Mobile Mania

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. 

Me: Umm. 

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.

About BerLinda

Adjusting to life in Germany, after living in Latvia for four years. Should be easy, right?
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102 Responses to Mobile Mania

  1. Ed says:

    Actually, the English (Americans perhaps?) do say “morning” instead of “Good Morning”. Sometimes even just mornin’

  2. brathahn says:

    i´m late for this one, but i figured out that if i check your blog just every two weeks, i have more funny stuff to read 😀

    from now on listen closely and count how many times “nopietni?” is said 😀

  3. JonX says:

    I have stumbled upon your blog by chance and what can I say?! I’m in love! You’re incredibly funny! I’d like you to move to my host country, Luxembourg or even better my home country, Malta, so that I can see my own country from your hilarious eyes! Malta also happens to be the place where your must-be long lost twin sister is living. She is my best friend, she’s a writer too and every sentence I read from your blog feels like it’s coming out of her mouth. Our conversations lately are marked by extracts from your posts! Thanks a lot for making my days 🙂

    • Expat Eye says:

      Hey Jon, thank you so much for the wonderful compliments! 🙂 It’s funny – a lot of people want me out of this country, are you really sure you want me to move to yours?! The Malta thing is a huge coincidence as my best friend has just moved there – it was -13 here when he left and +18 there when he arrived… tempting!! 😉 Hope you and your best friend continue reading! Linda.

      • JonX says:

        I’m probably the only Maltese reading this blog so it’s definitely a sign! 🙂 Your best friends moved there? I guess you should follow suit! You’ll definitely find a job there as an English teacher (I used to be one myself) and you will also have loads of stories to write on about! I will move back to Malta this March! 🙂 if you ever come by please tell me!

      • Expat Eye says:

        I didn’t think there would be any need for English teachers there! I’m definitely going to visit my friend anyway – hopefully before summer. I’ll need some sun! I’ll let you know when I’m planning to be there! 🙂

  4. Baiba says:

    Well, I guess, that a kind of routine how you end a phone conversation is necessary, because for example my father is not latvian at all, when it comes to ending a phone call – he usually just says “nu labi” and hangs up, without giving the opponent a chance to answer something. I can imagine the stunned faces at the other end:) And a “nu, davai, chau” is not an only latvian thing – the estonians are saying exactly the same:)

  5. Mystery Man says:

    I think Brīt! is the equivalent of Morning!. Well, it should be Rīt! but that doesn’t sound good,right?
    “In a country where red lights are mostly treated as a suggestion anyway” – love this part, so true 😀
    I’m not sure about others but I HAVE to do that annoying “labi čau, labi, ok čau, aha, čau, ok, čau!” thing because sometimes person on the other end doesn’t feel like conversation should end there although I really have to go 😀

    • Expat Eye says:

      It can be hard to shake some people! 🙂 This morning I nearly got run over by some lunatic doing around 60 while turning a corner into a pedestrian crossing on Barona. Then around 2 minutes later, I couldn’t see the green man at another one because the bus had stopped ON the crossing – felt like kicking it 😉 Maybe I should have… Rīt! sounds OK to me! 🙂

      • Mystery Man says:

        Was it a BMW? 😀 I somewhere read that you say Morning! when your morning is not that good so in this case using Rīt! is totally ok 🙂

      • Expat Eye says:

        I’m rubbish with cars. 😉 And I was too busy giving him the ‘death stare’ to take much notice. He, in turn, glared at me like it was my fault!!! I’m pretty certain the bus was a Skoda though! 🙂

        So, if I’m in a crap mood, I remove the ‘good’?? 😉

  6. Daina says:

    One of my biggest pet peeves about mobile communication here in the States is the obnoxious use of the speakerphone function. (Do European phones even have that option?) Basically, the people on the phone then do not need to hold the phone up to their ears (how horribly inconvenient, right?), and instead any passerby gets to hear BOTH sides of the conversation. I hope to God that Europeans aren’t doing this, as it is incredibly annoying. I mean, hearing one side of any mobile conversation (“honey, which laundry detergent do you want me to buy?”) is bad enough, but hearing both is just ridiculous (–“which laundry detergent?” –“The same one we have been using for the last 20 yrs, you useless idiot!”).

