It’s time to take out the trash

Last Saturday was ‘The Big Cleanup’ in Latvia. Courtyards or other areas are registered online, you simply have a look at what’s happening in your area, drop them a line and show up. As with most things in Latvia, I’m in two minds about this.

On one hand, I think any event that brings people together and promotes community spirit is to be applauded. Latvians, by nature, are loners. First chance they get they’ll be in their cars and on their way to their country houses. The higher the number of hectares attached to your house, the better. Not because it’s a status symbol, but because you want your nearest neighbour to be at least 5 miles away from you.

On the other hand, what I’ve seen in some wooded areas, parks, and on the streets here is nothing short of disgusting. People seem to spend 364 days trashing the country, then 1 day cleaning it up and patting themselves on the back for it. According to the ever-irritating If you like Latvia, Latvia likes you Facebook page, “the yearly number of participants can grow to 10% of Latvia’s population – proof that Latvians are hard-working and determined to make Latvia the greenest country in the world!”



No, it isn’t. It proves that 10% of the population are willing to pick up a few butts and bottles ONE day of the year. But this year, just to be different, I decided to silence my inner cynic and take part. I emailed the guy organising the one in the city centre first. He emailed back to say that it was actually a closed group of dog owners, who would be mainly picking up dog-shit for 5-6 hours. I was welcome to join them. Right. How to say that I really didn’t fancy picking up dog-shit for hours on end without sounding like a total princess?

It was pretty easy actually.

Next, I emailed the organiser of one of three events taking part in Mežaparks, a rather fancy area on the outskirts of Riga, home to a vast wooded park and Riga Zoo. The residents would be clearing a triangular area of trees in the centre of three residential streets. That sounded a bit less disgusting. If I have to pick up other people’s shit for a morning, I’d rather it wasn’t actual shit. 

With my brand-new gloves in my bag, I set off for Mežaparks. I arrived early so took the time to stroll around the neighbourhood admiring the beautiful mansions. 

2014-04-26 10.17.27

There were so many high fences with gates and security systems that it felt more like walking around a suburb in Johannesburg at times. I had a peek at the wooden signs on the gates to see what wonderful creative names these forest-dwelling Latvians had come up with for their homes. “Angry dog” seemed to be the most popular. Good old Latvians – welcoming as always.

I got a bit lost after a while so had to stop a rather unfriendly-looking man and ask him where the street I was looking for was. I figured I could have been there for years before someone friendly-looking showed up. I accidentally called it Hamburger Street instead of Hamburg Street but he got what I meant. I showed up just as a man was starting to roar at a group of volunteers, telling them what to do. I pulled on my gloves, picked up a huge red sack and got to work.

It wasn’t as bad as I’d been expecting – mainly bottles, cigarette butts, sweet wrappers and condom wrappers. I’m going to be very skeptical from now on when a Latvian tells me they were walking in the forest “picking berries and mushrooms”. Seems to me, they’re more likely to have been drinking, smoking, shagging and eating sweets.

We worked away for a couple of hours, filling the red sacks with trash. It was nice to see children, parents and grandparents all working away side by side. The shouty man organised games of ‘hide-and-seek’ and the kids’ laughter filled the air. It was a beautiful sunny day so there were definitely worse places to be. The shouty man called time and all the Latvians headed off together, probably to Shouty’s house for a few beers. And maybe some shagging and sweets.


About BerLinda

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

128 Responses to It’s time to take out the trash

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  3. 1WriteWay says:

    You ended this post on a positive, happy note. If I had been beside you at the time, I would have taken your temperature 🙂

  4. Juune says:

    “On one hand, I think any event that brings people together and promotes community spirit is to be applauded. Latvians, by nature, are loners. First chance they get they’ll be in their cars and on their way to their country houses. The higher the number of hectares attached to your house, the better. Not because it’s a status symbol, but because you want your nearest neighbour to be at least 5 miles away from you.”
    You do realize that those country houses [“viensētas” — where “sēta” is a homestead, and “viens” is one, single, alone] are where most of Latvians lived until about 100 years ago? 😀 With neighbors 5 miles [ok, maybe not always exactly 5 miles, but still a considerable distance] away? Old habits die hard 😀

    • Expat Eye says:

      Clearly 😉 I just find it a bit mad that a small family will have that much land, that they can’t possibly maintain and have no intention of doing anything with! But then, I’m not Latvian so I don’t get it 😉

      • Juune says:

        Umm, why the can’t or don’t intend to maintain? Over where my family’s “country house” is, most of our neighbors actively farm their land [and obviously live there all year long], and the few who only go there in summer and don’t farm [like my family] lease their fields to the farmers, or have sold them already, keeping only smaller patches directly around the house. I suppose it varies depending on the location, but thankfully I haven’t seen any abandoned fields in that vicinity, or on the way there.

