The Latvians take over! (Part 2)

The second guest post comes from one of my favourite Latvians. If we were guys, she’d be my brother from another mother. However, as there’s no female equivalent (that I’m aware of), I tend to think of her as my Latvian alter-ego – the leopard print to my Aran jumper, if you will, the grey peas and lard to my boiled ham and cabbage… I could go on but as this is a guest post, I really should hand the floor over to her.

I’m a 27-year-old Latvian girl and a big fan of Linda’s blog. (I didn’t make her say that.) I’ve been living in the UK for two years now. My family lives in Latvia so instead of going someplace nice and warm, I pack my bags and go to Riga whenever I can. I usually fear taking that trip. I have to add a disclaimer – what happened to me won’t necessarily happen to you. A good friend once told me that I’m an idiot magnet. He’s absolutely right. I do attract odd people all the time. This Christmas in Latvia was no exception.

The fun started before I even reached Latvia. I was at the airport waiting to board my flight when I overheard a Sri Lankan girl talking about Latvians. Being a bit of a masochist, I decided to listen.

“Ah, Latvians”, she said. “They are like animals. (Leopards, maybe?) They never smile, they push each other, step on each other’s feet and never apologise”. After hearing that, I had a quick look around. Of course, everyone was listening. Please, I begged quietly, don’t let her say anything else. She continued, “Women are actually okay. But men? Seriously, what’s wrong with Latvian men?” After hearing that, I laughed before I could stop myself. I had a quick look around again. No one else was laughing.

Sure enough, when I reached Riga, the locals pretty much confirmed her thoughts. Not that I had wanted them to. I was standing at the bus stop, reading FB on my phone when a Russian pensioner came up to me and stared at my phone’s screen. I looked up as he asked (not very politely), “What’s the time?”

Feeling all Christmassy, I closed FB to check the time for him when I realized that I hadn’t bothered changing my phone’s settings to show the local time (there is a two-hour difference between Latvia and the UK).

“I’m sorry”, I began saying in Russian while the pensioner was still staring at my phone. “You have to add two hours, see, Latvia is two hours ahead of the…” He interrupted me by saying, “Two hours? Why are you so stupid?” I just stood there, speechless. Undeterred, he continued, “What is your native language? Is it Russian? Latvian?” “Latvian”, I answered. “Now it all makes sense”, he said, all proud of himself. “All Latvians are idiots so it’s not really your fault. You shouldn’t feel bad, I don’t hate you. In fact, I like kids. My daughter is also twenty.”

“Except that I’m NOT twenty”, I said. He ignored me and continued, “I can understand that a girl like you doesn’t see education as one of your priorities. But maybe you should get educated! See, I’m only worried about your future!”

“Oh, I really appreciate your concern!”, I said in a sarcastic voice and rolled my eyes (I have two degrees). The man kept ignoring me. Suddenly, he exclaimed, “Oh, where are my manners! I forgot to introduce myself! I’m Boris, what’s your name?” He started rubbing my arm. “Can you please stop touching me? There is no way I’m talking to you or telling you my name!”, I said angrily. “Come on now, is your name that ugly?”, he asked while patting my arm. I asked him to stop touching me again and had a look around. Surely, someone would step in to help me?

The locals were too busy minding their own business. Fortunately, the Russian guy decided to leave but he made sure he told everyone I was “really stupid and had a really ugly name” as he was leaving.

My adventures didn’t stop there. As I waiting for my bus home, I saw another pensioner glaring at me. I looked down at my boots to avoid his gaze. As you may know, Latvians don’t bother cleaning up after their dogs but luckily, I didn’t see anything there. Meanwhile, the guy kept glaring. His wife gave him a questioning look. He poked her. She started glaring at me too. I remembered that you don’t actually have to do anything to be glared at in Latvia.

Case in point. And adjacent to the door of a supermarket. If you're wondering what's next to it, it's a gob of spit frozen to the pavement. Soon the whole city will be an ice rink.

Case in point – (hopefully) dog shit adjacent to the door of a supermarket. If you’re wondering what’s next to it, it’s a gob of spit frozen to the pavement. Soon the whole city will be an ice rink…

Soon, it was time to go home. My parents went with me to the airport and as we had some time to kill, we went into Lido for drinks. There were only small espresso cups but my dad wanted a cup of tea. He asked a waitress if they had any tea cups. She glared at him and walked away without saying a word.

As we stood there looking at each other in disbelief, she came back and said they didn’t have any because there was “a deficit”. Then she walked off again…

Good luck finding anyone who smiles like this inside.

Good luck finding anyone who smiles like this inside.

After spending a couple of days in Latvia, I realized that I couldn’t wait to go back home. My British coworkers used to ask if I was going home for Christmas. I told them that my home is in the UK. I don’t hate Latvia but I find the way people treat each other unacceptable. As a country, we still have a long way to go. I’m not talking about the GDP growth rate. I’m talking about treating each other in a friendly, civilised manner and accepting each other’s differences.

I know I’m never going to go back to live in Latvia, but I do hope that things change.

So, there you have it. Riga through the eyes of a Rigan. Although I promised three guest posts, I fear that this may be the last one as I still haven’t found someone who’s come back to live in Latvia and thinks they made the right move. Any takers?

