Are you being served?

Just for a change, I think I’ll start this post on a positive note. I have had some great service in Latvia. However, (yep, here it comes), the problem is that service levels here are so woefully inconsistent. When out and about in Latvia, I would say hope for the best, but expect the worst. In one shop, you might get a friendly smile and a ‘Have a nice day!’ as I did today in Narvesen; in the next, you’ll be wondering what you did to make the shop assistant hate you so much as she scowls and grunts her way through the transaction.

In a bid to stave off the usual comments on this sort of thing, I’ve decided to get in there first.

1. Latvians are not fake like ‘you Westerners’. We only say ‘Have a nice day’, or ask ‘How are you?’ when we really want to know the answer.

Amazingly, the girl in Narvesen today was still alive and kicking when I left. It didn’t actually kill her to smile and wish me a nice day, but it did put me in a good mood. And really, why would anyone prefer being grunted at over a cheery ‘Have a nice day’?

2. Latvians are not fake like ‘you Westerners’. We only smile when we really mean it.

A Swedish man I know here was looking for bar staff a while back. Some interviewees actually said the words ‘You don’t pay me for my smile. My smile is personal.’ Sorry love, but a smile and a little politeness is exactly what you’re being paid for. And in a country where the women are so willing to flaunt their bodies, I find it a little ridiculous that a smile be considered private. 

Their smiles are private.

Their smiles are private.

I’m not always in a good mood when I go to a lesson but the student doesn’t need to know that. He or she is paying for a service, just as I am when I go to a restaurant or bar. Leave your attitude at the door and do your job. 

3. The wages here are so low. Why should staff do more than the bare minimum?

You have a job. You are being paid to do it, however low the wages. Have a little pride in that and try to do it well. Just by having a job, you’re already better off than some.

I was once in a Burger King in the States . I know, I know, but there was a breakfast burrito that had been calling to me from the billboards for days and I finally gave in. When she said that they didn’t do tea, only ‘joe’, I probably looked a bit disappointed and headed off to get a soft drink instead. The woman behind the counter called out that she could try to microwave me a cup of iced tea instead. It had a bit of a head on it afterwards, but it actually tasted OK. Even though she was probably on minimum wage, she went above and beyond and I’ve never forgotten it. Here I’m pretty sure I would have got a ‘We don’t do tea’ and that would have been the end of it. 

Good luck finding anyone who smiles like this inside.

Cardboard smiles are OK.

Here are a couple of experiences that I’ve had in the last few weeks:

On Easter Monday, I went to a bar/restaurant with a friend. He got there ahead of me and asked what time they were open until. The waitress told him that the kitchen would be open until 10.30 and the bar until 11. When I arrived, we ordered food and beers. As it was a Monday, and in particular, Easter Monday, it wasn’t exactly packed but there were still a few customers. As we ordered our second beers, she told us that they might close early. Hmm, OK. My friend ordered a third beer and some garlic bread (I was still working my way through my second, probably because I was talking too much). When she brought it out, she announced that we had 11 minutes to finish up and leave.

While we were sitting there, she turned away TWELVE customers who’d shown up, saying that they were closed. Will any of them come back? I doubt it. I know I probably won’t.

Then on Tuesday, I met up with a Latvian friend of mine. As she normally lives in the UK, I had the weird experience of feeling more local than a local. First, we went to the excellent Stockpot on Gertrudes iela. Friendly service, great food and a warm welcoming atmosphere – couldn’t be better. After that, it was over to the equally fantastic Muffins and More for a little dessert.

Why not?

Why not?

On a beef and sugar high, we headed around the corner to a bar. In the distance, we could see a couple of guys sitting on the front steps. I assumed that they were just customers sitting there having a cigarette but as we got closer, we saw the almost empty bottle of vodka in a plastic bag.

As we went to walk inside, one of them lunged at my friend’s boobs. His friend, by default the ‘good’ guy in this scenario, tried to pull him away, while he shouted ‘I just want to get to know them’ repeatedly in Russian. And this was in broad daylight at around 7pm. Naturally a bit shaken, we went inside where I instantly told the barman what had happened.

Jānis: (Latvian shrug) It’s normal. 

Me: It most definitely is NOT normal. You might want to go and get them off your steps before they scare off any other customers.

This was probably the one time in my life that I was willing to wait for a beer but no, he slowly poured the beers and made light of the whole situation.


Maybe for a Latvian, if they go out for food and drinks and eventually get food and drinks, everything is ‘normal’. For me, this was anything but.



About BerLinda

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

138 Responses to Are you being served?

  1. Martin Mannion says:

    A Public message to Linda O Grady.
    A friend recently pointed out to me that you slandered my name on your blog on March the 30th.
    I am the Irishman you referred to in your blog regarding the Internations meeting. Firstly i want to publicly state that you are a LIAR. The conversation was exactly this. I was living in Daugavpils for 5 years with a Belarussian woman and now i am living with a Latvian woman. At no time did i ever mention that i was doing a Russian woman and i am now doing a Latvian as you stated in your blog. Of course i realise why you make controversial statements it is to get a reaction from people. I demand an immediate retraction of this slanderous accusation on my name and a public apology. As a proud Irishman i am ashamed of the fact that you are one of our own.

