I’ve been told several times that I “smile too much” and that it’s “weird that Americans greet strangers passing in the street.”
As many other Americans are, I’m considered quite loud and rambunctious; the opposite of many Latvians. It was hard to get used to what I felt was a tough and unfriendly society. It was especially tough learning to shop at the grocery store and not able to find a friendly face willing to help me find products. I was literally shooed and told “leave me alone” by a clerk when I held up my Google translated word for “corn starch.”
Kind and Loving
However, after some time and through relationships I made at Communitas Int’l Church, I quickly learned that Latvians are in fact a truly kind and loving people; nothing like what my first experiences led me to believe. With time and conversation, I realized that Latvians are warm, generous people; eager to hug one another and eager to help one another. They may still think it strange to address strangers on the street like we do in America, a minor cultural difference, but the “coolness” I had experienced was not at all representative of how Latvians were in reality.
Proud and Resilient
They are a proud and resilient people having experienced a complicated history with long-standing and beautiful culture running deep through their veins. They believe in community, helping one another, caring for our planet and the people who inhabit it.
If you find yourself struggling with cultural differences when first arriving to Latvia, give it time. Form a personal relationship with a Latvian and don’t let your entire experience be shaped by a few interactions with strangers. You have an opportunity to meet some amazing people and to experience a culture that will leave you wanting more. Don’t miss it!
– Elizabeth Langer