Related articles: The Latvians take over! (Part 1)

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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 Latvia, Latvian people, Riga, Rudeness, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

159 Responses to The Latvians take over! (Part 2)

  1. ieveens22 says:

    Hello. I disagree 100%.
    I just visited Latvia after 5 years away with my best friends from Uk.
    we had a cracking time there.
    People in Lido whwre nice and friendly we went there 3 times to eat in 2 days.
    we also enjoyed Apsara tea house and many nice places in Jurmala. We visited Sigulda and Cesis and found that people where very warm and friendly. Maybe thats because they where people I know I dont know. Anyhow my friends loved the trip the people the food and all the historical and geological places we visited. But then again we are all into history.
    we also went to a Salsa party in Riga also that was very good. We went fore a tour along okd city and further on different museums and I told about the architecture and history of different places. The architecture in Riga is great we went up on the church top you could see the different styles of there very well.
    also we enjpyed some good quality locally produced food without pesticides and organic.
    As far from moving back people are different.
    I wouldnt, my home all the people I love are in UK. I dont have a strong connection to the country but proud if the heritage. However I know people that have moved back that couldnt live in the UK and didnt like it as much as some dont want to go back. It is very relative. I wouldn’t move back but my friend Linda did and she is very happy there.
    End of the day people need to live where they feel at home and have a strong feeling of belonging.

  2. Ed says:

    Well, this article has a rather negative slant. I think its ironic, because it sounds very… Latvian?

    Yes, you have to give somebody a blowjob to get a clean extra cup at Lido’s. Who cares? The lady who you asked for a cup gets paid probably 400 euros a month. Wonder why she doesn’t give a damn about you?

    Go to a restaurant that pays its staff western wages. Like 36. Līnija or Vincents. And you will have western service with a smile. Patronize restaurants, shops and medical institutions that treat their employees like slaves and you will get the service you are looking for.

    • Lāsma says:

      I think that’s the rudest comment I’ve read lately. Congrats, mate!
      Before moving to the UK, I worked in Latvia. Actually, I also did some volunteering and low-paid internships. I never realized I was allowed to treat everyone like a piece of crap because my salary wasn’t 1000 lati. Thanks for enlightening me, though.

      • Ed says:

        Just because I paid 4 euros for my dinner doesn’t mean they can serve me shit food!

        Oh wait, no, it does.

      • Expat Eye says:

        What’s the scale? If I pay 8 euros, 20 or 100, do they have to be exponentially nicer to me? 😉 Or if I go into Narvesen and spend 2 euros, but the person ahead of me spent 20, are they allowed to be 10 times ruder to me? 😉

      • Ed says:

        It doesn’t matter how much YOU are spending. It matters how much the person you are communicating with is getting paid for the job. If she’s getting paid €2-€3 per hour and has virtually no future prospects for a better life, what exactly are your expectations?

        The bigger question is, why do YOU support businesses that treat their employees like this?

        I work in a private company where I get paid €3000/mo (I do live in Riga). As it happens to be, all of my colleagues are polite, happy, and have engaging conversations with each other, and pretty much all of my friends are the same. That’s because they are all on the “up”. They can afford to do things on the weekends. They can afford hobbies. They can afford gourmet food. They can afford to travel. They have positive experiences in life, which produces positive attitudes both towards their work and life as a whole.

        They are sheltered from the every day life of the average poor Latvian who is torn between paying bills, medical expenses and food because he can’t afford all three at once. What’s even worse – the way this country is built he has literally no prospect for better life. And so the years go by, and when you’re 30 years old and still making €3/hour, what can I say! Go get that cup yourself. You are in no position to judge.

      • Expat Eye says:

        I very rarely go to Lido actually. Just the big one when friends come to visit. But I guess if nobody went there, there would be no jobs at all.

      • Lāsma says:

        It’s a bit unpleasant to read your comments. They all scream ”bragging” and make me doubt how much you actually know about the world (or if you know very little as a result of ”sheltering yourself”).
        Latvia is one of the poorest EU countries and yet you suggest that everyone should avoid going to ”Lido” and go to places like ”Vincents” instead? Sorry, but it’s a bit of a joke. EU-wise, Latvia is a poor country and is far from reaching the Western quality of life. Even where I live, I don’t know anyone who goes to places like Vincents every day.
        I go to both average and high-end restaurants and I get good service every single time. I don’t shelter myself from anyone – someone has to bake the bread I eat, clean the streets I walk, and sell the newspapers I read.

  3. rubyfoot says:

    I would guess that the Latvians don’t demonstrate spontaneous friendliness because they learnt to keep themselves to themselves back in the old Soviet days. It may take another generation before this legacy fades.

  4. Balozniks says:

    I don’t know – I’ve been here 14 years and I just don’t get this. Maybe I have phased out all the negative moments from my recollected perceptions, but I honestly can’t remember anyone treating me as rudely as your guest writer claims she has been treated (all in one evening). Sorry – maybe it’s my fault: perception apparently ‘aint reality.

    • Expat Eye says:

      I got my first actual injury from Latvian rudeness/thoughtlessness yesterday. I’d just arrived at the building where I have my lessons and I went to the bathroom to fix myself up a bit. A woman was going in ahead of me and as I was reaching for the door (stupidly assuming she’d leave it ajar – my brain was still frozen), she closed it sharply behind her. My finger caught on a jagged part of the lock and was sliced open. Luckily I was too cold to feel it – didn’t actually notice that I’d been cut until I saw the blood a few moments later! But this is the only time a Latvian has made me bleed in 3.5 years so I guess I’m doing well 😉

    • Lāsma says:

      Maybe you should read the post again – I never mentioned it was ”one evening”. 😉

  5. Thank you to the author of this guest post – what I liked best in it was this: “I don’t hate Latvia but I find the way people treat each other unacceptable. As a country, we still have a long way to go. I’m not talking about the GDP growth rate. I’m talking about treating each other in a friendly, civilised manner and accepting each other’s differences.” Just a little observation – I am convinced that not only economic situation and unemployment but also this is part of the reasons why so many Latvians are leaving or planning to leave (at least it was for me). thank you again and best of wishes

  6. wasd says:

    One of the reasons I tend to avoid interactions on streat. Earbuds have saved me many times from that kind of situations. About the supermarkets, It is hard to be friendly or happy if you have constant stress about survival, one of reasons I totaly understand sad/unfriendly staff, still try to atleast smile and blur out “Paldies!”, others just seem to go with the rude atitude by theyr choise of action, beats me what they are doing in customer service.