  2. janis says:

    You know, when you complain so much about Latvians, you are becoming like a Latvian, who likes to complain a lot 🙂 Welcome to the club, but I agree it is hard to live in Latvia and to not complain. Isn`t that some magic circle and answer, why everybody is complaining in Latvia?
    Sorry for English mistakes. I am from Latvia and I have love/hate relationship with your blog, but mostly I love it 🙂

    • janis says:

      Well I wanted to add that sexual harassment is serious thing. Next time you should call cops.If these people are harassing people in the same place and it is ‘normal’ thing, I think cops should be called anyway.

      • Expat Eye says:

        Yeah, looking back, I’m sorry we didn’t. If it ever happened again I would. And this was quite a respectable area so I didn’t expect anything like that to happen there.

      • janis says:

        Well your Latvian friend should still report this case, if she wants. These horrible people will sexually harass more people in future. I am sorry for all of this case.

      • Expat Eye says:

        She’s back in London now. Plenty of oddballs there to keep her busy 😉

    • Expat Eye says:

      Good to know 😉 I think I’m getting more Latvian by the day 🙂

  3. Anna says:

    Wow, scary stories. Very ‘Soviet’ approach to customer service. I must say that since I have been back to Russia, even on the outskirts of Moscow I get generally polite service, and in many places in The Center it is downright American in pleasantness and efficiency. This was not the case even 5 years ago, so there’s hope for Latvia yet 🙂

  4. Richard says:

    The comment above about the lazy Latvian men in Chicago watching and not offering a hand to carry loads for the garden tends to lead me to think that it may be a cultural thing created by mothers and grandmothers who dote on their sons here (in Latvia). The son of my friend here still lives with his mother even though he has a job (a policeman). She is successful in business and works hard to provide for all the family, yet they offer nothing in return. The son lays in bed and calls for his mother to cook and bring him food to his room (he is 25), and if he heats up something he leaves the kitchen a mess for her to clean up, but what most appalls me is if we go off for several days on business he will have his friends to the apartment and trash the place and leave it a mess. And to top it off he contributes nothing to her from his pay, don’t know what a Latvian cop makes but it obviously is enough for a lot of beer, vodka, and partying. Her response to my complaints is “what can I do?” “KICK HIS SORRY ASS OUT AND LET ME SURVIVE ON HIS OWN!” I say. “But he is my son.” I can only sigh – they create the monsters.
    As concerns the general surly attitudes – which I have found is spotty and been fortunate to occasionally get a smile; If I had to work for the low pay they get and had to return every evening to one of those ugly Russian Soviet built tenements they call apartments, with no expectation of any kind of Social Security, or medical assistance, or escape, I’d walk around with a generally sour mood also.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Yes, I totally agree with you that the women here have a hand in creating the problem. They seem to be born with the attitude that all men are useless. I guess when the men hear it often enough, even the good ones give up. Why try to be anything else when you’re only ever going to be a disappointment? I’ve heard it from several of my foreign friends who are married to Latvian women. The best they can hope for is mild disappointment.

      And yes, also to the lack of social security and medical assistance. This country needs a serious shake-up.

  5. Europeen says:

    I’m so proud you have a view of my hometown (Kuldiga) as your title picture 🙂

    • Expat Eye says:

      Thanks! That has been my favourite place outside Riga so far! There are a couple of posts on it – just put Kuldiga into the search box. And let me know what you think afterwards! 😉

      • Europeen says:

        awww, sweet articles 😉 And I even did not know Stenders’ still existed…

        it’s a big disappointment you did not try the naked run (Pliko skrējiens) which traditionally takes place over the bridge on Ligo night… you get a FREE beer at the finish line!!! Priceless!

      • Expat Eye says:

        Oh my god! Fantastic haha! I still don’t think I’d have the ‘balls’ to do it though – not even for a free beer!! 🙂

  6. LigaFromRiga says:

    I have never met anyone trying to grab my boobs on the street. Then again I don’t have much of boobs there 😀
    As for the service – Latvians are definitely not the best people in hospitality. It took me about a year to have the fake smile on naturally and to keep asking everyone how they were even if they looked ok. I’m finally used to colleagues asking that to me several times a day not thinking it’s something wrong about my looks.

  7. freebutfun says:

    Can’t really boast with overly chatty people here either but the boob grabber would have been in serious trouble! Quite a funny parallel with showing the bodies but not smiles though…

    Btw, I thought Prague was pretty amazing for the service too; I found locals so friendly and helpful but as soon as they where working the grumpy faces came up. The best experience was in a tourist info, where I walked in to ask for advice on what is the best way to get somewhere. He grunted, turned his computer around and wondered why I didn’t use google before I left home. After all, he was in the middle of a game of solitaire.

