In Latvia, you can’t win

I try to chat to my mother once a week on the phone and, over the course of our conversations, the blog usually comes up.

Me: So, what did you think of such and such a post?

Mammy O’Grady: Well, it was good, but couldn’t you try to be, I don’t know, a little nicer?

Me: You know I hate ‘nice’. Anyway, it really doesn’t matter what I say – somebody will disagree with it. 

Mammy O’Grady: Really?

Me: Really. I could write a blog about Latvian recipes and, er, cats, and they’d still find something to argue about.

And based on my experience over the last year or so, this is absolutely true. It seems that I really have managed to create the ‘Marmite’ of blogs on Latvia. To all the Latvians who have no idea what Marmite is, it’s a dark, sticky spread made from yeast extract, with a rather powerful taste. The slogan for Marmite is ‘Love it or hate it’. There is no grey area – much like this blog.

HATE it.

HATE it.

However, in the interest of appeasing my long-suffering mother, and anyone else who thinks I should be ‘nicer’ (pah!), I’ve decided to write a little dialogue based on various comments, reactions and conversations I’ve had since I’ve been here – a sort of ‘Linda vs The Latvians’ if you will.

Me: Hi, I’m Linda. Nice to meet you. 

The Latvians: Hi. Where are you from?

Me: I’m from Ireland. 

The Latvians: Oh, Latvian people love the Irish! You’re like our brothers, y’know? Your struggles with the English, our struggles with the Russians. We have a lot in common.

Me: I’d never really thought about it, but yeah, maybe you’re right! 

The Latvians: What are you talking about? You know nothing of the pain and suffering of the Latvian people. Latvia is THE MOST TRAGIC COUNTRY in the history of the whole world – what could you possibly have in common with us?

Me: Oh, OK. So, I guess that explains why everyone here looks so miserable then?

The Latvians: Well, that and the weather. 

Me: Yeah, true. Your weather kind of sucks.

The Latvians: Are you crazy? Latvia has THE BEST WEATHER in the whole world! Cold, snowy winters; hot, sunny summers – why don’t you go home to ‘your Ireland’ and the rain if you don’t like it?

Me: Well, I’m here now… So, what’s life in Latvia like in general then?

The Latvians: Fantastic. We’re over that pesky recession and the rising star of the Eurozone, y’know. 

Me: Yeah, I couldn’t help but notice all the BMWs, Porsches and Audis around Riga.

The Latvians: God, you’re so stupid. Latvia is THE POOREST COUNTRY in the world! Open your eyes, foolish Westerner! Try visiting anywhere that isn’t Riga and then you’ll see the real Latvia. 

Me: Well, I have been to a few places – Cēsis, Kuldīga, Liepāja, Pāvilosta, Bauska, Rundāle, Jūrmala, Sigulda, Jelgava…

The Latvians: You really are dumb. That isn’t the real Latvia. The real Latvia is hidden among the trees of our wonderful forests. 

Me: Oh yeah, the berries and the mushrooms. Right. Anyway… what is it with you guys and all the leopard print?

The Latvians: That’s not us. That’s the Russians. 

Me: I don’t know. I’ve seen Latvians wearing it too.

The Latvians: No, you haven’t. It’s 100% the Russians.

Me: Who’s she then?


The Latvians: That’s the Latvian Minister for Culture, Dace Melbārde.

Me: Right. 

The Latvians: So, how’s your Latvian?

Me: It could be better…

The Latvians: Sigh. Latvian will be very difficult for you. Latvians are THE GREATEST LANGUAGE LEARNERS in the world. Unlike you Irish. 

Me: Yeah, I really should start making more of an effort with it. 

The Latvians: Why on earth would you do that? You should be learning Russian. Most people here speak it anyway and it will be far more useful to you in the long-run. 

Me: But I live in Latvia. I don’t want to learn Russian.

The Latvians: Rightly so. Latvia is THE GREATEST COUNTRY with THE GREATEST PEOPLE in the world. But you’ll never really get to know us. 

Me: Why is that? I’ve tried smiling and making conversation with people but most of the time, it’s like talking to a brick wall.

The Latvians: You smiled? What are you? Some kind of idiotic American?! We Latvians only smile when we really mean it. We are not fake like you Westerners with your toothy grins and your ‘How are yous?’ when you don’t even care about the answer. 

Me: But I do care! 

The Latvians: Pah!

Me: Sigh.

So, there you have it. ‘Proof’ that you really can’t win, no matter what you say. However, if you come to Latvia and you do decide to open your mouth – I advise against it – stick to a simple ‘No, no, please let me pay!’ This is (probably) the one phrase that won’t meet with any resistance.

About BerLinda

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

228 Responses to In Latvia, you can’t win

  1. You are perceptive and are actually communicating well with Latvians to get this comment,”The Latvians: You smiled? What are you? Some kind of idiotic American?! We Latvians only smile when we really mean it. We are not fake like you Westerners with your toothy grins and your ‘How are yous?’ when you don’t even care about the answer. “.I got that statement, perspective said by my mother numerous times throughout my life. My parents were post WW2 migrants to OZ, where I was born. She had me so confused around appropriate greetings as a kid and responses close to early adulthood.