      • Expat Eye says:

        Yeah, that’s great – that’s how it should be! I’ve noticed on a few of my trips though that vast amounts of land just seem to be sitting there. And I’m just back from Daugavpils – so many abandoned houses and farms out that way. Though I know that Latgale is the poorest region so I suppose I should have expected that.

  5. says:

    A day where everyone goes out and cleans up their city is a fab idea. Obviously it’d be good if people were a bit more considerate about their environment in general, but baby steps:-) Also your description “drinking, smoking, shagging and eating sweets” – that sounds like the main activities of most of my friends:-) Your post made me smile, thanks

  6. Kristine says:

    Oh, the Clean-Up-The-Trash day… I like the thought and all, but we should do something about the rest of the year. And there are not enough bins outside the city centre.
    Offtopic: i’m in Latvia for a couple of days, wanted to know if you’d like to meet 🙂

    • Expat Eye says:

      I’d love to but I’m off to Daugavpils today! How long are you here for?

      • Kristine says:

        Only until Sunday. If you’re not back by then, we can meet another time 😉 hope you’ll enjoy Dpils.

      • Expat Eye says:

        I won’t be back until fairly late on Sunday 😦 But thanks! There’ll definitely be a couple of posts on it – I shouldn’t be nervous, right?!

  7. Good for you getting involved with the community. However, your description of the ‘closed dog group’ had me laughing…Like you would need some kind of special training, technical skills, or educational degree to join their precious ‘poop scoop’ campaign!! lol

  8. barbedwords says:

    Haha, that made me laugh that it was a closed group of dog owners. Like they were going to get too many outsiders turning up desperate to pick up crap! Ugh. If I ever get a dog, I’m going to train it to poop straight into the bag 😉

  9. Temp says:

    I think, you fail to understand that people participating in collecting of the trash are not the same who litter the rest of the year. Thus, you wandering “why they do this instead of that?” sounds somewhat belittling of their efforts.

    • Expat Eye says:

      No, I didn’t mean to belittle anyone. I just think it’s a shame that the law-abiding citizens here have to pick up after the idiots who have no respect for their country or the people living in it.

      • Temp says:

        Well, I suppose it’s the law-abiding citizens all round the world who pick up trash left by idiots (be it a paid job or a social initiative). We just might not have that many resources to hire people who would do that on a regular basis (though your assertion that everything here is covered in trash and poop is a big fake (likewise many other of your stories) created for the sake of being “funny” and cynical).
        You just might consider those 20 years you jokingly claim we are behind everyone else are real – we’ve had to survive the 50 years of the communist rule, the rebuilding of our country anew and two economic crises. So, yeah, we are neither that rich nor have that perfect community as people to the west. Yet.

      • Expat Eye says:

        That’s a big ‘yet’. Good luck with that one.

      • Temp says:

        Don’t know why you don’t want me to reply to your last reply, but, oh, thank you so much for your kind best luck wishes! Especially so, knowing how your own people have never had to get over any big yets. Suppose, you think you have forever been there – on the very top of the world.

      • Expat Eye says:

        Ireland is hardly at the top of the world. I have no illusions about the place and I’m sure I could write an equally scathing blog about Ireland if I still lived there. I don’t have rose-tinted glasses about my country – I don’t think there is a perfect country. But if you can’t look at things objectively and talk/write about them, then what’s the point? Nothing would ever change anywhere.

        And I’ve no problem with you replying to anything – I have to approve the comments myself and I wasn’t in last night.

      • Temp says:

        I see problems we have here quite well and am ready to discuss them, to write about them and to act in ways that would improve things. But objectivity is one thing this blog lacks. It’s allabout exageration.

      • Expat Eye says:

        I wonder how much of it you’ve actually read?

      • Temp says:

        Enough to have noticed that you like to ascribe weird behaviours of separate individuals to the whole nation.

      • Expat Eye says:

        So what would you say are typical Latvian characteristics then? What exactly have I got wrong?

      • Temp says:

        Well, why not assume that people in places that you managed to visit in Daugavpils had more pleasing behaviours and that it does not have anything to do with their nationality? How do you even know if a grumpy silent person servising you at a food store is a Latvian, a Russian, a Pole or a Jew?

      • Expat Eye says:

        How many people do you think take the time to ask? They just think ‘wow, that was the rudest service I’ve ever had’ and never go back!

