Since I’ve spent most of the last year abroad, first working in a bar in Brussels and now studying in The Hague, I’ve experienced the “Oh, Latvia, yes, I love it. What is that?” situation way too many times. And as now I’m reading and studying about different cultures and stereotypes that people have about various nationalities, I’ve understood that there’s actually no such concept as “a single story” that pops up, when people hear the word Latvia, while it’s quite easy and obvious with other countries.For example:
France – baguettes, Eiffel Tower, wine, Paris, art/US – burgers, baseball, TV shows, Obama, Hollywood / Iceland – Bjork, volcanoes and blond people/The Netherlands – weed, bikes, weed, tulips, weed, cheese, weed and weed/Russia – Putin, cold, vodka, bears/UK – Harry Potter, Landan, The Beatles, the Queen, red buses, tea/Belgium – chocolate, beer, waffles,statue of a little peeing boy etc.
And here’s what people know about Latvia: http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20110111084319AA9IgBo
And here’s what people know about potatoes in Latvia : http://poorlatvia.tumblr.com/
(And before you start thinking that things are that horrible, here’s an amazing example of what people SHOULD know about Latvia.I must admit that we have probably one of the best country image promoting Facebook pages ever- https://www.facebook.com/IfYouLikeLatviaLatviaLikesYou?fref=ts )
Turning back to stereotypes – well, actually it doesn’t matter what exactly each one of you imagine, when you hear about all the other places, but the point is that YOU DO have immediate associations about them, while Latvia is an absolute newborn and still don’t have an international image, that would be strong enough to stay in average world citizen’s mind. I’ve discussed this topic plenty of times with EU parliament people, who used to get drunk in my working place in Brussels and before falling asleep in their suits and revealing high class secrets to me (EU Gossip Girl is still my secret identity) they’ve told me that – yes, they do know many Latvian people and they can show our location on a map, but they still don’t recognize anything specific or unique that would make our country special or memorable. That made me think – is there anything rare and individual that makes Latvia different from others or all we have is just a mix from other cultures and influence of our difficult history?
So, while I still can’t carry around a petite “What is Latvia?” guide book to give everyone, who has the lift – up eyebrow confused “TRY TO LOOK LIKE YOU KNOW WHAT IS SHE TALKING ABOUT” face, when they hear where I’m from, I decided to at least write about it here, step by step gathering everything that makes me feel proud about my country. So – here we go – few things and goods that make Latvia special. At least for us – Latvians.
Let’s start with something short and basic for introduction – the NATURE. Latvia is as flat as a pancake. As a green, flat pancake to be accurate (why green? http://bnn-news.com/epi-latvia-greenest-country-world-47902 ) Some numbers – 45% of Latvia’s territory consists of forests, so if you wake up somewhere in Latvia and you don’t know, where you are, there is almost a 50:50 possibility that you’re in the forest. Yes, we don’t have mountains, we have lovely, little baby – hills, we don’t have tropic jungle, but we do have pine trees on the seaside and so many forests that we could celebrate Christmas by bringing a fresh Christmas tree home every day of the year.
But spending a lot of time in forest, if you don’t speak to animals, may not be that fun. We also have a beautiful sea that turns into a miniature Titanic ice – berg version in winter and gives a refreshing shelter in summer hotness. And a seashore, covered with white sand, romantic people, supersized sea gulls and sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can also find some golden and differently sized ambers washed out on the shore, having a hangover from last night’s storm party with mermaids.
And we actually DO have FOUR seasons – summers so hot, that you have to walk around naked and survive on ice-cream, winters so cold and full of snow that instead of snowmen we could build snowskyscrapers and leaving house would mean turning into a starfish shaped ice sculpture. And then the autumn, when all the trees turn into colors of traffic lights and spring that always comes too late to the party and brings flood as a present, so you can easily go to work by a boat or submarine, wearing a bikini.
But nature is not just an environment for us, we see it as part of our culture and traditions. Nature is a part of who we are. In many Latvian folklore songs we sing about the Wind, Sun and Thunder, forests, rivers and fields. Men must be as strong as oaks and women as statuesque as lindens. Almost every one of us has a countryside place, where we can go and hide from the city, drink fresh milk, climb the trees, help our grandparents with gardening, pick – up blueberries in the forest, just breathe in the air and remember our childhood.
Connection with nature is also physical – while celebrating Midsummer Feast (long story) all the girls wear flower crowns and look beautiful, and if you’re lucky enough to be called Jānis (the most popular male first name in Latvia), you must wear a crown made from oak leaves and look not so beautiful, but definitely interesting.
We also drink and eat the nature.
I remember telling my American friends about the fact that we usually drink “birch sap” in springtime and they were shocked about that:
– Whaaat, you’re making holes into a tree and then drinking the liquid that comes out of it? That’s disgusting.
– What else are you doing, picking up forest mushrooms and then eating them for lunch, hahah?
YES, WE ARE.
It all ended with a situation of me asking for a shot and them giving me a chair and a screwdriver – if I’m so used to drinking liquid from wood, getting a shot out of a chair wouldn’t be a problem for me.
I think I’ve come to a point where there’s too much information for one post already, but I’ll keep on writing next time and turn to the musical part of Latvia – singing.
There’s a wonderful drinking quote by Charles Bukowski and if you replace all the “drink” parts with “sing” – you might understand what singing means to Latvians.
“If something bad happens you drink sing in an attempt to forget; if something good happens you drink sing in order to celebrate; and if nothing happens you drink sing to make something happen.”
Here’s a little teaser video:
And for conclusion, just some general interesting facts about Latvians:
If you got this far – congratulations! I promise to buy you a beer on the 21st of October, year 2043, around 11pm.
See you then.
Any feedback, money or love letters – firstname.lastname@example.org
My Twitter account (in Latvian) – https://twitter.com/paulaaars