    • Expat Eye says:

      They certainly wouldn’t last long in most other countries. Then again, they’d be on a wage they could actually live on so there’d be less stress!

      • wasd says:

        Indeed. I have never met unfriendly or rude staff in ireland. Even security guys smile there. First time seeing and experiencing that changed something in my tought process as well.

      • Expat Eye says:

        Glad to hear you had a nice experience there! Today I went to a company I’ve been teaching at for over 2 years now – the security guard didn’t even look at me 😉

  7. Christina says:

    She’s your sister from another mister!

  8. oksana says:

    Latvia, Spain or UK-people treat you same way you treat them! Maybe you should think about that, the author of the post. 🙂 cheers!

    • Expat Eye says:

      Hey Oksana, thanks for the comment! I’m afraid I have to disagree though! When I was home in Dublin at Christmas, I smiled and said hi to the shop assistants and no matter how busy they were, they always took the time to smile back and have a conversation. This evening, I popped into a supermarket on the way home. First of all, the girl let me wait for at least 2 minutes while she folded bags (despite being the only person on the tills). When she finally decided to serve me, I said ‘Labvakar’. She ignored me – didn’t even make eye contact. She barked the price at me, snatched the card out of my hand and didn’t ask me if I wanted a bag. A shop assistant in Dublin would be fired for this sort of behaviour I’d imagine. At least I hope so. Sorry for ranting – she annoyed me 😉 Linda.

      • Latvia and Ireland have different cultures. Same as Spain, Sweeden, Italy, Canada, India..etc
        We are different. And there is no need to compare uncomparable things and ways of living.
        And if somebody choose to live in one or another country, he should accept its culture and respect it.
        I think so. 🙂

      • Expat Eye says:

        Are you saying rudeness is part of Latvian culture?? 😉

      • Lāsma says:

        You weren’t supposed to say (type?) it out loud. Let the hate mail begin… 🙂

      • Janis says:

        Common girl, I rather prefer unfriendly Latvian shop assistant then fake smile from Irish assistant. And yes, it’s not my Latvian prejudice, westerner’s smile means nothing and is fake. Sorry, snap at me becouse fake ‘friendly’ smile is even more revolting…

      • Expat Eye says:

        Yeah, nothing is fake. Apart from the hair, nails, tan…

    • Mūdzis says:

      “Cultural differences” also include different ideas about what is polite and what is rude.

      • Expat Eye says:

        I don’t know if closing the door on people, walking into them on the street and ignoring people you know is considered polite in any country – well, except Latvia 😉

      • Mūdzis says:

        Then I must be living in a parallel reality Latvia where the few times the doors had been closed on me have been accidents, where nobody has walked into me on street and where my acquaintances do not ignore me. 😀

      • Expat Eye says:

        I think you are living in a parallel reality 😉 Or maybe you’re the one banging into me! 🙂

  9. Mūdzis says:

    I can’t help but to think that, regarding the random glares on the street, more often than not this (see here: http://i.imgur.com/qNwX5Vb.jpg) combined with the “bitchy resting face” syndrome happens to be the real “problem”.

    • Expat Eye says:

      The link wouldn’t open for me! ‘Bitchy resting face’ 🙂 Love 😉

      • Mūdzis says:

        It’s a one-panel comic according to which the easiest way how to spot self-absorption is to randomly shout “Moron!” into a crowd and see who flinches the most.

        My point is that it is more likely that some people just mistake a random stranger’s neutral expression for a glare and decide that it has been directed at them while the stranger actually might be checking their surroundings to ease their boredom.

        In fact, I think that I may be a contributor of few such glares. Others often ask me if I’m sad or angry while I’m just… thinking. People who know me relatively well probably does not mind it any more, but how can a paranoid stranger tell?

      • Expat Eye says:

        But I’m not paranoid. Am I? Maybe I am… Am I? 😉

      • Mūdzis says:

        P.S. I think this is the video from which the phrase “bitchy resting face” originates http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3v98CPXNiSk , though I’m not sure.

      • Expat Eye says:

        Ha ha ha! Please excuse my asshole face! Classic!! 🙂

  10. rigaenglish says:

    Overall, it has improved in the time I’ve been here. Service is a bit better but has a long way to go and while doggy poo is a problem, it’s much worse in Spain and Italy. As for the pensioner, I’ve met idiots in both the Latvian and Russian communities. I don’t think either is worse than the other. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been chatting with my friend in a bar and a couple of Latvian guys at a neighbouring table have been saying something along the lines of “I wish those sex tourists would f*ck off”, thinking that we don’t understand, even though we’re two Riga residents out having a cup of coffee. Riga is no worse in that respect than anywhere, I’m sure you’ve been stereotyped in the UK like that.

    One final thing. Out of curiousity, what was the ethnicity of the waitress who treated you rudely? You mention the pensioner’s ethnic background but not her background.

  11. nirvalice says:

    The crazies won’t find you unless you let them. I would never engage in any kind of interaction with a random old person, be it in Latvia, the States or Mexico. Just start speaking in English and they’ll go away. Freakazoids, the lot of them!

    • Expat Eye says:

      Ah, sometimes the crazies can be entertaining! 😉

    • Lāsma says:

      Yeah, I tend to shame rude people but I didn’t even respond when this guy insulted me. He was just looking for someone to have an argument with! Most crazies I meet are just random guys so I either shame them or ignore them completely.
      Pretending that I don’t know the language wouldn’t work in this case, though. I answered in Russian because I honestly thought that he just wanted to know what the time is.

  12. June says:

    I have to stop reading your posts – it takes me all day to get through the comments! Can’t say I’ve noticed any dog poo here, but I live in the sticks so maybe it’s a city thing. People do look at me strangely when I say “Please” and “Thanks” in shops and restaurants. Sometimes they eventually smile back, sometimes they don’t. I’ll persevere!