    It’s so weird though, even if one doesn’t like the job they have, then why don’t they try to do the best of it?

    I don find the best thing to do with the overly sour people is to be overly cheerful. It drives them crazy! 😉

    • Expat Eye says:

      And confuses the hell out of them 😉 I guess some people just like wallowing in misery. Making the best of something just doesn’t occur to them!

  8. Europeen says:

    This is not only “Latvian issue”. go to any french speaking country and you will have the same or even worse. also funny that money has nothing to do with service quality, obviously. i have been to very wealthy countries where one-month minimum salary is perhaps four month salary for similar job in customer service sector in Latvia, yet the service is ignorant, cold, uninterested if not rude…

  9. Daina says:

    Sigh. People’s acceptance of sexual harassment and assault as “normal” is infuriating. How is assaulting another human being acceptable?!?! I will say I’ve NEVER encountered such problems in Latvia (and I’ve spent time spans of as long as 6 weeks and 3 months there), but I did have a high school kid hit in the chest while walking past on the street in GERMANY when I was in university.

    As for service, yeah, most of Europe isn’t really known for its smiling and friendly cashiers/waiters/etc, nor for a “the customer is always right” attitude. Interestingly, things even vary quite a bit across the U.S. In the DC area customer service is not as good as in places like the Midwest or the South, where people are generally just friendlier, more sincere and more interested in helping. I think working service jobs can be really rough, particularly because many people do it only because they have to – not because they want to serve fries or coffee for some piddly wage. Additionally, customers themselves can be rude and impatient, and generally treat service staff like scum of the earth. I’ve actually had flight attendants on trans-Atlantic flights thank ME for saying thank you!

    • Expat Eye says:

      Yeah, I think there’s an attitude problem here towards service staff as well, which doesn’t help matters. I’ve spoken to some of the bar staff in Old Town and they said that the tourists are generally friendly and polite. The locals look down at them as if they’re something they’ve just scraped off the bottom of their stiletto. That wouldn’t do much for my attitude either 😉

  10. Mārtiņš says:

    Please, concretise abstractions the places where you had that bad service.
    One suggestion – unless the place is called Maxima, it is worth telling the manager about their staff – be the experience nice, vice versa, or may be they just don’t know some “how-to”. That is one the duties of a manager or owner – to motivate and educate the personnel. I sometimes am not in the mood for “call the manager” phrases then telephoning, e-mailing is a solution. A good owner understands that doing so you are contributing their business, a valuable customer because you care.
    P.S. If passing by “Lidojošā vārde” the art Art Nouveau region, Antonijas street, do pop in for the service and atmosphere.

    • Expat Eye says:

      I love that place 😉 I’ve eaten there often and always found the service to be excellent. The food is very good and not over-priced and they have a vast drinks menu! The outdoor terrace is also great. Do you work there? Congrats on an excellent job if so!

      With regard to your first comment, I did send the owner of the bar an email. I know him and go there quite a lot. Disappointingly, he didn’t respond which I guess says it all.

      • Mārtiņš says:

        No, I don’t work there. I convoy girls there there for a rendezvous every now and then:)
        I can recommend a place if I really like it. And I liked Varde for more than a decade already. The same way I recommended you Labietis when you were hipster touring and I (knew you liked beer). An experiment of taste!

      • Expat Eye says:

        I’ll try to get down there at some stage! They must love you for this convoying girls thing 😉

  11. evanmccarthy says:

    Because of our own cultural particularities, we Americans in Latvia suffer quite a bit from the pervasive lack of a smile and proactive customer service here. I don’t hold it against the Latvians (I realize that different cultures have different norms) but I still yearn for it. The upside here is that unexpected great customer service in Latvia really makes your day!

    • Expat Eye says:

      That’s very true! It’s something I actually come home and talk about when it happens! What’s seldom is wonderful I guess 😉

  12. Boob grabs and booty slaps? Thank god I haven’t experienced that – though my “biggest experience” was in an Old Riga bar where I was with my friend just having an evening chat and beer and a british bachelor party was going on there as well. One of the participants of the party sat down by me and asked if I could jerk him off and if yes, he’ll get me a cocktail. I think i don’t have to say – why I hate these British bachelor parties, where everyone is so drunk they barely walk and I’m not even talking about thinking.
    But yes, I bet there are also Latvians that do boob grabbing – all nations have their idiots.
    About customer service – yes, there’s a lot of work to do, though I’m pleasantly surprised how much it has improved in, I’d say last 5-7 years. I have worked with customer service people and I can say from the “inside” – it’s how the company/restaurant or cafe owners perceive the importance of customer service. If the owners don’t care – employees won’t care. It’s slowly changing and there are more and more places with nice service each day.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Wow, classy British guy…
      Totally agree with you about the owners. It all comes down to their attitude, standards and how they treat their staff. It’s reflected in the service you receive.

