Laimīgu Jauno gadu! (Happy New Year)

I don’t know if it’s just me, still high off the rum-infused fumes of Christmas pudding, but it strikes me that “laime” or “prieks” (happiness) is most certainly in the air now that we’ve hit 2015.

Despite the crisp, biting -10 (feels like -16) temperatures outside, I continue to experience little nuggets of happiness during my day-to-day here in Riga.

To start the year off on a positive note, I’d like to post a few short examples, so that I can go some way to dispel the self-disseminated misconception that Latvians can be, at times rather miserable.

Yesterday, I had to collect something from the post office, normally a place of great depression and anxiety. Not so in 2015! No sooner than I’d arrived, a helpful Russian speaking chap tried to talk to me. I pulled out my classic one-liners about not understanding, and being sorry (so British, I know) and after establishing that “нет” he did not speak English, he tried affably to explain in simple Latvian that I could collect my parcel without needing a number.

Luckily my loose grasp of the Latvian language got me through, and I was able to drastically minimise my time in the life-draining room of tedium that is the post office. I have to shamefully admit that I was rather surprised at how helpful this stranger was, and as insignificant as it may seem, that really brightened up my day!

Earlier this afternoon I found myself in Stockmann, home to not one, but two nice little moments of happiness. First of all, after fumbling my way through a “sveiki” and some no-doubt poor approximation of the question “is there a box for this?” I had managed to engage a lovely shop assistant in what had become a fairly lengthy one-sided Latvian conversation involving all sorts of information about a client card, discount and whether a bag would be suitable in place of a box.

Again, my poor-at-best Latvian skills afforded me some sympathy and the assistant was more than happy to take things a bit slower and drop in and out of the small amount of English she knew. It crossed my mind that a similar situation in Scotland would no doubt be met with shrugs, grunts and “sorry hen, ah dinnae have a clue whit yer oan aboot, ye’ll huv tae speak English” (Ironic, right?).

The assistant’s enthusiasm, helpfulness and ultimate double-bag-and-tape carrying solution for the cumbersome bin I had bought once more instilled my faith in happiness among the masses.

Downstairs in the food area, positively high on life I took an unnatural turn and figured I’d hand out a small basket to an approaching lady (I’m not sure I’ve ever done this anywhere). We had both looked at the large baskets, and opted to head for the smaller ones.

A confident “lūdzu” as I handed her a basket triggered another one-sided conversation. Initially thinking a short chuckle and a “jā” would afford me the courtesy of escape, it didn’t work. I found myself once-more at the end of a flood of Latvian words, drowning in phrases that I can only guess had something to do with the size of the basket being more than enough since she wasn’t doing a month’s worth of shopping. (Either that or she was talking about the moon). I ended up slowly backing off and chuckling as much as I could muster, in the hope that I wasn’t laughing at the wrong thing, regardless it left me with a genuine smile on my face.

I don’t know if it’s just my perceived isolation as a non-Latvian speaker (and relatively shy and private person when in public), but I find it unusual in Latvia, to experience any real notion of small talk, but now I’m thinking it’s high-time I brushed up on my Latvian phrases for “Isn’t it cold today” and “It looks like it’s going to get warmer later on”. I reckon a little bit more committal chit-chat, and a little less head-down-frowny-face could go a long way.

So I encourage you all to go forth and embrace the happiness in 2015. Take a moment to exchange more than a forced smile when someone holds a door, go the extra sentence or two when buying something in a shop or at the market, or offer a hand (or basket) to strangers, and hopefully it’ll brighten your day (or even year) too.

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