Judgement Day

Gundega: Do you write a blog?

Me: SHHH! (Looking around like a fugitive) Yes, I do…

Gundega: No, no, I love it!

Me: Oh. Great, thanks! Glad you like it. 

(pregnant pause)

Gundega: (with a healthy amount of desperation) Don’t leave us. 

And with that, my cover was blown. You see, Gundega was a Latvian teacher and we were at the Riga Regional Finals of the English Speaking Union (ESU) International Public Speaking Competition. What was I doing there? Well, someone had decided that I would be a good judge. I know, right?

I’d been in disguise all day as a ‘nice person’ which, quite frankly, was starting to wear thin.

Luckily, there were two other judges present to counteract my general awkwardness. A Canadian Latvian girl called Happiness (Laime) and an immensely slappable American Latvian called, yep, you guessed it, Jānis. I presume he had been John when he lived in the States. Maybe too many people there wanted to slap him so he decided to move back to the homeland where there are lots of trees to hide behind.

Anyway, you can read all about my adventures over at The Baltic Times Blog.

Yep, they let me loose there again.



About BerLinda

Adjusting to life in Germany, after living in Latvia for four years. Should be easy, right?
This entry was posted in Expat, Humor, Humour, Language, Latvia, Social Issues, TEFL and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

54 Responses to Judgement Day

  1. 1WriteWay says:

    “I’d been in disguise all day as a ‘nice person’ which, quite frankly, was starting to wear thin.” Sounds like every day at my day job 😉

  2. Kaufman's Kavalkade says:

    So you are pregnant now?

    Hooked you a hottie Latvian and roped him in and hogtied him! Way to go.

    That’s what “pregnant pause” means, right?


  3. I liked what you said about humor although I’m sure it’s hard to come across humorous in a second language. I always wonder what the world would be like if there had always just been one language. Sure, it would evolve over time, but if we all spoke the same. While it may be uninteresting, I wonder how many misunderstandings and miscommunications would be prevented? And no more “lost in translation”. But then, how would culture be affected? Deep thoughts this morning. Lol

    • Expat Eye says:

      Very! I hope you had breakfast before you thought of all of this! My next post is going to be a language rant… 😉

    • Mārtiņš says:

      Disagree. Unfortunately you can meet many people without a sense of humour even in their first language.
      And vice versa – 7th graders sometimes are sparking with humour in despite the fact they haven’t acquired very high level of English. A personality type. Some afraid (like Latvian politicians, many journalists), some are not capable of, some people do afford themselves to joke but others don’t get it. So many serious and sad faces in Latvia.
      Anyway – my point is that it does not matter – first or second language; witty, sharp mind, feeling free, creative, natural is what matters a lot more.
      Listen to Latvian songs. Gosh, how depressive a majority of them are. But there are exceptions. Not everything is dead and formal.

  4. “Another girl, who had talked about freedom of speech, was asked for her opinion on the lack of freedom of speech under Soviet rule, and how the older generations living here were still afraid to speak out, despite over 20 years of freedom. She looked confused for a moment or two and then asked:

    “Are you talking about Vietnam?”

    Words failed the rest of us at this point.”

    I don’t know whether I am grateful that this girl is unaware of how bad the Soviet regime actually was or feel sorry for her. It could also be that I am old (I’m 40) and actually remember what a big deal it was when the Berlin Wall was finally taken down.

    • Expat Eye says:

      I can’t decide either. I feel that people here focus too much on the past all the time, but to think that the future knows absolutely nothing about the past disturbs me too! This might make no sense… maybe you have to live in Latvia for it to do so! 🙂

  5. Maybe it’s kinda off topic… but your “I really doubt that I could have done this at that age – and in a language that is not my mother tongue” made me ask you-

    Do you speak Irish? I understand it’s not your mother tongue (like for most of Irish people, unfortunately) but in general?

    • Expat Eye says:

      I learned it at school but we didn’t really learn it the way English is taught nowadays (to non-native speakers). There was a lot of grammar, vocab, reading, essays, analysing poetry and novels etc, but very little speaking practice. I think I’d find it very difficult to hold a conversation in Irish.

      • And how do you feel about it?

        I mean- in some of your posts you are talking about Latvian language in the way it feels a bit offensive. Why offensive? Because you are comparing Latvian with English- one of top languages in the world by number of users. Same time- you come from the land where the local language is eliminated (let’s be honest- we may say that Irish is extinct). It’s like you are using “killer language” to offense us for having our own- which is still alive despite centuries of attempts by German, Russian, Swedish, Polish.

        P.S. Yes, I know we are not quite the white and fluffy ourselves- we made the language of Livs (lībiešu) extinct and not doing very well with Latgalian either.

