My name is Linda and I’m an Irish expat in Latvia. I’ve been living in Riga for just over 3 years now.
As you may know, around 20,000 Latvian people currently live in Ireland but you might be wondering what brought an Irish girl here. After working in an advertising agency in Ireland for several years, I fancied a change and did a certificate in teaching English as a foreign language. I had a vision of my glamorous life in Paris, Madrid or Prague but unfortunately, none of those places wanted a teacher with no experience! I ended up being offered a job in Radom, Poland which I accepted – a girl’s got to start somewhere right? Of course, all of my friends and family thought I was crazy – why would I leave a great job in Dublin where I was earning €50,000 a year, to live in Eastern Europe and earn about a fifth of that? The answer was that I wasn’t happy and I believe that if you’re not happy, you have to do something about it. So I did. Of course, my friends and family were right. I hated every minute of it! I just about managed to survive in the middle of nowhere for 9 months and after that, I just wanted to go to a capital city, ANY capital city.
I saw an ad looking for a teacher in Riga and applied. I had seen Riga on a couple of travel programmes a few years before that and it had been in the back of my mind to visit someday – although I never imagined I would end up living here! Anyway, the interview went really well and I was offered the job, which I accepted. I still remember arriving in Riga, tired and cranky after an early morning Ryanair flight. Half asleep, I somehow opened my eyes just as we drove over Vanšu Tilts and was stunned by how beautiful Riga looked with the sun rising over Old Town. The whole city looked just like a postcard! I knew, there and then, that I had made the right decision to come here.
I quickly settled in, making foreign and local friends quite easily. Riga felt like home in no time at all. However, over the months and years, I started to realise that the big surface similarities between the two countries – we’re both small, green and have troubled histories with our neighbours – weren’t nearly as interesting as the hundreds of little differences. Why don’t Latvian people smile? Why do women wear evening dresses and 6-inch heels just to go to Rimi? How is it possible that one country can have so many stunning-looking women? Why don’t Latvians ever think it’s cold – even when it’s -25? Why does everyone like walking in the forest? Why does anyone like lard and grey peas? How is being hit with sticks after coming out of a sauna enjoyable? Why can’t Latvians see me when they’re walking? Why don’t Latvians use egg cups??
Feeling that perhaps I was going mad and that I was the only one who noticed any of this, I started writing this blog about some of my observations. Never really thinking that anyone outside of my immediate family and circle of friends would read it, I’ve been amazed by the response. The comments I’ve got have been overwhelmingly positive. It turns out that a lot of other expats living here had been thinking the same things and were relieved that somebody had finally put their thoughts into words. The Latvians, living in Latvia and abroad, saw some truth in what I was writing and thankfully found it amusing rather than offensive – apart from one or two people of course! Some of them have suggested that I go back to where I came from. One guy was helpful enough to give me step by step instructions on how to kill myself… Thank you but no – it looks like I’ll be here for a while yet!
Anyway, I’m really happy I started writing expateye as it has opened up conversations with people I never would have had the chance to get to know otherwise, it has given me more of an insight into the country I’m living in and it’s brought new opportunities my way.
So that’s my story – in brief anyway! I hope you enjoy the blog!