  13. Antuanete says:

    Come on, boob grabbing has nothing to do with Latvia. Actually, reading this site I wonder, where on Earth do all this cat calling, wolf whistling and ass grabbing happen? Because I have almost never encountered something like experiences described there, and I have done my fair share of wearing mini skirts in Riga and in my home town 🙂 OK, maybe I’m just lucky or don’t hang out in streets enough to have statistically possible encounters with rude men.

    Speaking of Stockpot, I actually wonder about the fact that some of their staff are really NOT smiling, even though they are friendly and helpful. Linda herself smiles, but some of other girls look a bit grumpy all the time (not that I have issues with that, I’m strong defender of people’s right not to smile :))

    • Expat Eye says:

      I’ll be sure to pass this on to Richard! But I can handle a non-smiling assistant if they are friendly and helpful. And no, the boob-grabbing is definitely not just a Latvian thing! But the attitude of the barman is very Latvian 😉

      • Antuanete says:

        You think that Richard doesn’t see his employees face every day and haven’t noticed? 😀 Apparently, their performance is great, and really, it doesn’t bothers me if they smile often or rare, I just find it amusing that in place which is run by half-foreign owners (and therefore should be all smiling, cheering and otherwise noticeably different from Latvian cafes, right? :P) staff is less smiley than in many Latvian-owned places.

      • Expat Eye says:

        I do find the service in most foreign-run places to be better in general. And the big foreign-owned companies in particular Statoil, which obviously has a fantastic training programme. But at the end of the day, I guess you can lead a Latvian to water, but you can’t make him drink 😉

  14. Diana says:

    Love this post! I am from Texas where we ALL smile all the time. Now I am in Italy where smiling at a stranger is NOT the norm. I know people think of Italians as being all super happy and smiling all the time..which they are…but usually only with people they know. When I go jogging, I always give a little smile and a “good day” to people I pass on the street (usually older ladies with their trolley of groceries….) and EVERY time, they just 1. look at me like I am nuts 2. ignore me.

    The last part of your story??!!? Wow! I guess I thought things were bad in Italy with the men….sounds worse there! Your story was very enlightening!

    • Expat Eye says:

      I get the same with the smiling – it’s pretty easy to spot the foreigners here because of it! They tend to think you’re stupid, crazy or both 😉 Love your smiley photo!

      • Hahah, you just reminded me some guy from India who had a luck to marry my neighbor. He lives and owns some business in California, but twice a year he visits his family in house where I live. Here I have to say that there is a joke in our sad Latvia about my hometown which claims that if you look happy in Jelgava, you’ll soon be asked if you’re drunk or on drugs. 😀 Jelgava is considered very unfriendly even by Latvian measures. Can you imagine poor Indian guy waiting for elevator and saying his “hellohowdoyoudo” to every person who came in? 😀 He looked so confused and unhappy about their reaction – the whodafucisyou stare, that I couldn’t help myself but smile. You can’t imagine how happy he became when finally someone (me) replied classic “finehowareyou”. I thought that poor fella was going to cry tears of happiness. 😀 This whole story was funny for me because I grew up here and kind of love this place with all of it’s imperfections. But to be honest at the same time I felt a bit sorry for that poor guy and every other foreigner who ever walked his shoes. 🙂

      • Expat Eye says:

        Oh no! Poor dude! Maybe he’ll read this and realise that it wasn’t just him! I think some people probably get paranoid about that when they arrive here first!

  15. Mūdzis says:

    Fun fact: there have been research that shows that people whose job demands smiling and displaying a certain attitude – both positive and negative – (e.g. waiters, flight attendants) actually report emotional detachment and tend to burn out faster than those whose jobs does not involve such requirements when it comes to communication.

  16. bevchen says:

    Oh dear.. I can’t promise Germany will be much better in that respect. Weelll, maybe a bit better than that, but smiles are certainly not guaranteed! It does depend on where you go though. Restaurants that have a lot of younger people (mostly students) working for them will usually be okay… older waitresses/bar staff tend to have the mentality “we’re being paid to serve drinks/food… not be nice!”. And one of the receptionists at my doctors is AWFUL! She clearly hates her job and takes it out on anyone who dares make an appointment. The other one is lovely though, so it all balances out. Oh, and doctors will never, ever apologise for making you wait. Not being seen until up to half an hour after your appointment is considered normal here!

    At supermarket checkouts, the staff will be too busy scanning your items at the speed of light and chucking them at you to smile. Discounters (Aldi, Lidl and the like) are especially bad for this. Staff in smaller shops/supermarkets and things like bookshops are more likely to smile and wish you a nice day/weekend. And most people who run market stalls are friendly.

    • Expat Eye says:

      I found the service in Germany to be really good actually – and I’ve visited 4 different cities now. But maybe I was in more touristy places – it might be different when I’m a ‘local’ 😉

      • Emmi says:

        Germans are fast, efficient people. Overall they are not as smiley and happy as the Brits, but thats just their personalities. Yet they do provide decent service most of the time. But in supermarkets they really have to work fast. I actually like how they quickly scan my stuff while I pack it up in my trolley instead of packing it for me in those useless shopping bags. The line in German supermarkets moves very fast. And the smiling/good day wishing has always been there at the places where I shopped when I lived there – lidl, netto, rewe, aldi etc.