    Until seeing this, I’d started to in later years assume it was her unique personality flaw. Your doing well as my mother wouldn’t ever explain this, like this to any but another closer Latvian. She was careful after when asked “how are you?” in her first year out being corrected by a boss that you don’t say really how you are, just supposed to say fine etc.. Decided it was the convention to do, but stupid as why ask if you don’t want to know.

    Yet ironically they have their own face saving pretences, smiling, highlighting any aytipical positive event etc.,but these efforts are are saved for your inner circle, relatives & childhood friends that where geographical distance lends to for whatever unknown
    reason make you afraid you may be not seen as doing as well or fit the grade of continued contact effort. It actually encourages the not living too close bar your parents re obligation. Hence ,you never get a China town Latvian version anywhere once they migrate.The Latvian drive for some authenticity means being what you feel like, even sharing woes with those who are new or at a private disrance.

    In many ways I get my Latvian origins, but am just as perplexed by them, and suspect they are so in Latvia. What Lativans do enjoy are views and jokes that cue into their idiosyncrasies and your well on track.. . .

    • BerLinda says:

      Thank you! I’m not in Latvia any more though so someone else will have to take over my ‘good’ work 😉 The Latvians sure didn’t appreciate it much when I was there!!

  2. Maria Jansone says:

    I, as a Latvian, found your dialogue hilarious, and most of it is actually very true! xD xD xD I’m sorry for the trouble I’m pretty sure my culture has caused you. Good luck surviving! You’re lucky you don’t have to go to high school there!

  3. Another Terrible Latvian says:

    Oooh, poor you 😀 You really love your whining, don’t you? Anyways, what really is so wrong wrong “nice”? Why is it so scary to you? 🙂
    BTW, I neither love nor hate your blog. I read it occasionally. It is heartfelt, personal and.fresh, and often funny, I love that. It is also quite often egocentric and fatuous, and that is quite tiresome.

    • Expat Eye says:

      4 positive adjectives to 2 negative ones – I’ll take that 😉
      I didn’t think this post was whiny at all actually! And nothing here is scary to me – if I was easily scared, I’d have left last November 😉 Keep reading and loving/hating 😉 Linda.

  4. Ilva says:

    I love this post so much, I keep coming back to it, just to remind myself about the attitude I will be dealing with, when moving back to Latvia after 4 years of living in Western Europe. I’m a Latvian, scared of Latvians. 😀

    • Expat Eye says:

      Ha ha! Just nod, smile and say ‘normal’ a lot – you’ll (probably) be fine 😉 Actually, scratch the smiling part – you’ll just look like a weirdo – or a foreigner 😉

      • Ilva says:

        My mom has a saying: “Everyone is so smart, so smart, you can’t even find anyone to send fuck themselves”. In Latvian, of course, sounds much better, because Latvian is THE GREATEST LANGUAGE in the universe, but you get the point. 🙂

        I’ve been thinking about this for a long time – can I translate your “Me vs the Latvians” conversation in Latvian and post it in my blog with all the references and back links to here?

        It wont help your traffic stats, as currently my blog has almost no readers, but I really want to have this SPOT ON text in Latvian (oh, the great language).

      • Expat Eye says:

        Ha ha! Sure! Take it, no problem! I’m not worried about my stats 🙂 Good luck launching your blog – and be prepared for some abuse 😉

    • Spot On. We of Latvian origins understand how it can be. It’s great to see what we can have been through another’s fresh eyes.

      Though Latvians do have really cheerful times DURING cultural, traditional celebrations and social events with great food, booze, music and talking.

      It’s best if you can avoid or ignore any “so imposed upon carry on” by the efforts of women preparing for such- their way to hope make others-the men- pay for the good time had later.

  5. El says:

    So true… and “it’s the Russians” phrase is actually working in any situation. Politicians are corrupted – it’s Russia’s doing; 100k people without citizenship at all living there – also Russians. Cat made a pee-pee on the flor – well, you know who did it, don’t ya?;) It is quite funny, because it is true…

  6. MXME says:

    100 % True :))

  7. Interesting. Thank you.

  8. Emmi says:

    please people dont be so snobbish. USA is crazy about zebra print nowadays especially little girls all wearing it. and they wear leopard print as well just white/black and purple. Its not that bad actually. besides I kinda like when certain national groups stick to their weirdness ( like the japanese with their crazy hairstyles, Germans with their tatoos and piercings, americans with their flip flops). Wouldnt it be boring if we all followed the same sense in fashion? So latvians keep wearing leopard print otherwise Linda wont have anything to write home about!

    • Expat Eye says:

      It was more that the Latvians always say, that’s not us, it’s the Russians. Then someone sent me that photo 😉 And yes, keep wearing it – life here would be dull without it 😉

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