if they are on wheels. In a country where red lights are mostly treated as a suggestion anyway, add a phone into the equation and you’ll be kissing the floor of your flat when you get home in the evening, grateful that you’ve survived another day.
If a Latvian is on the phone at home or at work, they will move over to the window so that all the passers-by can see them on the phone. Most mornings, when I open my blinds, a Latvian is on the phone at the window in the building opposite. As nothing ever happens in our courtyard, I can only assume that they are doing it so that other people can see them. Maybe the person on the phone standing at the window opposite theirs. I could be wrong though – perhaps they just really like cats sitting on car bonnets.
Obviously the content of the phone conversations varies, but one thing remains the same – you are pretty much guaranteed to hear approximately 7 million “nu jā”s. All conversations basically end in the same way too – “labi, labi, labi, davai, davai, labi, labi, čau, čau, labi, davai, čau, labi, davai, čau”. It’s like the English equivalent of “I love you more”, “No, I love you more…”
This tickles me greatly whenever I hear it, and as imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I parrot the “labi, davai, čau” routine after they’ve eventually hung up.
Me: Labi, labi, davai, davai, čau, čau… ha ha ha.
Jānis: (face clouding over) You can’t say ‘davai’.
Me: Why not?
Jānis: It’s Russian.
Me: But you just said it.
Jānis: I’m allowed. I’m Latvian.
Me: So I can’t say it because I’m Irish?
Jānis: Exactly. You are not allowed.
I think that next year, I’ll call my students from outside the door before I go into the room and ask them how their Christmas/New Year was that way instead. I bet I’ll get a far more wordy response.