      • Expat Eye says:

        I can’t wait to move! 😉

  17. Aw, boob grabbing… def not normal in Spain. Nor is surliness. Though it may be a slow at times…

  18. I am not really sure how to comment! I mean, normal?!?!? Things happen like this all the time?!?! Like the previous commenter wrote, WTF!!

  19. Baiba says:

    And sometimes in cafes they start to put the chairs on tables to let you know, that it’s closing time:) I have really had this a couple of times. But nobody has grabbed my boobs though. Probably because I have masterd the latvian death stare to perfection – it scares everybody off. Although – once a guy slapped me on my backside:) Had no chance to scare him off – the negative effect of the latvian death stare ist that it’s not seen on a 360 degree angle. But jokes aside – finding good service is still a problem in Latvia, that’s true. It’s getting better, but not enough. Although I find Narvesen and Drogas a bit too intrusive. With their – maybe some coffee? Or a snack? And – we have this mascara for a special price today (especially funny, when the customer is a man). And you have to say no again and again. As if you vere brain damaged or something and would not be able to know, that you want coffee. Or not. I know it’s a strategy of the owners, I have spoken to sales people in Narvesen about that, they say, that customers keep complaining about that, but they nevertheless have to keep offering all this stuff.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Yeah, I find that a bit stupid as well. I know what I want when I go to the shop. If I wanted mascara, it would already be in my basket! But a smile, a hello, a thank you and maybe a ‘visu labu’ should be the minimum standard I think 😉 A 360 degree LDS would be terrifying – I’m going to start working on it right now… 😉

  20. What a great courage shown by bartender, hah. We call guys like him – ostriches. They’re OK with any most disgusting thing around until it doesn’t affect them. Guess what’s their reaction when something however hits them? Right – bitching and doing nothing about it. It is a shame but they’re spreading like infection. Right now it’s so many of them in my country that sometimes I feel very manly for doing just average things. Because of absence of men around you should handle this situation on your own by ordering two unopened bottles of cheapest bear. One for boob-grabber’s skull and other – for bartender’s. Well, that’s what I would definitely do after witnessing such a nice performance.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Ha ha, I should have hit him with his bottle of vodka 😉 He had a pretty firm grip on that though… And you’re right about the men in this country too – some guys stand out so much for just doing what would be considered the norm in other countries… 😉

      • Mārtiņš says:

        Medieval customs, swords and knights of the round table, where are you? Or at least Western movie gunfights?

  21. If it were me I think I’d get the hell out of Dodge! That being said, living in Chicago, I hate paying a fortune to park when shopping Michigan Ave. The same stores can be found in the north and West burbs and parking is free. Although the north burbs are considerably closer, I prefer to go west. Point being, 90% of the labor force in the north mall are Russian. They are rude, nasty, women who are also very money grubbing.

    That being said, I think the poison of certain cultures can have a long lasting impact. In this case, the fact that latvia did not win their independence from USSR until 1990. If I had been raised under an oppressive regime, I wouldn’t give a crap either. I think these folks sound pissed off. That certainly seems to be true of Russian men and women.
    I had a Latvian landlord for 14 years. Our kids were best friends. Their daughter babysat my son. We were pretty close. I decided to recreate “the secret garden” in my yard and spent days tearing up the ratty weeds with a tiller. I brought in 800 lbs of topsoil in 50 lb bags by myself as Ivar and his 23 year old son sat on the steps next door watching me and complaining about life! It never even occurred to either of the to offer a hand! I planted 39 varieties of perennials and 400 french tulips. Increased the property value. Evidently after we moved a few years later, the wife dug up 2/3 of it and put it in her garden.
    In the end, I’d much prefer to be on the receiving end of such misery, than be the one subjecting others to my lousy ass view of life.
    As always Linda, you’ve got people thinking. Well done lady!

    • Expat Eye says:

      Thank you very much! Love the story about the two lazy-ass Latvian guys sitting around complaining while you did all the work! ‘It’s normal’ I guess 😉

  22. Kristin says:

    Whoa, really? That sounds horrible! I wonder why they are that way. Do they hate their lives so much?
    I remember my business trips to Prague. A beautiful city, however, I found that service everywhere was really bad, and people were complaining all the time about just anything. They even made Germans appear cheerful and polite, haha.
    Glad you seem to remain your cheerful self. I find it sometimes hard to deal with this kind of negative energy.
    Love the pictures!

  23. MrJohnson says:

    Boob Grabbing is the oldest trick in the book. We used to do it all the time. You get one guy to go for the boobs and the other guy stops him so he looks like a hero.

  24. So, uh, I hope you don’t get harassed too often.

    I do feel that some of the customer service perkiness goes waaaaaay over the top, so I guess it’s a fine line, and I’m sure the line gets drawn differently in different places. On the other hand, I’m also pretty sure the bell curve is not so wide that active scowling gets included.