      • Expat Eye says:

        You’ve timed this comment quite well. My next post is going to be on English, and how much I love it. It is my native language and when I hear Latvians, for example, tell me that it isn’t a rich language, it kills me.

        From a very young age, I knew that I wasn’t going to live in Ireland. Don’t ask me why, I just knew it. My parents weren’t into the Irish language – my mother instilled in me a love of English and French – and it stuck.

        As for the Irish language, I’ll probably take a hammering from my own people for this one, but I’ve
        never seen the ability to speak Irish as a major characteristic of what makes me Irish.

        For me, the beauty of the Irish people, whatever language they speak, is that you can basically plonk them down anywhere in the world and within 5 minutes, they’ll be talking to people, everyone will feel at their ease, there’ll be music, talk and laughter. That’s what makes me Irish.

      • June says:

        I guess the British were just more dogged than the Russians when it came to stamping out our native language. It’s not that the Irish didn’t put up a fight, we were just overcome after an 800 year struggle. I was lucky enough to be packed off to the Gaeltacht (Irish speaking area of Ireland) when I was only 10, so I speak Irish quite well. I also love Irish music and sing a lot of songs in Irish, so that keeps it fresh in my mind. It’s taught terribly in school and I can understand why many people hate it. You study poems and novels that have no relevance in modern Ireland – you wouldn’t enjoy them even if they were in English. Although I love my Irish I also love speaking English for the very reason you’ve said – we can go anywhere in the world and find someone to chat to. You’re right that having the ability to speak Irish does not make you Irish (and not being able to speak it doesn’t make you any less Irish), but I guess I’m in the camp that loves our language and is very sad to see it dwindle. I’ll do my little bit to keep it alive. I’ve even taught some Irish to my Lithuanian friends! I would call English my mother tongue rather than my native language (I would call Irish my native language), but I guess that’s just semantics.

  6. Baiba says:

    Maybe those kids were just scared or something… I remember myself at that age, just as You said, pure admiration for these young people, ready to stand there and say something at all in a foreign language. I participated at german language competitions (and did quite well actually) back then, but when it comes to the speaking part, I have a black-out there. I mean, obviously I must have said something, right? But i just remember entering the room, then there is this strange fog and then it’s me again, closing the door. And if you are that nervous, you can say anything, even that stupid thing about Vietnam. Well, but on the other hand, you are naturally right about the lack of discussion culture in our schools. Thank you for pointing it out. Food for thoughts. And about humour and all – be careful, where to use it, my literature professot once scowled at me for “using cheap tricks to get the attention of the audience”:)

    • Expat Eye says:

      I agree if it’s just jokes for the sake of jokes – but if there’s a way to make it clever, to make it fit, it can make all the difference. 25 presentations take a long time – if you’ve got 11 in a row that are incredibly wordy, and worthy, the relief you feel when someone lightens the mood is amazing! You could feel it from the audience too.

      If you can do it with wit and charm, and it comes naturally, then do it. If it feels or looks forced, then it’s going to be a disaster 😉 I guess it’s a fine line! Like I said, I really do admire them for doing it at all though!

      I love your German fog presentation story 🙂

      • Baiba says:

        And you are right again about the being natural part. The problem with latvians is – we usually are not the most funny people, you know:)) We are not used to it, our sense of humour is quite different than that of other nationalities. Actually I think we should practice small talk more often, consciously at the start, but after a while it should do the trick. I think it might help to lighten up such situations.

      • Expat Eye says:

        Yeah, I’ve done entire lessons on small talk – they’re generally a bit painful to begin with!! I feel like people are asking questions because it’s expected of them – they’re never interested in the answers or maybe just don’t know how to respond naturally in that kind of situation. I think they see small talk as a waste of time and breath – they just want to get to the all-important AGENDA as quickly as possible where they’re back in their comfort zones again!

      • Baiba says:

        Exactly. A latvian feels truly at home only somewhere in the woods, where the only communication one can have, is with a deer. Or a fox. Actually just like Einstein, who said, that he would like to be a lighthouse-keeper, if he wasn’t a mathematician:) No need for small talk:)

      • Expat Eye says:

        Shame deer and foxes don’t run the world of international business 😉

      • Baiba says:

        That’s true, if your goal is the international business, then you just have to learn it.

      • Expat Eye says:

        And try to look like it isn’t killing you 😉

  7. lafemmet says:

    Brilliant! And the stuff you wrote on the other blog…interesting. Not surprised about the lack of comedy. If they don’t smile they don’t make funnies I guess? Do they they study British English and American English separately when they are older? That is the norm here.