      • Temp says:

        Probably. What I most definitely don’t do – I don’t go to bear pubs, so I cannot comment on the situation there. 😀 People I work with have higher education and are cultured. People in shops and cafes are mostly nice and smily. Years ago some of my soviet time block house neighbours wanted to slip by without returning my greetings but my persistence has changed this too. 😉

      • Expat Eye says:

        Persistence can change a lot of things 😉 I’ve ‘broken’ a number of people in this way also! But don’t tell me that people who go to pubs can’t also be cultured. I can enjoy a pint and also enjoy travel, the theatre, going to galleries/museums, books, music, etc. But I have never been to a bear pub – sounds exciting 😉

      • Paul says:

        “Bear” pub – Ha! I read the first comment and went – naaaahhh, that’s just too easy, like shooting fish in barrel. Just be nice and leave it alone. And then I read your comment Expat – Ha! I guess it must be a pub where the cultured hang out, ’cause no one has ever accused me of being cultured. That’s what it has to be – I’ll have to check out the pubs on line here and see if we have enough culture in our town to deserve a bear pub. Bwahaha!

      • Expat Eye says:

        That must be why I’ve never heard of them either. Hick that I am 😉

      • Temp says:

        Paul – how smart of you to make up a whole story out of a typo. And no, I don’t equal beer consumption to being uncultured. That’s not what my comment said, that’s your own invention. I’m not Linda, I don’t label people.
        Linda – didn’t know that cultured people lough at the expense of others and belittle everything they do. Going to theatres and museums doesn’t make one cultured.
        And your reply system here doesn’t work properly. There’s no reply button after Paul’s comment and I have to reply to my own comments so, in the end, the sequence of the comments is one big mess.
        I’m finishing here and not going back for any last comments. Good luck with your life!

      • Paul says:

        Yeah, Linda, I see you sitting in the bear pub. loghing behind your hand – cut it out.

    • Temp says:

      How about – there is no such thing as typical characteristics? No way two million people could think the same, feel the same and act the same.
      All I know and see around – people are reserved but definitely not rude. I most often get polite service, quite often – service with a smile. Of course, there are some occasional grumpy cats in between,

      • Expat Eye says:

        If it’s any consolation, I’m in Daugavpils at the moment and people are much nicer, friendlier, and the service is better. But I guess they’re not ‘real’ Latvians…

      • Temp says:

        I don’t see any hordes of leopards in stilettos walking around here. Or any hordes of women dressed like whores. Though, you might see now and then someone dressed like that. I even carried out an experiment once – for a whole month I looked out for people dressed in leopard prints. The total count was 3 or 4 women wearing either a scarf, a headband or a bag with a detail of that despicable print (big grin here – why do you even care?). Of course, now that the fashion world people have announced this the print of the season the shops are bursting with it.
        I think, what I don’t like about your writing is that you generalise a lot. I myself being a Latvian definitely don’t answer your description of Latvians. My extended family and friends don’t either. Neither do my more than hundred colleagues both Latvian and Russian who are clever, funny, hard working and always ready to help.
        I just don’t buy the idea “all Americans are fat and stupid. All Russians are drunkards. All French are rude.” And so on. And there have been in the human history (and still are) many more terrible beliefs that have caused the most awful attitudes towards certain nations and races.

      • Expat Eye says:

        I guess we live in parallel universes within the same city then 😉

  10. Omg hax says:

    This cleanup is like Christian confession. Do it sometimes and other time be sinful.
    I prefer using trash cans and not taking part in this show but people think otherwise.

  11. TheLastWord says:

    At first I thought, it was the one day in the year when they took out the trash. Then I read the post. So this Trash Day is like Earth Day, Mother’s Day or any other Day when you take special pride in doing something you should be doing everyday?

    Very fetching – that red bag and the gloves.

  12. Daina says:

    Couldn’t agree more with you and the many comments regarding residents making more of an effort to keep the country clean on a daily basis. However, as with most things, it’s a few bad apples who spoil the bunch. I’m betting that the vast majority of folks wouldn’t consider dropping an ice cream wrapper in a field where there is no other trash. But the “broken windows” theory posits that if people already see trash someplace, there are far more likely to drop more there. Obviously one way to improve the situation would be have more than one clean-up day a year!

    But glad to hear you participated! Paldies from this tourist-to-be who is hoping to see a nice, clean, green Latvia soon!! 🙂

  13. You silenced your cynicism. And then you still had energy left to collect rubbish? You must have been working out.

  14. i think it’s a great idea for the community to get together to tidy the place up BUT I absolutely agree with you that they should not be making such a mess for 364 days a year then patting themselves on the back on the 365th when they clean it up!

