In my (almost) four years here in Latvia, I feel like I’ve got to the bottom of a lot of riddles concerning this land and its people. However, there are some things that still mystify me, even after all this time. So, as my reign here is coming to an end, I thought I’d put them out there and see if anyone can give my poor tired mind a rest. Here goes.
1. Why does almost every man in Riga carry a man bag, and what’s in it?
Recent weeks have taught me (the hard way) that they definitely do not contain any deodorant, so I’m genuinely curious.
2. Why do Latvians wear the same clothes for days on end?
Unlike your average woman, I rarely notice what people wear – I know, I know, but it’s true. However, when my students keep coming to lessons in the same clothes, I notice. At first, I just thought, “Oh, it’s his ‘Tuesday/Thursday’ or ‘Monday/Wednesday’ jumper…”, then I realised it was probably his ‘every day’ jumper.
An ex-colleague and I were delighted when our miserable boss showed up in the same dress two days running – dirty stop-out. But when she showed up in the same dress every day for the rest of the week, still looking as miserable as ever, we realised that she hadn’t got lucky, she’d just got a new dress and was wearing the bejesus out of it.
Another guy I know seems to only have a summer outfit and a winter outfit. Day in, day out, he wears the same clothes. I’m not sure how many sets of the exact same outfit he has, but I really hope it’s more than one.
3. Why do the old people in my building scream at each other through their open windows?
In the good old days, when I had time to take a nap in the afternoon, I was generally rudely awakened by the shrieking old biddies in my block having a conversation at a decibel level that made me fear for the safety of my wine glasses. Why, WHY can’t they just go to each other’s apartments and have a conversation over a nice cup of tea and a slice of cake
like normal people? (I crossed out ‘normal’ because it has a different meaning in Latvia.)
4. How can a Latvian go into a café and not order anything?
Or worse, bring their own food? How anyone can walk past the counter, sit down, and then take a yogurt and a banana out of their bags without ordering anything from the establishment they’re taking up space in is beyond me.
5. How is this an acceptable way to board a train?
Just to give you a little perspective, the top step is roughly shoulder-level on me. The height of each step is ankle-knee distance. I have to hold onto the railings on either side and haul myself onto the train (très elegant in a short summer dress), then cling to the railings and gingerly side-step down, as the steps aren’t wide enough to actually keep your feet straight. How people in their twilight years do it baffles me.
6. Why is it the law to keep your headlights on all day?
Yet using indicators seems to be optional, and playing Candy Crush while laughing at the notion of a speed limit obligatory.
7. Why do parents not discipline their children when they’re being brats in public?
I remember feeling slightly miffed in Ireland when some mother would say “Move out of the nice lady’s way” or “Apologise to the nice lady for almost crushing every bone in her foot”. You see, I still think of myself as a girl – delusional, I know. However, in Latvia, I’ve had kids ride roughshod over me with not a word of reprimand from their parents. And while I’d like to blame the little
bastards darlings, the buck stops with the parents. Oh, to be called a “nice lady” here, just once…
8. Why do a lot of women wear shoes that are too small for them?
OK, this is a weird one, I know, but seriously, look at women’s feet the next time you’re out and about – 8 out of 10 times, their heels will be hanging off the end of their sandals or flip-flops…
9. Why do Latvians never have their wallets ready?
You’re behind a Latvian in the queue at Rimi. They stand there watching as the shop assistant beeps through their terrifying-looking fish, kefirs and biezpiens. There’s a pause as the last item hits the bottom of the conveyor belt, and THEN, the Latvian will start rooting around for their wallet.
10. Why do Latvians like standing so much?
When I’m on public transport, I like to sit. If I have to stand, I’m always ready to dart for the first seat that becomes available. Not so your average Latvian. If a seat becomes free, they’ll just stand beside it, effectively blocking anyone else from taking it either.
And finally, just why?