  13. Baiba says:

    But has it never occurred to somebody, that it might be karma? Because I don’t really meet these annoying people nearly as much as my other fellow citizens – one hears stories from time to time. Or do I just choose subconsciously not to notice them? Because even the staff in Lido near my office is friendly (that guy at the potatoes is even annoyingly too friendly :))

  14. bevchen says:

    Everyone got in before me with sister from another mister…

    Your friend is almost as hilarious as you 😀
    Nice to hear than not all Latvians think being unfriendly is normal.

    • Expat Eye says:

      How am I the only one who didn’t know sister from another mister?! I don’t like it as much as brother from another mother though. It’s like a cheap spin-off 😉
      And yes, she is one funny chick! 🙂

    • Lāsma says:

      Thanks! I can die happy now! 🙂

  15. Kalnina says:

    Hi Linda, my brother lived in London for 1,5 years but is now back in Latvia and he is very pleased about his decision, I think:) I gave him a tip about you looking for a guest blog entry, so hopefully he will contact you.

  16. Well! Not a glowing endorsement, exactly, but I’m sure you’ll rustle up someone with a balancing point of view sooner or later. They can’t all be stranger-petting arseholes.

  17. Is it because of expectations, I wonder?

    (mainland) Chinese is infamous for their bad manners and terrible attitude even when they travel to another country.

    This was a huge piece of news a while ago:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ding_Jinhao_engraving_scandal

    http://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1249674/chinese-wonder-why-their-tourists-behave-so-badly

    It’s gotten so bad that the party is trying to issue guide lines for travellers. They also have a parade of “experts” touting excuses to the media, stuff like “these people are peasants! not educated!”, or “Chinese are not used to follow rules! or Laws!”. Both of which are hilarious from an official governmental perspective. Can you imagine any other government do that? It’s more hilarious when they try to bring out some kind of moral authority to change the situation, especially when everyone knows that in China, the great and the powerfuls don’t follow any rules what so ever.

    To bring this back to perspective, (mainland) Chinese spit and urinate inside the buildings all the time. One incident as reported in that article has a mother letting her child defecate on the floor in the airport while the toilets are just a few meters away. A party official on tour in Taiwan went to check out one of the most famous hotels there and saw a pretty boy walking around, tried to drag him into the bathroom and rape him. He is male and he is perfectly sane. If this is the behaviour he exhibit outside of countries, what does he gets away at home?

    The netizens usually resort to 2 usual tactics to whitewash this kind of incident – the ones criticizing them most be racist or western sympathizers, and look, they aren’t that bad, the Americans used to called rude too. Both are terrible excuses, and pointless in the context.

    Well, first impression is a difficult thing to change, and this has spilled out to other areas. A lot of Chinese companies find it hard to be taken seriously in the foreign markets/”outside” world, and they often claim some kind of racism idea is the cause. I wonder if they know that nobody can take them seriously precisely because they are rude. How would a foreign board member feel if a Chinese executive spits in the board room during a meeting?

    And, don’t get me started about service in China. 😛 The service in China is so class conscious that one wonders if they were ever communists.

    Well, I thought I would give something to contrast and compare to what’s been said. Personally, if I suffered an indignation every time my service was bad in China, I would’ve had a stroke or heart attack a long time ago. An American couple once walked into a (rather) fancy Chinese restaurant in Beijing. They did not get service in 5 mins. They walked out. I laughed. 😀

    Keep up the good work.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Ha ha, yes, if I was faint-hearted, I’d have popped my clogs a long time ago! Thanks for putting Latvia into perspective for us! Thank god nobody has ever spat on the desk in one of my classes! Or urinated 😉

  18. aalksnuz says:

    Dear Linda, thanks for Your cool look at living here.
    Reading Your friend’s post and wondering. Did things go even worse since she left LV two years ago? Nopp! Or she didn’ t notice and accepted before that, what is annoying her now- more likely. It means- UK changed Your friend and her view on things.
    Be honest, I hate those Latvian snobs, who left LV some years ago, and now visiting us, sorry, not us, but cheap dentists, doctors, hairdressers and bear at last. And all time pointing to us- that’s bad, that’s bad, that’s bad…
    Yes, it is far more easy to adapt yourself in well settled place, instead of making own country well settled. But no one will improve things here, except us- living here, stepping in dog shit, and trying to ignore Russian pensioners, who believe Latvia is their temporary lost colony, all Latvians are idiots, and there is nothing to improve here.
    Mission impossible? Nopp! If these expats are really concerned about Latvia, please, come back and make it better. As Tesco says: “Every little helps”. But pointing to us…LOL.
    Your, Linda, pointing is different, because you have a cool look from aside, and it helps, at least, looks funny.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Thank you very much! From me, anyway 😉

    • Lāsma says:

      I actually already mentioned that things have improved quite a lot. 😉
      Did I accept them? I never will. I only learned not to get too upset as it’s a waste of my time and energy.

      Regarding the ”cheap” Latvian services you mentioned – I have a medical insurance which covers dental costs here in the UK. I don’t go to ”cheap” Latvian hairdressers either – I have my own hairdresser here in the UK. Not sure if I have seen any cheap ”bears” or if I also need their services.

      I’m not sure how you’re helping by attacking me and making false assumptions. You’re accusing me of writing things you admitted were everyday realities. Not sure how your approach (e.g., ignoring problems, not talking about them and pretending that they don’t exist) is more helpful than mine. It’s a bit ironic that I’m not allowed to say anything negative because I no longer live in Latvia. Not so long ago, some people were saying that foreigners can’t say anything negative because they’re not Latvians. In fact, some Latvians got all aggressive and said they ”should leave”. I bet if I was still living in Latvia, I’d get a comment from you saying that I should be ashamed of criticising my own country… And then people wonder why there aren’t any major changes….One is not even allowed to say anything negative about the place!

