Reality check

  • 2012-02-02

Dear TBT,

Let’s call them ‘Aussies on holiday!’ (TBT no. 787, Outlook “Lifestyle trumps wealth in Latvia”). Latvia can provide a stimulating, adventurous environment for foreigners; the local population might call it something different. Since re-independence some 20 years ago, they keep coming. Most ex-pats aren’t here for the culture, arts, nature. Some are escaping something, real or imagined, from home. It’s not surprising that a common question from a native to an ex-pat is: “What are you hiding from?”

They complain, ridicule, laugh at the local ways, the food, the often surly service, don’t appreciate the music and culture. They don’t learn the Latvian language. They don’t bother to learn the history, or understand the problems. Many don’t leave the ex-pat community, except to date the local girls, or chat with the bartenders. All girls are fair game: 60-plus-year-old foreign men are known to follow provocative young specimens in the street like hungry dogs following butcher boys delivering meat. With business, many are doing good work here. There have also been plenty of dodgy outfits and scam artists, outwitting even the locals.
It’s a playground for ex-pats. A minority knows why they’re here, and disappear into the background. Some are even more Latvian than the locals. But most are misfits back home, where their outrageous behavior is overlooked only here. One can find 24/7 excitement almost anywhere in the world (but isn’t there more to life?), even in boring places like New York and London. They don’t live a local’s life, wouldn’t submit themselves to the local healthcare system, send their children to the mediocre university system, live in the Imanta or Plavnieki suburbs. It’s more exciting living in the center, where one doesn’t have to commute in, sitting in traffic across Vansu bridge, or put up with the smells of daily struggle on the tram. When the fun runs out, it’s time to get back to reality: just get on the plane and you’re out, back to better opportunity and security. The locals too are working for a chance on that same ladder these ex-pats have happily gotten off.

To these ex-pats: imagine throwing away your passport. Then see how much of a paradise Latvia, with an average yearly salary of 7,500 euros, is, without an easy exit. Those here for a while may find they don’t fit in at home, when they finally return.
Stephan Eberhardt


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