As regular readers of my blog will know, I’m not easily offended. In fact, thinking back over my almost four years in Riga, I’ve only been really offended twice – and both times were because someone mistook me for a Latvian.
Now before you get your knickers in a twist, it wasn’t the fact that somebody thought I was Latvian that offended me – it was the treatment I received because someone thought I was Latvian. And funnily enough, both times, it was at the hands of a Latvian person, or more specifically, a Latvian woman.
The first time was last year. I’m a member of this expat organisation called InterNations. Once a month, they organise a night out, but they also have a very useful forum for anyone thinking of visiting, or moving to, Latvia. I’ve volunteered to be a local ‘scout’, which means that people can contact me if they’re looking for something to do, something to see, trying to find a job, or just trying to find out where to buy tampons or a blender.
Two Spanish guys got in touch with me last summer – they were spending a couple of days in Riga and looking for a good place to watch the football. I met them in a bar and we got chatting. A little while later, a Latvian girl joined us – I think they’d met her online too. She was charming to the guys, but when I went to introduce myself, things got weird.
Me: Hi, I’m…
Ginta: Which language?
Me: Um, English.
(Of course, I realised later, she meant Latvian or Russian.)
She then sat as far away from me as possible. Over the course of the conversation, she realised that I wasn’t a local – and everything changed.
Ginta: Oh, I’m so sorry for being rude! I thought you were local!
Me: Does that make a difference?
Ginta: Of course! I hate Latvian women!
I get the feeling that the movie ‘Thelma and Louise’ would have been a very different kettle of fish had it been ‘Telma un Luīze’. Telma probably would have bopped Luiza over the head with something, put a brick on the accelerator and gleefully watched her sail over the cliff – before running back to find Breds Pits.
Then last week, I was in a pub – there’s a theme developing here – chatting to a Danish guy I know. After around an hour, his absolute knock-out of a girlfriend showed up with one of her colleagues. The two guys shook hands, so I offered her mine. Denied. I said hello anyway, and pulled her over a bar stool. She took it and placed it right in front of me, then sat on it WITH HER BACK TO ME, effectively cutting me out of the conversation completely. The only way she could have been more obvious in marking her territory would be if she had peed on him.
Luckily, thanks to my new habit of doing pilates (almost) every day, my super-duper flexibility saved the day. I managed to keep myself in the conversation by twisting myself into weird shapes and butting in every now and then. She quickly realised I wasn’t a local.
Gunta: Oh, you’re an English teacher! That’s so cool! I saw this really funny thing online today…
The shame of it was that she was actually really smart, funny, well-travelled… the kind of girl I could actually be friends with. Unfortunately, she had to go and show her claws right at the beginning.
I really don’t understand this sort of behaviour. I could never treat another woman like this – and especially not one of my own countrywomen. And what’s with the about-face? I’m a threat if I’m Latvian but not a threat if I’m Irish? I know Irish women don’t regularly top ‘Most Beautiful’ lists, but I looked exactly the same before and after they realised I wasn’t local – apart from a slightly surprised look. I don’t think I’m a total beast, but I don’t think I’m irresistible either – certainly roomfuls of men manage to control themselves around me all the time. (Hmm, that doesn’t sound good…)
Basically, I’m confused. I know there’s a saying that roughly translates as ‘A Latvian’s favourite dish is another Latvian’, but whatever happened to sisterhood?
So, let’s sum up – the Latvians don’t like the Russians; the Russians don’t like the Latvians; the women don’t like each other; the men are mainly used for sperm-donation and carrying heavy stuff so nobody really cares what they think. If Latvia could somehow harness all of the negativity and hostility floating around and turn it into something useful, like electricity, this small country could probably power half of Europe.