  7. Anita says:

    So true 🙂 Happy it’s not just my personality, but my cultural background!

  8. Baiba says:

    Another observation about phone conversations – latvian men (I have not actually had much chance to watch men of other nations during phone conversations, maybe men are the same everywhere) start to pace back and forth as soon as they have a mobile phone in the hand. I don’t know what this is and have never seen any woman doing it. But I have not seen anybody standing at the window while talking on the phone either, so maybe I live in a different dimension anyway:)

    • Expat Eye says:

      Ha, maybe we all live in different dimensions – cue spooky music 😉 Now that you mention it, I have seen men pacing up and down while they’re on the phone – maybe they see it as dead time so they choose to spend it working out their ass muscles a little? 😉 Linda.

  9. Mani nesauc Janis says:

    It’s a strategic move to get closer to window while on the phone, in case if conversation gets boring you can occupy yourself by watching people outside.
    Also “labi, labi, bet protams, piekritu, davaj, etc” are just a phrases to let that other person on the phone to know that you are still listening (your are actually watching those weird people outside). Also you spend 40% of the phone call saying bye.. here actually comes those “nu davaj, labi, chau, davaj, etc”. This is why I send texts 😀

    • Expat Eye says:

      Ha, I like your username!! 🙂 I also quite like this theory of people watching to keep yourself sane during a mind-numbingly dull conversation! Yes, we’ll keep you – please come back again! Linda.

  10. Anna says:

    I think I am going to second the ‘stand by the window to get a better signal’ theory – that’s what people do here as well, and in NYC. But what is up with this ‘can only say something in Russian if you’re Latvian’ bullshit? I seriously dont get it.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Well, they sort of have to accept the fact that the Russians will speak Russian, but I guess when an Irish girl does it, it’s just too much 😉 Are phone signals in Moscow and NYC that bad?!

      • Anna says:

        In buildings they are. On the street I find Moscow a lot more signal-friendly than NYC, where you walk trough dead spots all the time.

      • Expat Eye says:

        Latvia is so much more advanced… 😉

      • Anna says:

        You’ve got no cronuts 😛

      • Expat Eye says:

        Ha ha, who needs ’em!

      • rigaenglish says:

        I don’t get the not speaking Russian thing either. Foreigners are only likely to be here for a few years, in a bilingual city where, in fact, more people speak Russian as their first language than Latvian and among people over 35, the gap is wider. So, if all other things were equal, why learn the second most spoken language in Riga, when you could learn the first? Of course other things aren’t equal. Worldwide, there are about 250 million Russian speakers in over a dozen countries compared to 1.3 million Latvian speakers. It’s a real no-brainer.

        Another big thing for me of late though, is the reaction when you speak either language. The week before last, my mate Ed asked in Latvian and the guy sniggered and said “man, just speak English with me!” I’ve had that too. When I was at the central bus station a few months back I had to speak Latvian five times (!) to the Latvian-named assistant before she stopped speaking English and answered me in Latvian. It wasn’t that she didn’t understand me either, as she was answering my Latvian questions with English replies. I don’t get that when I ask in Russian, including with Latvians.

      • Expat Eye says:

        And technically Cau is Italian but nobody minds that 😉

  11. Džuris says:

    Some try to catch yellow light and sometimes they happen to drive through reds, but I’ve never seen car passing real red light in Riga. And I saw it three times in three days in Milan. And they had a lot of scootards with scooters ignoring red lights just as our cyclers and pedestrians ignore them.

    Of course we are not Lithuanians – we don’t stop for every pedestrian. And we are not English either. When I was in London I had to beware of going to near to the road. If I came closer than 1 yard cars stopped as if I was to go across the road… Am I obliged to cross the road after someone stops to let me do it?