  19. baiba says:

    I agree with your guest who wrote this article. I live in UK for bit more than two years and have already got used to politeness and kindness here. I have similar stories from each time I have visited Latvia and when I lived in LV. Every time I go to LV I’m beeing extremely polite to everyone I meet. For example, every time I go to shop I ask sales personnel how are they and when I go away I say thank you and wish them nice day and smile. Sad and funny thing is how Latvians react on this. They look at me like I’m crazy or beeing impolite or laugh at them. Rarely you meet someone who appreciates these things. I will anyway continue to do it because someone have to start 🙂
    If you need help with finding someone who have came back to live in Latvia I can talk to two of my friends. I think they would be glad to tell their story and opinion. At least one of them every time I meet him tries to convince me to come back.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Hi Baiba, that would be great! Tell them to send me a message on FB or email me if they can! And I do the same thing you do – if you keep smiling and being polite, eventually you’ll get it back! 🙂

      • Janis says:

        Sorry Linda, but it looks like you are one of those people who has a problem to understand and integrate in a different culture (I expected more from a language teacher) Antuanete summarized it right, we just don’t do it in Latvia as simple as that because as she says question like that “requires real answer, and is used only among people who know each other”. And yes, if somebody from England or Ireland asked me that IN England or Ireland I would of course consider it normal, but sorry love in Latvia it is just patronising, weird and inappropriate. Try to learn about someone’s culture instead of imposing your own.

      • Expat Eye says:

        Yeah yeah, heard it all before. Water off a duck’s back, my friend.

    • Antuanete says:

      Seriously, you are asking random shop personnel in Latvia “how are you” (“Kā jums klājas?”) and expecting them to answer? Why? Since when it is appropriate in Latvian culture? In English-speaking countries such question is just way to start conversation and nobody cares about how the shop assisstant really feels or how is her day, but in Latvia such question requires real answer, and is used only among people who know each other. In USA, I don’t have problems responding: “Fine!” to their: “How are you?”, but in Latvia I would be struck if some stranger would ask me so. It’s not Latvian service staff’s fault that you have lived abroad for a short time and now think that you can copy and paste English phrases in Latvia and expect them to act like like English.

      • Expat Eye says:

        I’ve never asked a shop assistant how they are in Latvia 😉 I do say hello though and yeah, the least I expect in return is eye contact – a hello back would be even better but doesn’t always happen.

      • So Antuanete, basically you’re saying that in Latvian culture, you cannot exchange polite pleasantries with someone when buying something from them?
        I don’t know how you would say that in Latvian, but we English people, to explain that in our language, would say “Latvians are unfriendly and a bit rude.”

      • Antuanete says:

        TheSicilianHousewife, you can absolutely have some small talk with random people in Latvia, be it shop assisstant or bus driver – but it will consist of different phrases than in English and won’t start with “How are you?”, because this question in Latvian culture implies genuine interest in one’s life, which I’m sure you don’t feel for a shop assistant whom you see the first and probably last time (it’s different with someone whom you have met at least few times). You may see such cultural differences as rudeness, but that’s your own ignorance then. I guess some French people may seem English as rude and unfriendly because they don’t hug and kiss upon meeting with distant acquantancies or something like that. As Linda remarked, if you greet someone and doesn’t get any greeting or eye contact back – yes, it’s rude and impolite. If you ask someone “How are you?”, yet you are not really interested in his or her feelings – don’t expect genuine answer, as this question may be taken as intruding people’s private space.

      • I think you misunderstand English people quite a lot. When we ask people “How are you?” we genuinely DO care how they are, and want to make friends.
        When I first moved to Sicily and didn’t know anyone, the first friends I made were the shop assistants and cafe waiters who worked very near my house. I asked how they were, they asked how I was and we started getting to know each other. Having a friend to talk to for a minute or two while you do your job makes life more pleasant, doesn’t it? There are different levels of friendship – if they don’t want to go all the way and tell me about their marital problems or embarrassing medical conditions, that doesn’t mean we can’t have some level of friendship, does it?
        And also, when most of us English people meet French or Italians who want to kiss us, we let them do it. Why not?

      • Lāsma says:

        Yeah, I have to agree with The Sicilian Housewife. It’s hard to believe that not so long ago no one used to greet customers in Latvia! It was okay to do your shopping and not exchange a single word.
        Regarding the UK, I’m used to talking to cashiers, assistants, GPs, hairdressers… 🙂 i try to be polite to everyone and I don’t mind chatting! Whenever someone asks me, ”Are you alright?”, I always ask them how their day was as well. I don’t consider it fake and I don’t want to know any private details. It’s just common courtesy.

      • Antuanete says:

        I think you both (and many more people) tend to interpret DIFFERENT patterns of communication as WRONG, if they don’t suit your habits. In many cases you can talk and get “friends” with shop assistants, waiters, vendors in market etc. with Latvia as well – but if these people doesn’t want to interact with customers in that way, anyone should be able to accept it. Again, I’m not excusing plain rudeness which is not to return greeting or to do customer service poorly! But chatting with customers is beyond compulsory activities, and, if some people doesn’t want such interaction, why should they be obliged to do so? When visiting foreign countries, we try to accept their habits, e.g. we wear headscarfs in Middle East or accept kissing and hugging in France (it’s just an example, none of my French colleagues have actually tried to hug me :)), then why it’s so hard to accept, that Latvians are more distant with people they have just met?

      • Did you know that Seven-Eleven is the largest chain of food stores in the world, larger than Mc Donalds worldwide, and that it took over the Chinese market in a matter of months, putting multiple Chinese competitors out of business?
        Do you know how they did it?
        They trained al their staff to be polite and friendly to all customers. The Japanese owners of Seven-eleven know that politeness and friendliness are something people want so much they are willing to PAY for it. Yes, to PAY for it.
        Chinese people are legendary for their rudeness but when they realise it is costing them money they are smart enough to mend their ways.
        I wonder if Latvia will manage to compete with the Chinese economic growth miracle? And if so, how will they do it? What do you think?

