Where have all the Jāņi gone?

While on a walking tour in Berlin, I got chatting to a guy – as I do.

Me: So, where are you from?

Guy: I live in Nürnberg.

Me: (Instantly suspicious) 

Guy: And you?

Me: Well, I’m from Ireland but I live in Latvia. 

Guy: What?


Guy: No, no, I’m from Latvia! 

Resisting the urge to belt out a “Whoomp, there it is!”, we got talking. He’d been living in Germany for a long time and hadn’t visited Latvia in many years. But, as luck would have it, he’d be visiting his grandparents in the arse-end of nowhere in July, after a few days in Riga. To say he was dreading it would be an understatement. He seemed to think that there would be scammers, muggers and knife-wielding maniacs around every corner. In fact, it was the first time in my life that I had to try to convince a Latvian that Latvia really isn’t that bad.

Me: People go there and survive all the time! 

Jānis: Survive?!?!?!?!

Me: I mean enjoy! Love, even! Survive was a poor choice of words. Just don’t pee on the Freedom Monument. 

Jānis: Why would I do that?

Me: I don’t know. 

Suffice it to say, Jānis is never, ever, ever, ever moving back to Latvia. And I doubt he’s alone in this. It’s no secret that Latvians are leaving the homeland in droves – last year an estimated 22,600 people took their leopard print-lovin’, white footwear-rockin’, man bag-totin’ selves off to pastures new. But that’s OK, because Latvia has a plan.

Bustling Riga

Bustling Riga

The plan is that all of the people who’ve left will, one day, come back with their Scandinavian/British/German/Irish/American/Australian “learnings” and save the day. Naturally, nobody knows what exactly it is they will have to come back to. But sure, some will probably come back and stay; some will probably come back and leave again. And some will never come back.

More bustle

More bustle

Sure, they talk a good game – “Oh, I’d move back to Latvia if I could… I miss my home and ‘the nature.'” (Honestly, to hear these people, you’d swear no other country in the world had nature.) But, in reality, they’ll come home maybe once or twice a year, hug a tree, kiss a granny, and get back on that return Ryanair flight before you can say “šaursliežu dzelzsceļš”.

Bustling Daugavpils

Bustling Daugavpils

Of course, there’s another problem if they do come back, and that is that people don’t really want to hear their “learnings”.

Jānis 1: So, how was Ireland?

Jānis 2: Yeah, not bad. The people were really friendly, and the customer service, in general, is great. 

Jānis 1: Well, if you love Ireland so much, why don’t you f*** off back there then? 

You see, people don’t really want to hear that something is better somewhere else. What they really want you to do is come back with your tail between your legs, admit that you were a bad little Latvian, and promise never to leave again.

Bustling Jelgava

Bustling Jelgava

The thing is, you’re not a “real Latvian” any more. If I had a euro for every time someone told me that so-and-so isn’t a “real Latvian” because they lived in such-and-such a place for a couple of years, I’d be… well, I’d be out tonight, not sitting here writing this. A student even told me during the week that Ernests Gulbis isn’t a “real Latvian” any more because he’s lived out of the country for around 10 years.

You can probably win back your “real Latvian” status if you never again mention the other country you dared to live in, never again say that anything is better anywhere else, repeat “Latvia is the best country in the world” over and over again, and basically just keep your head down and accept that everything is “normal”.

See? Isn’t that better? Good little Latvian…


Of course, I’m not a Latvian, real or otherwise, so I’m really interested to hear from Latvians, real or otherwise, on this one. So, a few questions:

If you’re still living in Latvia, have you ever considered/would you ever consider leaving?

If you’re living abroad, would you consider moving back?

If you have lived abroad and moved back, how are you finding it? 

And, as usual, all other comments are also welcome – just not “get out of our country, Irish whore” because well, that’s been done…



About BerLinda

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

212 Responses to Where have all the Jāņi gone?

  1. Antra says:

    I’m one of those seemingly-unusual-but-really-not creatures called a several-generations-removed “repat” – I’m 100% Latvian, born and raised in Canada, my parents also born and raised in Canada, and my grandparents were Second World War refugees. And now I’ve moved to Latvia to live.