    P.S. And we interact without words, that’s why “brīt”, “gh”, “ņar” and being silent are acceptable alternatives of “i wish you all the goodest in the remaining part of this beautiful morning and the whole of this jolly day, my dear sir”.

    • Expat Eye says:

      I think I might communicate using just ‘gh’ and ‘nar’ for the rest of the day 😉 Yes, those foolish Lithuanians and English people, stopping for pedestrians – anyone would think that they didn’t want to kill people!

  12. Jazeps2 says:

    The worst thing for latvian is foreigner, for example, irish woman, thanking you in russian:”SPASIBA”. Latvians will always teach the foreigner how to say it in latvian… 😀

  13. bevchen says:

    At least they talk on the phone… I was expecting you to say they’ll text for hours, but if someone phones they panic and refuse to answer (Or maybe that’s just translators?).

  14. Aussa Lorens says:

    I have no witty remarks to add other than that this is hilarious and now when someone mentions Latvia I have a new mental image– a bunch of people posing at their windows while talking on their cell phones.

  15. When it comes to mobile conversations, it seems that things are the same the world over (unfortunately). Just last week a woman in my office was walking along and texting at the same time. She had no idea where she was going and walked straight into a lamppost! Got a big ol’ bruise on her arm too.

  16. About those short answers, I think it is ok, to ask your students to answer in more than 3 sentences, that is what my german and english teacher did when I went in secondary school in Latvia. So “nice” was not an option. 😀
    Later on when i still lived in Latvia, and went out with my friends I asked them to answer in “novel format” if i wanted to hear more than “labi” before we ate or got drunk.

    • Expat Eye says:

      I’d be happy with ‘short story’ format sometimes 😉 I think ‘nice’, ‘interesting’ and ‘normal’ are the most frequently used English words here 😉

  17. Excellent idea. You could then experiment with Skype/facetime/etc to see if it really is the eye contact or just the physical distance/electronic gadget/etc. Let us know the results!

    (Also if you come up with an explanation as to why Irish people shouldn’t speak Russian.)

  18. Pēteris says:

    When I walk to university, I ignore my red lights and look at the red lights for other drivers. Since there’s a slight delay before I get a green light, I’ve discovered that I can save half a minute one way, which is one whole minute a day which is half an hour a month!

  19. June says:

    Funny! I always stand by the window here when on the phone as it’s the only place with decent coverage! I’ve been known to run from window to window to improve my connection! We can’t see any of the neighbour’s windows from our house so not sure if everyone does it, but I’m guessing they do. As for “nu, gerai (labi), davai…”, that’s the same here, too. It’s like the equivalent of the Irish “right so, ok, yeh, yeh, ok, good luck, talk to ye, grand, ok, see ye…” that seems to go on for an age before we finally hang up! No one has chided me for saying “davai”, though – might just be a Latvian (or Janis) thing.

    • Expat Eye says:

      I think people just like giving out to me – I’ve got that kind of face 😉 I have a funny picture in my head now of every Lithuanian running around their houses trying frantically to keep the phone conversation going! 🙂

  20. C2C says:

    Maybe they like the phone so much because it’s less personal, no eye contact, no nonverbal cues or behavior. I loved Nancy’s question about calling yummy Jānis!

    • Expat Eye says:

      Ha, me too! Though he assures me it won’t be necessary 😉 We’ll see! You could be onto something there with the ‘less personal’ theory!

  21. pollyheath says:

    I love “davai” — most versatile filler word ever.

    I also second the idea of using phones for all further dates/hangouts. Just pop each person in a different room, set up a conference call, and let the conversation go to town!

  22. Try Bandra (Mumbai, India) speak which is the opposite! A simple “Where man?” requires a response to “Where have you been? How’s your mother / sister / brother? What have you been doing?” And so…. 10 minutes later the flow of responses can start to slow down…

  23. You could have been describing a Pinoy! We are the text capital of the world according to some article 🙂

  24. nancytex2013 says:

    Do you think you’ll need to phone Yummy Janis during dinner with Yummy Janis, just to keep the conversation going?

