Culture Shock – The Latvian Way

Everywhere I looked, including the hotel, everything was written in Latvian, so interpreting things immediately became an interesting sort of game. I found myself feeling so disoriented and like I couldn’t remember how to complete the simplest of tasks. I even found myself attempting to get money out of the parking machine thinking it was the ATM!

Laipni lūdzam Latvijā!  (Welcome to Latvia!)

There are many languages in which I feel confident in my ability to interpret well enough to get by in a country – either by foolishly attempting to pronounce the letter combinations or by seeing the word and recognizing enough of it to make out what it means. Latvian is not one of those languages. I tried my hardest every chance I got to speak to a local and ask how to pronounce or say something and today the only two phrases I can remember are mani sauc (my name is) and priekā (cheers!).

As you can see, the necessity to learn the language was not prevalent and our activities resulted in a few priekās! I also found that I am terrible at rolling my r’s.

“Open, honest, direct” is a quote our class used to describe our social interactions with Latvians and I cannot think of a better way to describe my experiences. Throughout our stay in Latvia, I found myself feeling uncomfortable with the body language I experienced a number of times. Latvians tend to stand closer than Americans do while conversing and I’m one who appreciates my personal space – so this quickly took me out of my comfort zone!

Latvians seem to be realists who naturally do not incorporate humor into their daily interactions and don’t typically smile unless there is a reason to. Ha! This was apparent by the lack of welcoming smiles we experienced and can easily be summed up in the fact that each of our classmates approached our gracious hosts at one point in time or another asking whether or not Latvians disliked Americans.

Don’t let the description of my culture shock experiences lead you awry though – I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Rīga and overall enjoyed interacting with Latvians very much.

Stay tuned for my next post highlighting the business climate in Latvia and first hand experiences full of potential!

Lidz nakamajai reizei!

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