Travel, Teach, Live in Europe and Middle East
Among all the countries in Eastern Europe, Latvia has the distinction of being known as the “singing nation”. Being so dubbed due to the fact that one would be hard-pressed to find a Latvian who has not been a member of a choir or other singing group at one time in their lives, Latvia considers its folks songs its biggest national treasures. Latvia is bordered by the Baltic Sea, and lies between Lithuania and Estonia. The official language of Latvia is Latvian, although around one-third of Latvia’s citizenship speaks Russian.
Once a country that believed in so-called pagan deities, the religion in Latvia was strongly Russian Orthodox by the 1700s. Following Communist occupation, however, most Latvians are members of the Lutheran church, followed closely by Catholic and Orthodox Christian believers. Latvia’s constitution guarantees its people the freedom to worship as they please.
Latvia is what is known as a hierarchical society in that people gain respect through position and age. Elders are looked on as wise, and as such, seniors are expected to make important decisions, whether in a family, business, or government setting. Latvian peoples are formal and reserved when it comes to dealing with people that may be visiting their land, although they are informal and very friendly with their family and close family friends. Self-control is a concept that Latvians practice, and they value their privacy to the utmost. Latvians do not share their personal lives with friends, and they keep personal issues separate from work issues.
When interacting with a Latvian, there are certain rules of etiquette that you must keep in mind. The tips that follow will help you to better assimilate to the Latvian peoples, and help you steer clear of offending anyone:
• A traditional Latvian greeting involves a firm but quick handshake. Make direct eye contact.
• Keep in mind that most Latvians are not eager to smile. This is often taken as coldness when in fact it is not. Latvians have somewhat controlled facial expressions that are difficult to understand if you are not a Latvian yourself.
• Some Latvians greet family members or close friends with a light kiss on the cheek. This is not always the case, however, and you must be on intimate terms with the person to offer such a greeting.
• If a Latvian has an official title, it is very important to the person, so be sure to use it. This denotes respect and regard for the person.
• Honorary titles are often given during introductions. For men it is “Kungs” and for women, it is “Kundze”.
• Never call a Latvian by their first name, but instead wait until the person invites you to do so. Otherwise, you’ll be perceived as rude and forward.
Although Latvians are courteous and polite, they are also very reserved. Most are uncomfortable making small talk with people that they are not familiar with. There are many long silences in conversations. When speaking with a Latvian, be sure to mind your hand gestures and keep them to a minimum, as gesturing with the hands is frowned upon. Moderate your voice and speak softly. Latvians tend to be direct communicators, but they often temper what they have to say in fear of hurting someone’s feelings. Since Latvians demand good manners, avoid criticizing anyone in public, since this will undermine their feelings of good will toward you.