A couple of weeks ago, I discovered a funny thing about Latvians. Yes, another one. But first, a little background…
I recently met a couple of really nice Latvian girls – it seems they do exist. While I was out for a couple of drinks with Gunta and Ginta on the Friday night, it emerged that Ginta has a country house (surprise, surprise) not far from Riga. As the weather was supposed to be good the following day, I was invited along for a little sunbathing soirée in the garden. As I’m not often out ‘in nature’, I decided it might be good for me.
I got off the bus after around 45 minutes at the stop I’d been told to. It seemed the only thing for miles around was the bus-stop so it was hard to miss. I called Gunta who told me to start off down a dirt track at the side of the road and she’d come and meet me on her bike. Bottles of wine a-clanking, I did just that. After around 5 minutes, a cheery sun-burnt Gunta came rattling along and led me to the house. The only rule, she informed me, was that we couldn’t go topless as Ginta’s dad was working in the garden. Fine by me.
Ginta met me with a mojito in hand (the best way to greet me), or maybe I should call it a Lohito (Latvian mojito) as it had a distinct Latvian twist, containing strawberries and rhubarb from the garden. I highly recommend Latvianising your mojitos – it was bloody good.
I said hello to Ginta’s dad (who was allowed to be topless) and started wandering around the garden, checking out the fruit and veg growing there.
Me: Wow, so fruit and vegetables actually grow IN THE GROUND? I always thought they came in plastic containers in the supermarket!
Latvians like when you say stuff like this. Probably.
Her dad is quite the impressive man. He’d built the house with his own hands, and a sauna at the end of the garden. He didn’t stop all day, running around tending things, watering things, and doing whatever else it is people who grow stuff in gardens do.
We lounged around in our bikinis, listening to music and discussing the latest trend in Latvian nail fashion – painting one nail a different colour to the others. Every now and then, Gunta would converse with Ginta’s dad across the garden.
Me: Ha ha ha! It’s funny how you call him “Ginta’s dad”!
Gunta: What’s funny?
Me: It’s just funny!
Gunta: What else should I call him?
Me: I don’t know – his name? Or Mr (Whatever)?
Gunta: Ha ha ha! No Latvian would ever do that!
Me: Huh… (This blog post started taking shape at that point.)
After spending a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon in the garden, and amid dire warnings not to write anything bad about the garden, we headed back into town. The trip was blighted slightly by a total jackass on the bus who had a problem with girls laughing and talking on public transport. Needless to say, he got an earful in return. (And then a girl recognised me as Expat Eye, which I’m sure created a wonderful first impression. To that girl: I don’t normally shout at people on public transport but he was a complete asshole. And he was carrying two umbrellas. Who needs two umbrellas? Asshole.)
Anyway, the conversation during the afternoon got me thinking. If I met a friend’s dad for the first time, I’d call them by their first name, or Mr Whatever until they told me to call them by their first name. But seemingly, that would just be bizarre in Latvia. After quizzing another friend on this phenomenon, it emerged that it also extends to other family members; she’d even heard a woman introduce herself as Jānis’ wife before, instead of using her own name.
Now while this may seem appealing initially – after all, you wouldn’t really have to bother remembering people’s names – I’d imagine it could get confusing. Especially in a country where most men are called Jānis.
Me: Hi Jānis’ mum and Jānis’ dad. I’m Jānis’ girlfriend. Nice to meet you. Oh, you must be Jānis’ brother and Jānis’ sister – I’ve heard a lot about you!
Jānis’ mum: Do you have a big family?
Me: Funnily enough, my dad and brother are also Jānis so I guess you could say I’m Jānis’ daughter and sister and girlfriend haha…
(Steely glare from Jānis’ mum)
In conclusion, I think I’ll stick with my way of addressing other people’s parents – even if it does make me a social outcast.