I find myself in Riga, Latvia in eastern Europe and while it’s similar to Canada with its northern disposition and affinity for hockey and basketball, the two countries are otherwise very unalike. Walking around my hometown in Canada would be met with the sights of relatively small buildings with modest heights and space, space for pretty much as far as the eye can see. Conversely, walking in Riga is thatched with sets of evenly parallel streets typical of downtown settings and buildings with fine carved, dated architecture expanding far above your head, built far beyond your time (or your grandparents for that matter). It’s a welcomed scene for a Canadian guy who is normally surrounded by the ever-expanding, but comparatively fresh buildings from home.
The differences don’t stop with the city and its surroundings of course, with cultural norms and behaviours following their own unwritten but established rules. To the outsider looking in, it might even seem like these people just aren’t as friendly, operating on their own wavelengths and at their own pace. Even my limited encounters with some locals had demonstrated their knack for being pretty blunt when something wasn’t funny, pronounced horribly wrong, or just plain stupid- all things I’m quite capable of in conversation, sometimes in bunches! Like when I tried to say a former Latvian NBA basketball players name just my second night here, which was met with a laugh and a comment about how brutal my pronunciation was…
Building from this, I was reading a book that serendipitously coincided with this area of Europe and shared the thoughts of a teacher on these differences, and explained by the author of the book (which was The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***, by Mark Manson- a great read on a healthy, productive mindset that’s worth checking out).
To summarize, the Russian teacher explained that the strong influences of socialism and communism felt by older generations had shaped the social behaviours of the people here (there is a heavy Russian influence in Latvia, and about 1 in 3 people are Russian). Basically, during these times in the mid 20th century, fear became a very real factor in the lives of the people and trust from one individual to another became one of the most valuable commodities. People became motivated to find individuals they could trust, and those who were trustworthy had more value to others, thus having a greater social gain. The teacher explained that the quickest way to build this was through blunt, honest, and genuine encounters in order to show this quality and gain the trust of the people around you.
Flip over to North-American culture and you see such a vast difference, where people often modify their behaviour to be liked more or present themselves differently at home, work, or otherwise. Capitalistic influences and making money and as much of it as you possibly can has seemingly motivated this difference, with people on a cultural level interested in changing how they act in order to maximize success in different ways. As a result, more people native to this continent are more prone to living in ways unauthentic to their true self, with these background influences of society ultimately playing a role in who they are as individuals.
While the first few instances of experiencing this firsthand were a bit of a shock, the timing of reading an explanation on why it’s like this was perfect. With this in mind now I find the difference pretty refreshing, and definitely something possible in learning from. It’s more typical here that what you see is what you get; if you just said something stupid or definitely, totally not their humour at all (ugh)- you’ll know about it. But when you hear something positive, it holds more weight because you know its true and not some BS that someone’s blowing up the back to make you feel better, or some sales pitch to make them seem like they have more value as a friend.
Just some things I found super interesting that got the wheels turning in thought and I’m sure there’s more to it- what do you think?
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