    • Expat Eye says:

      I’m not sure as I don’t teach in the public school system – maybe a Latvian can answer? Most of the books I use are British English, but people here are far more exposed to American TV shows and movies – which unfortunately probably win out over grammar books 😉

  8. Daina says:

    Look at you and your fame – being invited to judge things, and all! Just try to keep your ego in check, okay? 😉

    • Expat Eye says:

      Ha ha, no, the organiser knew nothing about the blog! My ex-boss recommended me – and he’s never even read it 😉 A few of the students recognised me though! I sent the woman who organised it the BT article today and she was delighted which was nice!

  9. Cindi says:

    Great post over on the Baltic Times! I have judged flute competitions in the past, and feel like such a fraud … I admire you for doing this one. 🙂

    • Expat Eye says:

      Thanks! Yeah, that’s exactly how I felt! It was OK once I got a bit warmed up, but in the beginning, I was wondering what the hell I was doing there!! 😉

  10. Excellent article at BT and a very funny introduction to make me go click that one – thank you! Question bit does not surprise me – I think it has to do with a general lack of teaching discussion culture in our schools. I might be wrong as I am making this assumption based on my own experience and some friends kids experience, but the truth is we are bad at asking/answering questions in general. Sorry, I know there will be many who will disagree, but there is a certain tendency to answer something without not knowing instead of simply admitting “I don’t know” or “I have to look into it…”, people will give you answers on stuff they have no idea about just to pretend that they do know (again might be inferiority complex – say, I am not stupid.. even if saying Vietnam makes me look like one 😉 once again – thank you and please stay 🙂 (although I would really understand if you have enough one day 🙂 best of wishes, S

    • Expat Eye says:

      Thanks for the comment! Ugh, my experience of teaching teenagers here is quite the opposite – they’re far too quick to say ‘I don’t know’ without even thinking about something. What do you think about this? I don’t know. Do you agree/disagree? I don’t know. I’ve had a few that I’d swear were part-human, part-vegetable. 😉

      They seem to be good at learning things off by heart but were never taught to question or analyse anything. Those teens at the speaking competition didn’t have the option to just say ‘I don’t know’ – it seemed like it was a first for many of them!

      • well said “They seem to be good at learning things off by heart but were never taught to question or analyse anything.” And this is the core problem of numerous things in our society: discussion culture for example – years ago I was so frustrated that wrote this post http://smartbsolutions.wordpress.com/2011/07/02/on-discussion-culture-in-a-post-soviet-country/ – still think it is relevant in so many ways. I never had the time or energy to write about solutions for this problem – because actually there is nothing one can do about it. And my hope that it might solve itself because kids nowadays are thought differently just faded reading what you say 😦

      • Expat Eye says:

        I look forward to reading this later – on my phone at the mo… But good to know that someone else has noticed!

  11. Judge Linda. Hm, I think there’s a nice resume entry there 😉
    While my school English was rather poor, and that’s mainly because there were no competent English teachers at my school, my teacher of Russian often encouraged me to participate in some Russian language competitions, and just some times I’d give in and say yes. For some one quite uncomfortable with public speaking those competitions were quite challenging, and after some initial freezing I’d go on doing quite fine with my essay, speaking parts, etc. While eventually due lack of often use of Russian I’ve lost some skills, I at least learned to over come my stage fright, and while I’m not a good public speaker, I still learned how to do this, and how to not be caught off guard during Q&A session

    • Expat Eye says:

      Yeah, that’s the trickiest part! I’m not sure how well-informed I was at that age, but if you’re giving a speech on say, social issues, you might want to have a basic understanding of what they are! I still hate public-speaking, despite standing and talking in front of roomfuls of people all the time – go figure 😉

  12. June says:

    We need more details on the “immensely slappable American” – dish, please! Did you sucumb to temptation in the end?!

    • Expat Eye says:

      No, no, I’m a lady (most of the time) 😉 He kept making digs about British humour – even though America is stealing all their sitcoms – and starting conversations in Latvian, even though all the LATVIAN Latvians were speaking English! I guess the Insert Nationality-Latvians returning to the homeland feel like they’ve got something to prove! Oh, and he added painfully slowly – despite working as an accountant for years. (Just typing this is putting me in a slapping humour again) 😉

  13. Ann Koplow says:

    I am glad you’re let loose here, too!

  14. Sweetteamob says:

    Sorry you’ve been found out! I had a similar conversation with my boss not too long ago – good thing I’ve kept things pretty clean!

    • Expat Eye says:

      Ah, this doesn’t really matter – I don’t work with her! Just wanted to be (largely) anonymous for the purposes of the competition! Some of the kids recognised me too though – oh well 🙂

  15. Anna says:

    Linda, DON’T LEAVE US!!!

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