    • Expat Eye says:

      Exactly 😉 Latvians love saying how they have one of the greenest countries in the world. It’s only by default as over 50% of it is covered in forest! And a lot of that is covered in filth – recycling etc is a very recent concept here. I was astounded by the number of bins in Germany – here I have one 😉

    • LigaFromRiga says:

      Cannot agree about the litter in the UK. I see people throwing fast food packaging directly on the street at least every week. Have never seen that in Latvia. The worst thing is that parents don’t say anything when their kids do it. I’m not saying they are all British though. And I definitely don’t live in a posh part of town.

      • Expat Eye says:

        Mezaparks is a posh area of Riga and the place that I was picking up was not a through-way for anywhere else! Who’s littering??

      • Actually, you are right about the fast good packaging etc, and my garden seems to collect quite a few crisp packets and drinks cans as we are on a route between a shop and a school playing field. Also, where I live we have a street sweeper vehicle which comes round once a month, and a man with a litter picking stick thing also comes round every so often. So…. we probably are bad for litter, but have more ‘official’ ways of picking it up!

      • Expat Eye says:

        Here we have an army of old ladies who are paid a pittance to pick up after everyone else 😉

      • Antuanete says:

        I guess littering is a problem in London, where due to security concerns (terrorism etc.) there are almost no litter bins, therefore people have got used to drop all trash on streets. Actually, residential neighborhoods in Riga are more prone to street-littering, because there are less public litter bins than in city center,

      • Expat Eye says:

        Yeah, they’re on every second building pretty much in the city centre! And beside almost all tram and bus stops.

  15. lafemmet says:

    We need several of those days a year here! I feel there is a lack of ownership in post communist countries that inspires such apathy. Very sad and dirty!

  16. Bravo to you for participating. You’re so civic minded!
    On the up note, your gloves were so cute. 🙂

    • Expat Eye says:

      Yeah, that’s me – civic-minded to the core! The gloves ended up in the red sack at the end – I didn’t think I’d ever want to use them around the flat after picking up some of that stuff!!

  17. Karolyn Cooper says:

    Well done on taking part in the clean-up. I did something similar in the Maldives, except that it was under water. Lots of scuba divers – on holiday like me, or working as dive instructors – collected rubbish from the harbour. We brought bags and bags of stuff up from the ocean. It was a really satisfying thing to do…but I’m more likely to volunteer in the tropical Indian ocean than I would be in the Thames or the Irish Sea.

  18. Anna says:

    I cannot believe you posted poop. Obnoxious >.<
    Other than that – this post had me go all AWW and soft and gooey inside. Isnt communal labor fun? And look at that gorgeous green and gold countryside! For mushrooms and berries you have to go a bit further out, but it is totally worth it!!!

  19. plianos says:

    I want to comment on the “if you like Latvia, Latvia likes you” comment you made. I really hate that group. Barcelona had an ad campaign a while ago called “Barcelona likes you!” (or loves you, I don’t remember). I think that is what you want to say to people not this bitchy “If you don’t like it here get the –F- out,” attitude. If you are trying to promote a country you have to get people to like you, not threaten them into liking you!

    • Expat Eye says:

      Yeah, totally agree! There’s something a bit menacing about it! I always end up rolling my eyes at whatever they post – talk about rose-tinted glasses!

  20. Paul says:

    That’s such a cool idea – the garbage collection day. It may very well grow one day – at least it’s a start.

  21. bevchen says:

    Karlsruhe has a few days each year where everybody gets together and cleans up. It’s called “Aufraumtage” (tidy up days) I think. I’ve never taken part though, because it always seems to be when I’m at work. Germany is pretty clean the rest of the year as well, but only because the local councils do it. The park behind the castle is a disgrace on Sundays… littered with rubbish (mostly empty bottles) that just get left there until the council cleaners come round again on Monday.

    • Expat Eye says:

      I’m not really sure what the council does here – I guess they take care of the parts that the tourists see 😉 We have a ‘Tidy Towns’ competition in Ireland – one town is crowned the tidiest in all of Ireland at the end of it.

      • Mārtiņš says:

        The tidiest here is Ventspils. There it feels like in Western Europe.
        I’m not sure about now but around 2000 the salaries were higher in Ventspils than in Riga.
        I was also told that the police pays attention if somebody tries to litter or spit on the street. You should go there after Daugavpils.