  25. aliciasunday says:

    Aaah, reminds me of the good old days in British pubs when you’d fork out for a round of drinks then they’d spend the next ten minutes rudely hassling you to drink up quickly because it was closing time.

  26. How can a smile be personal? Does she only ever smile in the privacy of her own bathroom??

  27. lizard100 says:

    On a beef and sugar high! Awesome expression that. Service doesn’t necessarily mean much here. It’s random too. But in a way I like it. It’s very honest. A friend went in a wedding dress shop once. Without an appointment on a Saturday. At 4.30. She was told they were closing and ‘who would buy a wedding dress without an appountment!

  28. Emmi says:

    You know it really depends on a person too not just the nationality. I had a very similiar experience in Subway in Vienna some time ago. After having spent some time in Ukraine and Russia I became and avid tea drinker. They have tea in every restaurant there even McDonalds and I got used to drink warm tea with every single meal. So coming back to the western world I was unpleasently suprized how few places (especially fast food) actually offer anything besides soft drinks. So one day after a trip that lasted multiple hours I was at the railway station in Vienna and I craved a warm meal and a cup of tea. I went to Subway since it was late and it was the only place still open. A very tired girl made me a sandwich and I asked her if they have tea and of course they didn`t. But then the girl saw how lame I felt after the long trip and said that she and her co-workers drink tea during the break so she just fixed me some of their own tea by putting a tea bag and hot water in a standard paper cup – fo free. Of course this isnt the norm, because there were hardly any customers at such a late hour, otherwise she probably would have no time to do this. But still its all about being nice and wanting to do smth for you. Then of course next week at some other subway shop a “sandwich artist” nearly yelled at me when I asked if he could grill the breadfor my sandwich a little longer than usual. Yes the country, system and schooling in customer service really plays the part, but its all about personality. In some poor countries like Thailand Vietnam or Phillipinnes people are probably poorer than Latvians and have lots of corruption, repressive system etc, but they still manage a smile.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Totally agree and plenty of corruption here too. Your Subway experience sounds like my BK one. Just a nice person rather than a trained robot.

  29. Paul says:

    Interestng post EE. My international travelling, as a Canadian, has been limited to China and France (and the US). I’ve never run into the type of service or abuse that you describe. Sounds like they need a few lessons in capitalism. A smile will bring me back to any vendor even if their prices are a bit higher. They should try profit sharing – it works wonders for service.It changes a push system (I get paid to be here) to a pull system (I get paid more when customers return). Thanks for sharing.

    • Expat Eye says:

      A few foreign business owners I know here are trying just that. And it’s working. People feel more invested therefore they try harder. And they see it in their pay packet at the end of the month. Everyone wins!

      • Paul says:

        Yeah, I was in China about 10 years ago as a part of a team investigating the options for a Canadian medical company to build a manufacturing plant there. We interviewed the executive of Shanghai Power, the power company that supplies Shanghai Steel, the largest steel plant in the world. The Chinese were having a serious problem keeping an uninterrupted power supply to the plant (steel plants use humungous amounts of power – this one consumed as much as a city of 500,000 souls). So, they offered an American company (Western Electric, if I recall corectly) co-ownership of the power plant if they could make it work. Western sent a very experienced executive that were native Chinese educated in Ivey League schools. The first thing they did was institute a profit sharing system and pitched the old “favoritism” system. They also provided bonuses for productivity and innovation and semi-yearly appraisals.They put a meritocracy in place and started cross-training. The plant became more and more efficient until, after a few years, it was one of the best in the world. You could eat off the floors and everyone had a smile on their face.The employees were paid handsomely but each one was more productive than 3 of their previous counterparts.Western was not permitted to repatriate the profits, but they invested the returns in other Chinese businesses, generating even more return on their profits than they could in the US. The big lesson is that people really have a hard wired need to do a good job and will if they are rewarded for it. Adding value is a human need and should be an addition to the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. You just have to tap into it and the old style communism did not go that.

      • Expat Eye says:

        Yep totally agree. I can see it working here with the few businesses that are trying it. Great example, thanks. If only the local business owners would take note. It’s all about the quick buck here. A lot of foreign business owners I know are just pissed off at this stage.

  30. TheLastWord says:

    I just remembered that back in the 80’s in Calcutta (or Kolkata as it is called now) I used to hang out / work at this distillery way out in the suburbs. At lunch time all the local eateries would shut down so the owners could go home for *their* and a siesta. I had to catch a bus and travel 30 mins to the river’s edge to eat at a small restaurant that catered exclusively to bus drivers and conductors.

  31. lafemmet says:

    My husband and I were just speaking about this today. We went out for coffee. After a trip to the toilet, I told him it smelled like a zoo. I was quite shocked. the service was quite good. but my husband is best friends with the owner. That may have been a factor. But we were chatting the server up about the difference between service here and in the US. and how much work you must do for how many hours… People are always shocked about that. and we do it with a smile. most of the time. 😉

    • Expat Eye says:

      Yeah, a lot of people here think America is the land of plenty. They don’t realise that some people are working 2-3 minimum wage jobs just to survive. But still doing it with a smile.

