What offends Latvian the most

Latvia : A language without swear words

Latvia, the land of folk songs and wreaths of flowers. Small joke. In the coming months I would of course like to learn a lot more about the small country in the Baltic States. I live on a farm and go to school in Cesis, a city northeast of Riga. I also prepared a little for the country. In terms of food, I have mainly heard of meat, potatoes and mushrooms. That has really been confirmed. My host family has potatoes from the garden and mushrooms from the forest to eat every day. Collecting mushrooms was an exciting experience for me as a city kid, but for Latvians it is a matter of course. Otherwise there is a lot of chocolate and sweet pastries, very spicy caraway black bread and almost everywhere there are raisins.

Why Latvia, actually? I wanted to change my perspective, devote myself to music, learn Latvian - just for myself, because I will definitely never need it again, to feel at home in another country. Latvia, because there are no swear words to be found in the Latvian vocabulary, because it is actually pretty close and we still hardly know anything about it. An example: every Latvian I've asked so far would like to exchange the euro for the lats again. Not only were the lats coins smaller and lighter (“Now the wallet is so heavy, but there's nothing in it,” my host father told me), the Latvians were also proud to have their own currency. Twice a year there was a limited special edition of the lats with different motifs - sometimes a horseshoe, sometimes a Christmas tree. Most Latvians lined up in front of the bank on the day of publication to add the latest to their collection.

Latvia has the widest waterfall in Europe

For Latvians, Riga seems a bit like the center of the world. But in my opinion, Riga is really worth its fame. Almost everything important in Latvia takes place there: politics, culture, tourism. In 2014, Riga is the European Capital of Culture, which is why many parts of the city have been refurbished and equipped with cultural venues such as concert halls and museums. It's really fun to walk through the different districts of the city, so that it wasn't until the end that I realized that my feet were totally sore and I was craving.

But Latvia has much more to offer than Riga: For example, the widest waterfall in Europe in Kuldiga, some baroque or rococo castles, medieval towns and national park areas. In addition, there is a large Russian minority and a lot of snow (but no mountains) in Latvia, but unfortunately also a high rate of youth unemployment and emigration. Music in general, but singing and folk songs in particular, represent a large and important part of Latvian culture. The folk songs are based on so-called Dainas, mostly four-line poems that have been passed down through many generations in Latvian families. Mostly they are about farm life or festivals.

Celies agri, saules meita
Mazgā baltu liepa galdu
Rītu nāks Dieva deli
Zeltābolu ritinat
Translation (roughly):
Wake up early, daughter of the sun
Bless the white linden table
In the morning the Son of God will come
To keep turning the golden apple

Another thing that struck me was how present the Ukraine conflict is here. There is my host family who doesn't talk to the Russian neighbors or the atmosphere in history class when people talk about Russia. Here in my city there aren't as many Russians as in the east of Latvia, for example, but one of the most common topics of conversation is the “Russian problem”. I don't yet know how to think about it, because I haven't fully understood the Latvians' motives for their downright hatred, just as I haven't been able to talk to a Russian about this subject.

This is a contribution from our new youth magazine "Schreiberling". Would like more? Become our friends at www.facebook.de/Schreiberlingberlin or follow us at www.twitter.com/schreiberling_.

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