      • Expat Eye says:

        That’s really interesting actually. And I do believe that people are willing to pay for friendly service. The only place I’m guaranteed to get it here is Statoil. Their training programme must be fantastic. Other companies are trying to imitate them but nobody is really coming close so far. It’s really quite important for a country like Latvia which produces very little. Attracting tourists should be a priority. The locals might be used to being treated like crap but I can’t see tourists coming back again if they’re treated in the same way.

      • Antuanete says:

        I agree with Linda that Statoil is the only big chain company which guarantees good service in any of their locations. Which means, cashiers are polite and often smiling, answer all questions and make their mandatory offers of bonuses and extra purchases in not-annoying manner. They DO NOT ask how I am doing, and that’s very fine with me 🙂 Some other big chains have done it in very wrong way, requesting that cashiers have to greet customers in all the same way, and always offer extra purchases, even if they are clearly unnecessary and annoying (like, I’m buying toothbrush and I’m offered to buy another one, because it’s on sale, or they offer nail enamel remover to men).

        I have never said that it is unnecessary to be polite with customers or any people we meet with on a daily basis – it’s just different views on what is and what is not appropriate or necessary in such interactions. And business owners may have different view on their priorities too – some train their employees to be polite, but their prices are higher (like Statoil), some hire random people on low wages (and do not train them), but offer much lover prices for everyday products (like Maxima or SuperNetto). Actually, I’m not buying gas in Statoil because of their nice service, but because they have good coffee and pastries 😀

      • Expat Eye says:

        They do 😉 And I like their spicy burrito too 😉 Drogas have offered me some strange things over the years!!

    • Antuanete says:

      Speaking on how important it should be for Latvians to train themselves to be polite to foreigners, because tourism will save our economics – well, it won’t. Considering our location, our climate and resources we can put into tourism industry, Latvia will never be Canary islands or Paris, and tourism shares in economy won’t be very significant. At the moment shares of “tourism related industries” in our GDP is 5% – which doesn’t mean all it is pure profit from incoming tourists, much of this is generated by, let’s say, guest house incomes from local tourists etc. In tourism dependent countries share in GPD is at 10-20% and higher. For us, much more important is to develop industries with high added value and export such products – which means, well, yes, that we have to learn how to impress and how to collaborate with people from different cultures. But, if you expect that for tourist pleasure all Latvians will learn to act like they were smiley, chatty Italians – no, that won’t happen 🙂

  20. TRex says:

    Well, good luck trying to find any staff in a Lido who have them energy or motivation to smile. Probably the worst job on the planet.

    • Expat Eye says:

      I’m sure there are worse jobs 😉 I know it’s not the greatest job in the world, but they’re getting paid (something) to do it and should at least try to put in a little effort. I’ve had some crappy jobs in my time but I’ve always managed to do that!

  21. Anna says:

    Yikes. If even a Latvian can’t sell a foreigner on Latvia… That said, I am now making a trip to Riga part of my personal challenge to see how many Latvians I can rub the wrong way with my Russian Americanness in just two days!

  22. expatlingo says:

    You had me the other day with your comment about Latvia being 50% forest with lots of fresh air. Rudeness, dog shit and spit, however, will now have to be added to the negative column.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Hopefully after this weekend, you’ll have something else to add to the positive column 😉 Keep thinking of all that lovely fresh air! 🙂

  23. freebutfun says:

    Haha, I bet waitresses get a salary over there instead of living on tips?!

    • Expat Eye says:

      Yeah, and they’re not paid for their smiles 😉 Lido is a buffet-style place so you couldn’t really tip there anyway. Tipping is getting more common though I think!

  24. annelleo says:

    You are often writing not so nice things about Latvian men..
    I wonder, why haven’t you written about Latvian men being the best dancers in the world?
    That’s definitely one of the things, that’s making me come home after my studies. 🙂

    • Expat Eye says:

      I didn’t write this 😉 In fact, recently, I’ve been writing nothing but nice things about Latvian men! But tell me more about this dancing thing? What kind of dancing? Ballet, folk, break dancing? I’m sure Russia has some of the finest ballet dancers in the world – it wouldn’t make me want to go and live there though! 😉

      • annelleo says:

        😀 I wasn’t talking about dancing on the stage, I thought more of the party dancing. I am not sure, how useful are ballet skills in a pub. Unfortunately I don’t know how good dancers Irish people are, but I am sure Latvians are better than Germans and Italians. A typical German party- it’s crowded and everyone is moving their heads, perhaps also their hands. If there is a slow song played and a guy asks you to dance you’ll probably step from one foot to another not always in the right rhythm, and don’t be surprised if he steps on your foot. (O.k. I must agree, I still haven’t been to salsa partys here, so it could mean there are a few men who can actually dance)
        A typical Latvian party- it’s not that crowded(I don’t know the reason for this), whatever the music is- there will be people dancing in couples and people dancing in small groups. If you went there with your male friends(in the best case, those who also dance folk dances, because they are used to good partys and dancing with girls) you don’t need any alcohol to get your head spinning and in the next day your feet is aching not because of someone stepping on them, but because of all the crazy moves. If you haven’t seen this I suggest you to go to folkklubs “Ala”, I’ve heard that’s where the best dancer partys are. (I haven’t been to the new place so unfortunately I can’t speak from my own experience.)

      • Expat Eye says:

        There probably aren’t that many Latvians at parties because there aren’t that many Latvians here 😉 I’ve been to Ala a couple of times and you’re right, I have seen some crazy moves – it was dangerous trying to get to the bathroom!!! 🙂 The new place is really nice too actually – pancake Monday is the best 😉

      • Janis says:

        Can you just explain to me why are you so concerned and why it bothers you that staff somewhere didn’t smile at you didn’t talk about his/her or your life. PLEASE TELL ME WHY!!!??? Because I couldn’t care less, ok – didn’t smile, didn’t talked to me- and WHAT (sorry for screaming but I really don’t understand what your pain is), they do their jobs, they served me, that is it. I don’t need anything more from them. Is it because you want to be treated as queen or I don’t know. What’s wrong with you. Let’s them serve you and forget about staff and concentrate on food!

