What young people talk about in Riga

From quick exchanges by the office water cooler to heated, booze-infused debates at bars or sitting around a fire, there’s no shortage of intense and deep conversations in our lives. They’re amazing, those planned or unexpected conversations sparked by a simple cup of coffee, cocktails, the right mood or an odd mood.

In Riga, I find we, “young people” (20 – 35ish) most often drift towards discussing current affairs, relationships and sex, our careers and “the future”. So, are we, the young people of Riga any different to our counterparts around the world? What consumes our minds and keeps us up at night? What causes rifts in our friendships or, on the contrary, brings us closer together?

Well, in short, here’s a few things that have kept us talking over the years, in the office, on nights out, nights in, at awkward networking events, on even more awkward and also amazing dates, in person and on the phone.

Career

A lot of us seem to be wondering where we’ll go from here and if there’s anywhere for us to grow. We realise Latvia is a small country and therefore a small market. So, occasionally the idea of moving somewhere creeps up on us.

Some of us peak early, accepting managerial positions or other influential roles, or even founding businesses at a very young age. For some, this works, for others it encourages those thoughts of having to move abroad to advance their careers.

In some industries it’s great to be living in Latvia – the start up scene is booming, there are international companies with Baltic headquarters or outposts in Riga. For others, like young scientists, the general feeling seems to be that there’s a lack of prospects here. We talk about it a lot because pretty much everyone has someone they miss who’s moved abroad.

Family

No one will make you feel bad anymore for cancelling plans because of family reasons. Spending the weekend with your family is totally respected and no one will give you shit for bailing on a night out because you’d rather spend the day with your folks, grandparents, brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews.

Increasingly, grief is coming up in our conversations as we’re losing not only grandparents but some of us – even their parents. We speak about what it feels like when it hits you that you have no more living grandparents. And what it feels like to realise that your parents aren’t getting any younger, and the responsibilities that you feel towards them. Time with our families is precious.

The environment

We try to approach this with humour to avoid admitting how bad the situation actually seems to be. Some of us want to recycle but find it near-impossible in Riga. Those of us who do recycle are skeptical of the system and almost sure that everything ends up in landfill anyway. Every year, we try to make a point of taking part in the national clean-up day or Lielā talka to play our part in making Latvia a better place.

We ride our bikes with pride, taking part in critical masses, yet dream of having cars and love low cost airlines.

And there’s a lot of debate around going vegetarian or vegan. Most people seem to know and be annoyed by at least one smug kind of vegan who consumes Californian-grown almond milk and Peruvian avocadoes in the Northern Hemisphere yet still goes around trying to convince people that they’re saving the world.

Media

We wonder whose story we should believe and if any reporting is legitimately objective. What does it even mean to be objective? The narrative differs so much from one media outlet to another. Here, we really feel the divide between the Latvian media and the Russian and Russian-speaking media environment, each trying to convince us of a different truth.

Politics

Plenty of hot topics recently. No matter how many times we swear never to talk about it ever again for the sake of avoiding conflict, we still end up debating over migration and the refugee crisis, Russia, Brexit and Trump.

International affairs is one thing but last year’s municipal elections made me realise just how divided we are. Out of my closest group of friends, very few of us voted for the same party. Since we’re friends, we obviously have a fair bit in common, similar educational backgrounds and interests, yet politically we’re far from seeing eye to eye. We’ve argued over the “right” way to celebrate 9th May, how refugees and economic migrants aren’t one and the same, and whether fighting corruption should be the key message of a political campaign.

In terms of getting involved in politics, a common phrase is “I don’t feel up for the fight”. There’s a clear lack of belief in being able to actually change or affect the flow of events and policies. Politics in Latvia doesn’t seem like a prestigious career choice.

Relationships

Marriages are happening, dramatic break ups are happening, kids are appearing. It can go from talking about babies’ sleeping patterns to Tinder dates in one night.

Then there’s the big question of whether to have kids or not. Some couples around me have made a conscious choice not to have kids and others are leaving it for later. One engaged friend is so fed up of having to justify her decision not to have kids that she’s thinking of starting to say that she can’t have kids to make people stop and think about how that’s not a given.

Most singles openly admit to being on Tinder, it’s not a taboo. We help each other through the inevitable weird experiences and break ups. Bedroom antics are a tricky one – some people are super open, others are super secretive, so it can be a bit awkward in groups. If it’s just a couple of the girls, tea or wine can lead to very detailed conversations a la Sex and the City.

The future

Some of us feel like we know what we want from life while others are embracing or fearing whatever’s next.

Money concerns seem to come up quite a lot as we learn to navigate our way through the tax system and filing our annual tax declarations.

More and more people seem to have come to terms with the fact that we won’t have state pensions by the time we retire. Those who can afford a private pension plan have one, a privileged few invest in property, others admit that their kids are their pension plan.

In general, there seem to be a lot more conversations that you genuinely treasure. Whether it’s an accidental half-hour gossip sesh in the office bathroom or a late night party ramble when you think you’re being really deep, you end up remembering them more often.

What’s been most relevant to you and your friends lately?

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