    You’d think that the people here had never encountered one of us before – but I know that can’t be true, because I know many many repats like me, and you’d think by now they’d be familiar with our strange accents and would acknowledge that we do, in fact, speak Latvian. But I’d say about half the time I go into a store or a restaurant, and speak to the staff in Latvian, they want to switch to English. Most of the time, when I continue speaking Latvian, they’ll switch back, but I’ve had a number of experiences where a person would continue speaking English to me, while I’d be responding back in Latvian. It’s frustrating to say the least.

    All this to say, it doesn’t seem like people consider me a “real Latvian” here, though that’s what I was raised my entire life to be. And that’s what I intend to be. I believe the only way to change and fix the country is by actually staying in it. That’s what our ancestors fought and died for – to have a place called Latvia where Latvians could be at home, not to have a free Latvia where the only “freedom” many embrace is to run away from it. Sure, there are some things that suck here, but if everyone who cares about having a good life leaves, then it is never going to get better. People should stay and help make it better. People are so shocked when they hear that I moved here from Canada (the promised land to so many)… but I’ve always known that my heart is here, and here is where I intend to stay.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Welcome back 🙂 Yeah, I can identify with a lot of what you say although I guess you have extra ‘validity’ by actually being Latvian!! I get the ‘but why Latvia?’ a lot, and have had the same frustrating experiences when trying to speak Latvian! If Latvians ask you ‘why Latvia?’ so often, you start to wonder yourself 😉 Hope you are really happy here! Linda

  2. Ilva says:

    I lived in Denmark (officially – the happiest country in the world?) for 2 years, studying. Then I moved to Latvia. Because of some things you have also experienced and mentioned in this blog – I got a depression – I took everything people said too close to heart.

    I left that “shit-hole” full of jealous “know everything” people with one thought – NEVER, EVER COMING BACK!

    It’s been 2 more years of living outside. I have lived in England, Greece and Denmark again – Denmark is my home because people here think, speak and act the same way as I do. I love living here, but I like to face new challenges and occasionally move to new countries, because in Denmark life is too easy, too safe, too boring at times.

    So in few weeks I am moving to Latvia. This time with a different view – it’s not home, it’s some strange, little Baltic country with some crazy history, something about Russians…. Don’t know much about the society, the morals, the rules…. but I didn’t know much about Denmark, England or Greece, before I moved there, so….

    So now I am obsessively reading your blog, to learn how to “survive” in that country as a foreigner.

    I can say “šaursliežu dželzceļš” with no problem. 😀

    • Expat Eye says:

      Ha ha! Well that’s a good start! 🙂
      I love Danish people – maybe we should swap 😉 I’ll go there and shake things up a bit, you come here and piss off a few Latvians in my absence 😉 I think they’re going to miss me really, so they need someone to fill the void!

      • Ilva says:

        Last week my roomie (Latvian) said: “Stop reading that blog, you are putting yourself up for a failure. You are preparing for Latvia like it’s Chernobyl”.

        But I’m still loving every post I read – everything is funny, because it’s true…. hmmm….

        No matter what responses you get (I can only imagine), you have to keep up this thing. Don’t you even think about moving to Western Europe – there’s nothing to write about (maybe – cats?). 😉

        Oh, and my Plan B: If Latvia sucks too much, I’m getting married with a Danish or German guy and start producing babies, because that’s what Latvian women HAVE TO do. 😀 😉

      • Expat Eye says:

        Dammit woman, that’s my plan! 🙂 Unfortunately (!) my plan is also to move to Western Europe though so there will only be around 6 weeks of Expat Eye on Latvia to go! But writing about cats – jesus. I can’t think of anything worse. Apart from maybe writing about trees – oh, hang on… 😉
        Like your roomie’s comparison with Chernobyl – she’s got a sense of humour! 🙂

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