      • Expat Eye says:

        I guess for the same reason MY BLOG BOTHERS YOU SO MUCH. PLEASE TELL ME WHY?! OR WHY YOU KEEP READING??

  25. Liene says:

    I have to say that Rīga has NothinG on France in the dog poop department. Customer service at the supermarkets = similar. And the US, why it’s the opposite; there is such a thing as too friendly. Ever had someone sit down next to you on the tramvaļš and give you their entire medical history in two pieturas? Not saying Latvians aren’t indifferent, only that you can find the negative in any country – I choose to look for the positive. Can I also point out that a large portion of the negative in this instance came from non-Latvians?

    • Expat Eye says:

      I think I might have had a lady recount her medical history to me. Unfortunately, she was speaking Russian and I was eating a cake at the time so it was a very one-sided conversation 😉

    • Another knicker-wettingly funny post, as promised! 🙂

      I would modestly like to nominate Palermo, Sicily as the Dog Turd Capital of both Eastern and Western Europe. There are not only pet dogs, but also roaming herds of stray dogs, working at it night and day. It hardly ever rains so their efforts have staying power and, since it is so warm, their artistic installations attrat large swarms of flies and constantly give off a powerful aroma. As if that weren’t enough, our geographic proximity to Africa and the abundance of disease carrying insects means many of these canine “artists” have bowel diseases.
      Honestly, a sparse scattering of deep frozen feces cannot compete!

      • Expat Eye says:

        Oh my god, I think you win the prize!! 🙂 At least frozen turds don’t stink to high heaven 😉

      • Liene says:

        In France it was quite common to find human waste on the streets also. Men would utilize whatever doorway/alley/lightpost was convenient – just thought I would toss that into the mix. Not as disgusting to walk through, but the smell definitely lingers, especially during the warmer months.

      • Expat Eye says:

        The thing I hated in France (don’t know if it’s still like this) was that you had to walk past a row of urinals with men peeing at them to get to the one cubicle down the back 😉

      • Oh, those French urinals are traumatic to the nostrils, aren’t they? The fact they are called pissoirs is horrible enough.
        I once went on holiday around Italy with a French bloke who suddenly urgently needed one of those. We asked an Italian where the nearest public loo was, and he just waved his hands grandly all around him and replied
        “Everywhere.”

        A few years ago I saw a woman having a massive dump on the beach in broad daylight here in Sicily. It was te beach where we locals take our kids.
        “I hope your arse gets bitten by sandflies and you catch Leishmaniasis!” I shouted at her. But I shouted it quietly, and in English, because she had her husband and two sons with her. Watching her.

      • Expat Eye says:

        I think that might just be the most disgusting thing I’ve ever heard! OK, well, you’ve ruled out Expat Eye on Sicily for me – or maybe that was your intention all along… 😉

      • Expat Eye says:

        PS. I love the ‘quiet English shouting’ 😉

    • Lāsma says:

      Thanks for the comment, Liene. Honestly, I don’t know why people paid so much attention to the issue with dog owners when it was merely a way to illustrate how grumpy some people can be without any reason to justify their crankiness.
      Also, I agree that there are negative things is every country. However, there were way too many of them in Latvia for me to enjoy living there. Each to their own! 🙂

  26. My old roommate from Dublin lives there as well! Dude, bald, mid forties. I wonder if you’ve crossed pathes with him.

  27. peter says:

    Hey Linda,
    thought I might chime in here as a fairly recent immigrant to Latvia myself.
    I moved to Latvia a year and a half ago via Belgium where I had resided for five years. I’m originally from Sweden. So comparing these 3 countries Latvia in my mind is not bad as many posts on this blog make it seem. I am however a male and my experiences probably does differ quite a bit from the female population, but I still think a few factors are true for any country in the world:

    – Crazies are everywhere and tend to stick in your memory. But always try to contrast that to the in comparison massive number of people that are nice, believe me it’s worth the effort 🙂
    – To many people have jobs they don’t care about or literally hate.
    – Shitty customer service is nothing new, I refer back to previous point.

    So my experience here so far is of course not perfect. But I cannot agree that latvians are cold, selfish and crazy. If I compare my experience in Latvia to Belgium, living in latvia has made me way happier.
    – Settling in here in terms of services was soooo smooth compared to the same process in Belgium.
    – Child care is outstanding in comparison.
    – The services I’ve interacted with, including something as extreme as a building company for a substantial renovation has been manageable on a completely different level to what I experienced in Belgium.
    – In Latvia when I try to say something in latvian I get a smile, in Belgium when I tried to speak in french I more often than not get a perplex frown, when I tried in Dutch they just switched to english 🙂
    – Dog shit, comparing to what? Ever been to Paris or Brussels? I’m not saying it’s a non issue but well, compare and contrast I guess 😀

    I’m really happy in Latvia, if I was not I’d probably would have made the same choice as this particular posts author. So good on you I guess for making a choice just as I did, leave a place that makes you unhappy to some place that doesn’t.

    over and out from a happy swede in riga 🙂

    P.S. I leave you with this link : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jHPOzQzk9Qo 😀 D.S.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Nice touch with the video 😉 Glad you’re having a nice time here! I have to say, I had the opposite experience in Brussels, I spoke (my pretty rusty) French for 3 days and nobody had any problems with it. Here, I’d say people answer me in Latvian maybe 20% of the time…

      I lived in Lyon for a year during uni but obviously that was a LONG time ago so I don’t really remember the dog shit 😉 I do remember rivers of cigarette butts in the gutters in Paris though!
      I have nothing to add to the childcare thing being a childless spinster, and all. I bet that’s one thing male expats here don’t have to contend with 😉
      Thanks for your comment! (And the blog isn’t all bad – keep reading 😉 )

    • Expat Eye says:

      I posted that on FB and Twitter yesterday or the day before. I let people draw their own conclusions.