    • Emmi says:

      You live in Serbia? how cool! what are people there like? and the customer service apparently sucks there too…. bad customer service is like an eastern european badge of pride. pretty much like the babushkas, mullets, careless driving and the non smiling faces. after being served by an extremly rude waiter in Saint Petersburg years ago I complained to my friends but they only smiled and said – well you re a tourist , so here is your typical Russian experience… its a part of the package deal)

      • lafemmet says:

        Hi. Yes, do you have a blog? Sounds like you already know what life is like here. 😉 It is pretty much the same. Complete with lots of mis-education in the reproductive area…ie sitting on the cold ground can make you barren! If that were the case, there would be no need for birth control.

      • Expat Eye says:

        Ha ha yes! They used to say that in Poland as well except I think it was piles instead of childlessness 😉 Some expression like ‘you’ll catch the wolf’ or something 🙂

      • lafemmet says:

        OMGosh! very interesting. and to be bluntly honest. Baba drives me up a wall having to put something under my but or Munchkin’s when we sit outside. it is positively primeval! Using logic tell you that is untrue. How would we have survived all these years if sitting on the ground was so dangerous! and why would we need birth control!

      • I bet this depends on the place and city. In Moscow I was actually annoyed how trained the waitresses were, that sometimes, some of them were just standing 5 meters from me and staring at my plate so that as soon as I finish the last bite they can clean up after me. I was stressed that I’m a slow eater and they have to wait for me. But I guess it’s the city as the customers were the worst part, not the staff. One “princess” yelled at an Asian waitress because she didn’t have enough salt in her sushi. At one point I wanted just to stand up and slap that silicon Barbie.

      • Expat Eye says:

        Sounds like she was asking for it 😉

  32. nancytex2013 says:

    What a charming, charming place.

    • Expat Eye says:

      What? You don’t like having your boobs grabbed? Isn’t that normal in Canada? 😉

      • TheLastWord says:

        I live in Canada and have never had my boobs grabbed, possibly because I’m a guy. But my wife hasn’t complained / bragged about it either…

      • Expat Eye says:

        I hope your wife grabs them from time to time 😉

      • nancytex2013 says:

        It actually happened to me once, in the Eastern bloc country of my birth. I was 15 at the time, walking along the street with my cousin, and this older boy walking towards us sped up as he was about to pass, reached out and grabbed/squeezed my boob, then let go, then ran off. Classy.

      • Expat Eye says:

        Pure class. Maybe it’s an Eastern/ Northern European thing… 😉

      • nancytex2013 says:

        Must be.

        p.s. did you know you can link your twitter account to your blog? That way when I retweet your blog post you’ll be automatically tagged versus me having to figure out your damned twitter handle on my own. 🙂

      • Expat Eye says:

        I didn’t but I’m rubbish at twitter 😉

      • nancytex2013 says:

        Just go to your wordpress dashboard and select Settings, then Sharing, and then add new on the Twitter bit (add your twitter handle). Your posts won’t look any different. But when someone goes to share your post via twitter, you’ll be attached to the tweet. 🙂

      • Emmi says:

        You know this could happen in any country, from what I know leering at women and even grabbing them is considered nearly the norm in poorer/dangerous areas of latin america. I also heard that in Brazil its possible to come to the beach and hug a girlin a bikini just like that out of the blue. BUT it may also be an “eastern european” thing. In 2012 when some Russian dude called sam nickel wanted to mock Putin in his upcoming elections he played smth like a practical joke. He went to amusement parks and open air celebrations in Russia and told the merry holidaymakers and other partying girls about his idea and suprisingly lots of girls responded positively. He basically touched their boobs in order to collect “positive energy” in his hands. Later he shook V.Putins hand and published a video online called “Putin gropes his female voters.” As he later told in an interview, maybe one or two out of ten girls said yes but still! I doubt this would ever work in USA…

      • Expat Eye says:

        Yeah, I know it can happen anywhere. I lived in Lyon for a year and had some guy wank at me from behind a pillar. Then he jumped back on his bike, rode to the next pillar, jumped off and wanked at me again. I christened him ‘Serial Wanker’ 😉 It was more the attitude of the barman that I found shocking.

      • Emmi says:

        honestly Linda, that serial wanker story is the scariest I ve ever heard. My worst moments would be: a 14 year old Austrian kid in a tram staring at my boobs (I was 21 back then) and trying to ask me out on a date. creepy creepy creepy/ some Ukrainian men at the University in Kiev who openly discussed my boobs near the coffe machine while I was getting my coffe. They knew I could speak some Russian and didnt realize I could understand Ukrainian as well ( they were trying to guess which size I am). and the worst of all – British drunks. After spending 9 months in UK I ve experienced more leering and whistling and staring and indecent compliments from men plus more displays of urinating in public than anywhere else Ive been. so much for the cultured shakespearean Britain I hoped to find… but still I love local people – they are sweet and helpfull (at least when sober=)

      • Expat Eye says:

        Your experiences aren’t great either! I had a few experiences like that in Lyon. In one case, I had to threaten to key a guy’s car (and start doing it) just so he’d put his willy back in his pants and get back in his car. Seeing him run towards it screaming ‘ma voiture, ma voiture’ was very funny 😉

      • Emmi says:

        so that wasnt a one time accident? there s something seriously wrong with people in Lyon 😦 men are apparently too scared to aproach women and say hello, but not afraid to show of their willy…. must be the internet porn influence on the young minds perhaps.