      • Expat Eye says:

        I’m saving Ventspils for summer. Actually, the only word I’ve heard people use to describe Ventspils is ‘clean’ 😉

      • SommerFugl says:

        “Empty” is another word describing Ventspils :).

      • Expat Eye says:

        Ha ha! I can’t wait 😉

  22. freebutfun says:

    Btw, have you heard about the city cleaning troups in Amsterdam (or maybe some other Dutch city…?) where the boozers “inhabiting” the parks have become a part of a programme where they clean there parks 3 days a week and are paid in beer, a warm meal a day and some sort of pocket money? Can’t remember where I read about it, the article was pretty harsh on the results (“only one has become sober in 6 months”) where as I thought they were terrific: many of the participants claimed to only drink a few beers a day now instead of bottles of spirit and they feel like a part of the society, doing some common good. They also liked the way other people now appreciated having them around. Interesting.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Very interesting! I’m a bit iffy about rewarding them in beer if they’re alcoholics but I guess it’s better than hard spirits as you say!

      • freebutfun says:

        I know, it is pretty controversial… only in Holland…?! What do you think, would there be rush our in Latvia (or Ireland?) if such a programme existed? In Finland hardly but some would turn up.

      • Expat Eye says:

        There are a lot of drunks around but I don’t know they’d be willing to work for it! And the Irish would do a lot for free beer but I don’t know if they’d do that!

  23. freebutfun says:

    Give it time, good things evolve slowly, and that has potential to grow to something good for both the nature and the people!

  24. Diana says:

    “picking berries and mushrooms”!! ha, ha, ha…..that was funny. Anyway….sounds like a really nice day!

  25. I do like this cleaning day idea, I must say… they could definitely do with something like this here in Spain.

    You chickening out of the dog shit mission, LOL! I guess picking up used wrappers (whatever purpose they once served) is more your thing 😉

    • Expat Eye says:

      Yeah, I’ve never owned a dog and probably never will so I just didn’t want to spend my day picking up after people who are too lazy to pick up after their own pets! And they were having a BBQ afterwards as well – I couldn’t imagine having much of an appetite after that!!

  26. I need to hang out in some Latvian forests. Sounds like a lot of fun.

  27. nancytex2013 says:

    On the positive side, you got to clean up the city AND you got a killer workout in. Win-win. 🙂

  28. Anda says:

    I have never compared those maps with places-to-clean-up from different years, but I think that they do change, so it is not like we trash all the year and then spend several hours picking up. Some communities also use this day to plant flowers and improve environment in other ways (paint, build etc.).
    Hopefully the society will trash their (and not only) surroundings less with each year coming. 🙂

    • Expat Eye says:

      Yeah, I think it’s up to the locals to decide which area to do – seems that way anyway. It’s a positive idea, just a shame that it’s necessary. Still, as I said, it’s nice to get the community together like that. Hopefully the kids will remember it and not litter when they grow up!

  29. Lorimer says:

    This tradition of “Subbotnik” started during the Soviet times beginning with Lenin and has remained solid in Latvia.

    • Expat Eye says:

      OK, thanks for the info!

      • Emmi says:

        its a good tradition too. after the maidan events in Kiev hundreds of people went on such subbitniks and cleaned the whole city. as my Ukrainian friends have been telling me people have stopped throwing trash around as well. such events bring people closer together and help them feel united. its all good as long as it has a lasting effect and people dont start trashing everything again sometime later… maybe a few posters here and there with motivational slogans could help as well.

      • Expat Eye says:

        Yeah, you don’t really see stuff like that here. I don’t know how long it’s been going on for here but I hope that it does have a lasting impact!

  30. We too have such a trash cleaning day, as well as Estonians, who I believe started this whole initiative a couple of years ago. While I like the idea of people getting together and doing some community work, on the other hand it’s like ‘why shouldn’t we just do a better job at teaching people not to litter in the first place’? There’s a forest and then there is a forest preserve circling my neighborhood, and both of them are always fool of people walking their dogs, BBQing or just ‘drinking, shagging, smoking and eating sweets’, and for some reason I still wonder how come people are willing to bring all this trash to the forest, but never take empty bottles and whatever else they brought into it back with them as they’re leaving. Empty bottles and wrapping sure way much much less than full ones. So on a smaller scale I have my own ‘Darom’ cleaning time every time I set for a nice picnic, or BBQ in the said forest. Otherwise that would look more a trash diving than a real BBQ 😉

  31. lizard100 says:

    You can be so proud! Nice gloves. Keep them for playing with the washing machine the next time!

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