      To me though, there’s a difference between cold-bloodedly stepping over someone in the street and actually being friendly. I could be wrong though!! 🙂

  28. nancytex2013 says:

    The female equivalent of ‘brother from another mother’ is sister from another mister.
    You’re welcome. 🙂

  29. Karīna says:

    Linda, it is hard to disagree with your friend. Unfortunately, I have very similar observations. The worst thing is that Latvians find such attitude normal. This is the reason why it is so hard to change. After seeing tens of “grumpy cat” faces during the day, it is hard to be nice to a colleague, neighbor or waiter…

    • Expat Eye says:

      Hi Karina, yes, I’ve had plenty of similar observations myself! And I think anyone who says they haven’t is in denial 😉 My friend is just recounting things as they happened to her – twice she was minding her own business and once, her dad dared to ask for help from a waitress. God forbid!! 🙂 Thanks very much for your comment! Linda.

  30. Geoff says:

    Please stop treating Latvia and Rīga as interchangeable nouns, and Latvians and Rīgans as interchangeable adjectives! Rīga is no more representative of Latvia than London is of the UK. Also, please don’t gage customer service on a fast food restaurant in a transit area. If you need some advice on friendlier places to visit (i.e. practically anywhere), let me know :). Latvia really has improved in this respect since my first visit here in 2002.

    If you want to experience Latvian hospitality and see the country at its best, come in Summer. Riga is a completely different city when the sun is shining and the beer is flowing. And the country looks better in green than in grey. (I’m sure the author of the post is well aware of this). I moved here from the UK to find my roots, and having found my place, I have no desire to return to my former overcrowded island, even if there is more money over there.

    P.s. I never noticed the ‘dog shit’ problem before. Is it an inside joke, or a problem that has ballooned since I moved to the provinces?!

    • Expat Eye says:

      I’m amazed you haven’t noticed the dog shit. The stuff is everywhere. And the spit – which is even more attractive now that it’s frozen to the pavement for days on end.

      I know exactly what Riga is like in summer – I’ve been here for 3.5 years. Yes everything looks prettier and there’s a better atmosphere. Does it automatically make the service better? No.

      I have heard that things have drastically improved in the last 10 years or so though. I dread to think what it was like before. Yes, some places are fantastic – plenty have a lot to learn. Is it all bad? Of course not, is there room for improvement? Hell yes. I just read a report where Latvia was 5th on a list of the least friendly countries in the world. Nicely sandwiched between Iran and Kuwait. And no, I didn’t write it.

      Thanks for the comment. Linda.

      • Geoff says:

        I guess there’s more greenery for the dogs and the spitters to shpit on out here. I’m really not suggesting that everything is perfect. I just find the general atmosphere of the country is more upbeat in summer, and therefore the average person is more likely to smile (or at least ignore you) than glare.

        Love that Latvia is no. 5 on the list. Seriously, anything that keeps the tourists away, keeps my beer prices down :)…

        Based on the report (I just read it), on a scale of 1-7 (1- hating tourists, 7-loving them) Latvia’s response was 5.2 which smacks more of indifference than unfriendliness. Which really doesn’t surprise me at all .

      • Expat Eye says:

        Ha, I like your priorities! 🙂 The indifference thing depresses me a little though, and the fact that being ignored is probably the best you can hope for! 😉

  31. Annī says:

    This is all so sad, that people see only the bad things!

    I could write You a post about why I go home every possible time to Riga from France, and why I feel so excited about it , that even 7h in Brussels airport , 2h Ryanair flight and 4h bus ride from Vilnius feels worth it.

    • Lāsma says:

      Thanks for the comment. I’m just being honest here. No country is perfect and I’m not going to sugarcoat anything. It’s just a matter of opinion. 🙂

    • Lāsma says:

      I shared what happened during my last trip to Latvia. Yeah, I do find such experiences negative and shocking. Not talking about something doesn’t improve anything. Feel free to share what you love about Latvia – it’s a free country 😉

      • Ru says:

        So nothing good happened during the trip? Nothing at all? Just dog shit and bad waitresses? 🙂

      • Expat Eye says:

        I’ll leave this one for Lāsma!

      • Lāsma says:

        Why must a negative post always invite an inquisition? I’m not going to share every bit of my private life here, it’s not a diary.

      • Ru says:

        Don’t get me wrong, I am not interested in your private life, but the everyday stuff – shop visits, people around, cultural events, some nice new friends or anything? Just interested as in the article there are only the negative things about crazy russian pensioneers, unhappy waitresses, spits and shits.

      • Lāsma says:

        Regarding shop visits, I have to say that things have improved. I visited some shops and cafes and the service was okay. Not brilliant, but not too bad either. I was in Latvia to visit my relatives and meet my friends but I’m not sure if anyone’s terribly interested in what my second cousin is doing. I love my family and friends to bits so seeing them is always great!
        Regarding cultural events, you might want to ask someone who actually lives in Latvia. I visit the country every six months so it’s not really on my agenda.

  32. Kukjet says:

    Sister from another mister!

  33. Daina says:

    Sigh, I do wish a lot of things in Latvia were a bit different. It is deflating to read someone claim that they will never again live in their own country. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

    Linda, other than a native Latvian who has lived abroad and then returned, it would also be very interesting to read a guest post by someone of Latvian heritage who grew up in Australia or Germany or Canada, etc but has moved to Latvia and plans on staying.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Good idea! Anyone reading this who’d like to volunteer, let me know!

    • Lāsma says:

      Thanks for reading the post, Daina! It’s all good though – many of my foreign friends actually want to visit Latvia! There is a freedom in moving to a foreign country and it really is an enriching experience.

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