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: 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!
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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…