As a woman walking around the streets of Riga, there are a couple of ‘looks’ you get acquainted with very quickly. As the men here are usually too afraid to look up for fear of accidentally making eye contact with (gasp) another woman, I am, of course, referring to the looks women get from other women.
The first is the now world-famous (ahem) ‘Latvian Girl Death Stare’, which should appear in the dictionary under ‘if looks could kill’. This one is mainly reserved for random women whose only crime is that they happen to be walking around at the same time as the Latvian girl and her boyfriend. The intensity of the look depends on how much of a catch the guy is. If he’s a foreigner, the look will feel as if you just got a stiletto in the guts.
A couple of weeks ago, I was out for a couple of pints with a friend. He had to go home early, so I headed to another bar to see if I knew anyone there. The only group in the bar were just about to leave, so I dithered for a minute or two. Suddenly a South African voice boomed ‘Hey, you’re that blog chick! I love you! Come and join us for a drink.’ Why not? We walked around the corner to Funny Fox, where chat and laughter ensued.
The fun ended when the guys got up to do a number on karaoke. The two Latvian girls with them turned and fixed me with a double whammy of ‘Latvian Girl Death Stares’. One of them said, ‘I’m sorry, but who are you and where did you come from?’ Um, hostile much? Sorry love, but we’re not all as desperate as you are to bag a foreigner. Some of us can actually go out for an evening of fun and conversation without trying to get someone to marry us.
The second look is the ‘Up-Down-Which-Bush-Did-You-Just-Crawl-Out-Of-Sneer’. I don’t know if Latvian women are aware that they’re doing it, or just how blatantly they do it, but this look has the effect of making you feel like you’ve been scraped off the bottom of someone’s stiletto. I walk around Riga a lot. I don’t walk around to try and make men want me and women want to be me – I walk because I’ve got somewhere to go. And sometimes – hold onto your leopard print onesies – I wear trainers.
This is fairly common practice in Ireland – you wear your trainers or flats for the walk, then change into something a bit more respectable when you get to the office. Here, this gets you looked at like you’ve got two heads, or four feet. The other day, after 5 or 6 such looks in a row, I actually ended up standing in the street shouting, ‘YES, IT’S A WOMAN WEARING TRAINERS! DO YOU REALLY HAVE NOTHING ELSE TO WORRY ABOUT? JESUS!’
I recently bought a scooter which has helped with this problem. Now people just look at me like I’m crazy, which is infinitely preferable.
But just in case you’re thinking the Latvians are rather a one-dimensional lot, fear not – there are a whole variety of looks they can pull off.
ieskatīties – to see into things, but also used to describe love at first sight (I wonder how often that happens here?)
lūrēt – a sneaky peek
glūnēt – even sneakier and with bad intentions
bolīties – to stare with the eyes wide open, usually without blinking
blenzt – to stare intensively
blisināt – to blink very intensively while staring (I’m not sure what situation you could use this in…)
miegties – to look into bright light
lupīt – slang word. If you want to be aggressive, ask ‘Ko lupī?’ or ‘Why are you staring at me?’ The next step would involve a lot of swearing or having a fight).
So the next time I get fixed with a ‘Latvian Girl Death Stare’ or an ‘Up-Down-Which-Bush-Did-You-Just-Crawl-Out-Of-Sneer’, I might just surprise you with a ‘Ko lupī?’ and see what happens next. Now I’m off to practise ‘blisināt’ to see what kind of reaction that gets on the streets…