      • Expat Eye says:

        Yeah, there’s definitely something wrong there! We had a lot of problems with Algerians as well but these two guys were white French guys – serial wanker looked like a choir boy. I remember seeing him and thinking ‘well, if anyone dodgy comes along, at least this guy is here.’ Then he turned out to be the dodgy one!!

  33. p lianos says:

    Me: Do you do take away?
    Waitress: Yes.
    Waitress leaves never to be seen again. She must have thought I was conducting a survey.

    Bea: Can you make the Caesar salad without shrimps, I am allergic to them.
    Waiter: No.

    That said, the young people at Narvessen are usually friendly, one guy once told me that today is “same shit, different day.”

  34. June says:

    Boob grabbing and slaps on the bum seem to be the order of the day. Have a read of DeShocks piece in the indo: I absolutely loved working in the service industry so I’ll never understand the service without a smile thing. Sometimes now I go OTT with a big smile and “Thank you” in shops and restaurants. Occasionally it’s reciprocated but more often than not I get “the scowl”!

  35. TheLastWord says:

    I came for the ladies in pink and stayed for the words…. 🙂 My wife and I’ve often wondered what it would be like to visit Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, driven by the travel shows, but if lunging for boobs is normal behaviour on the street …..the mind boggles.

    I agree service with a smile does not hurt. But it does seem to be a North American thing. I’ve been to ethnic run stores where the service ranges from rude to apathetic. That’s not to say that all North Americans are friendly and have great service.

    A long time ago when I was new immigrant I used to buy a weekly bus pass. The convenience store sold these and the store operator was an older lady of Chinese origin with passable English.

    I asked for the pass and she opened a drawer and handed it to me. I had the currency notes in one hand and the ticket in the other when I asked if I could use a debit card instead. In the twinkling of an eye the ticket was snatched from my hand, put back in the drawer and the drawer was slammed shut. I took that to mean she accepted cash only…

    • Expat Eye says:

      I guess so! Wow. Your wife might not like it here much if you come for the pink ladies 😉

      • TheLastWord says:

        no no – I meant I wanted to read what you had to say about the pink ladies. 🙂

        Based on your report, my wife won’t like it there much.

      • Expat Eye says:

        My thoughts on blond women in pink parading through the streets are pretty scathing but I’ll save that for another day 😉 Your wife would have to hang onto you pretty tightly if she wants to leave with you 😉

      • TheLastWord says:

        yeah – I’m not big on pink ladies, in case you were wondering, which you’re probably not!

        We’re off to Paris in a few weeks, for the first time, so we shall see how that goes. All the guidebooks warn of pickpockets, no mention of lecherous drunks. It must be a Latvian thing.

      • Expat Eye says:

        There are probably a few but Paris is so lovely!

  36. If you want to recieve a smile and “have a nice” day in 100% of cases, go to your nearest Statoil. They have best coffee ever. And cashier always offers to buy some snacks with your coffee if you haven’t already picked something out. And even if you refuse to buy those snacks, you will get big smile, and cheerful “have a nice day” on your way out. I leave smiling in 100% of cases.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Totally agree. And Costa is another example of this. Drogas and Narvesen are upping their game but not quite there yet.

      • Mārtiņš says:

        Talking about Statoil and the stuff – they select only super positive people to work in service. And they can be real picky ’cause they pay them ~ € 1000 (they still are not very nice in raising the oil prices the first, reacting to stock market changes, they are the most expensive in Latvia, nevertheless drivers will at least buy their snacks or coffee, without filling up).

      • Expat Eye says:

        That’s pretty good money for LV! I might send them a CV 😉

  37. One of us would like to put a smile on those girls’ faces

  38. Jens says:

    I guess we have all been there, seeing how the staff has decided to go home early and will do whatever it takes to do so. Sometimes I wonder if the owners are actually aware of what is going on or maybe they don’t care either…

    But to add to your list I have tried to have my hand on the door handle an hour before official closing time just to see the key being turned in the same moment. Even trying to tell them it is for take-away doesn’t help.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Just pure laziness. And a bad attitude. I’m sure the staff were probably being paid until 11 but fancied some money for nothing. Normal, right? 😉

  39. Even worse is when you go to a doctor that pretty much hates all human beings and acts just like it. Why would you want to work in services/social if you hate people? Bothers me all the time.

  40. Boob grabbing is normal?! WTF.

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