  25. RuncZ says:

    Yeah, “davai” is very annoying. I’ve been trying to filter it out of my vocabulary for a couple months now, but it still pops out once in a while. I think of it as a variaton of something between “go ahead” and Anastasias Friends quote (Ross and Julie, right?).

    Funny thing is that “davai” actually means “give” in imperative form. And it sometimes causes a bit of confusion in foreigners. For example if someone says “davai beri”, someone not knowing Russian could interpret it as “give take” instead of “go ahead take (it)” as it is usually meant. And then.. well, you can guess the expression on foreigners face. 🙂

    But as for the traffic lights – I must disagree. Of course there are those that always try to get to the other side of intersection at yellow by trying to reach light speed. But quite often I have been surprised that many drivers actually stop at crosswalk if someone is waiting, “wink” the headlights and let someone make the left turn and so on. Even at night, when there’s no other cars around – everyone stops at red light and patiently waits it out. So sorry “parallel universe Riga”, but it is not as bad as you think. 😀

    • Expat Eye says:

      I asked a friend about all the different meanings of ‘davai’ as I was writing the post – complicated stuff! Re: Latvian drivers –
      “Latvia has some of the world’s worst drivers…it’s not that they can’t steer or press the brake pedal…it’s more like a reckless streak that allows grown men and women to act like children behind the wheel. Passing on blind curves is shockingly common, red lights are ignored by most BMWs and pedestrians on crosswalks tend to become targets for wannabe F1 drivers.”
      That’s from Riga in your Pocket – written by a Latvian 😉

      • Expat Eye says:

        Good ‘mhm’ or bad ‘mhm’? 😉

      • RuncZ says:

        This particular exareggation is more than 10 years old. It was already mostly disproven when I bought my BMW back in ’06 and I’m a very responsible driver. (As proven by my driving instructor who fell asleep during my lessons on two separate occasions).
        So yes just like any other place – there are “some of the world’s worst drivers”, but it’s only about half percent or so. Don’t put us all in the same small bag – we’re gonna get squished. 🙂

      • Expat Eye says:

        Ha ha, sorry dude! I’m sure there are worse drivers out there – somewhere… 😉

  26. Antuanete says:

    An then there is hilarious phrase “Nē, nu jā…” used so often in conversations 🙂

    Actually, annoying phone conversations are side effect of low rate mobile phone plans – not that long ago most conversations via cell phone where “Let’s meet there at noon, then we’ll chat more. OK, I have to hung up, credit is running out”. Now people can discuss all their family and work affairs while sitting in public transport (once I was riding home by train and guy in next seat chatted on phone for 45 minutes, and continued to do so when I stepped out – main topic was how his girlfiend is stupid and annoying, and 2 years together is too much, so he should dump her etc.)

    • Expat Eye says:

      Nē, nu jā…:) He’s probably still with her – Latvian men are lazy like that 😉 He just got a second girlfriend 😉 My phone barks at me when I make a call – I think it might just be Bite though… 😉

  27. TEFL via mobile phone is a niche waiting to be exploited…! Patent it while you can…

  28. Anastasia Pi says:

    “Labi, labi, labi, davai, davai, labi, labi, čau, čau, labi, davai, čau, labi, davai, čau” – hilarious.

    Reminds me of that scene in Friends “you hang up, no you hang up, she didn’t hang up either!” (If you’re not one of those people who can quote Friends from any given point, you probably have no idea what I’m talking about. Sorry about that:))

  29. That’s too funny, but a little bit similar to American customs. We great each other with “what’s up?” And “how’s it going?” but rarely get more than “nothing much,” or “pretty good,” in return. It’s like a more elaborate form of hello. Bizarrely enough, if someone actually responds to the question, the asker immediately feels as if the answerer is wasting their time with small talk.

    As for phone addiction, Americans text incessantly!

    • Expat Eye says:

      Ha, it’s the same here! If you see four people sitting together in a cafe, nobody is actually talking to each other – they’re all on their phones to other ‘friends’ 😉 Your blog is very funny! I’m just reading your latest post 😉 Linda.

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