Things of Latvia: Not being kick-ass

Take note – story published 6 years ago

"You can't please all of the people all of the time," Abraham Lincoln said (quoting poet John Lydgate) back in the days when American presidents were renowned for their wisdom, broad reading habits and their way with words.

But you certainly can try.

This piece was half-written and called 'Not being Nordic' but with everyone celebrating Finland's centenary and indulging in one of the occasional bouts of mass delusion during which people repeat "Latvia is a Nordic country", like monks in a Buddhist temple, I decided to change it.

The change was also prompted by a comment on Twitter, reproduced below.

I realise this was well-intentioned and Mr Krūmiņliepa was merely trying to provide me with much-needed encouragement. However, reading the thing to which he linked, namely, ''100 Reasons Finland Is The Most Kick-Ass Country In The World" by a self-described "Yorkshire lad in Helsinki" it struck me that were I to produce some similar example of bullet-point water-cooler brain digestion it would not only be unconvincing but, in a Latvian context, inappropriate.

Besides there is already a far more amusing (and extremely ironic) list of why Latvia is the best country in the world here. If you really want an insight into the Latvian sense of humor I recommend it:

The Finland example is what one would expect: a compilation of behaviors and customs that might be viewed as slightly unusual from what one could call a mainstream Atlantic capitalist perspective. But they are no more than slightly unusual: no genuinely disturbing practices or dangerous Juju.

Mixed among these are a few interesting facts and a fair amount of tourist-brochure puff such as "magnificent Helsinki cathedral" and the climactic "I love that Finns are just way too humble to ever admit just how amazing (and kick-ass) this country is."

It's all written in American International English (no Yorkshireman I ever met said "gross", let alone "kick-ass") to appeal widely, and probably does so. I'm sure it will be re-tweeted extensively, predominantly by Finns.

It also owes a clear debt to the "Badass" tourist poster that appeared in Helsinki last year and was instantly acclaimed by many people as the best piece of copywriting since "Veni Vidi Vici". The "100 Reasons" list is essentially the TV spinoff of the "Badass" movie.

So why no Latvian list, apart from the obvious reason that stopping writing altogether would be preferable to writing a spin-off of a spin-off?

Because if there is one thing guaranteed to cause cringing embarrassment on a grand scale, it is a Latvian trying to be "kick-ass".

There is no more painful sight than an over-enthusiastic Latvian. Probably you have been in the room when such a person, fresh from a motivational seminar in Stockholm, a visit to Silicon Valley or simply a surfeit of Vitamin D tablets in February has given an upbeat pep-talk outlining why the world is becoming better and better because you can now get a WiFi signal in a tree house and because taxi drivers no longer have employment contracts or the right to speak to passengers.

Or there's the friend who has just got back from a trip to Hong Kong and starts swiping picture after ultra-high definition picture of giant neon signs and sweet-and-sour electronic gizmos in front of your face on the iPad she bought far cheaper in Singapore than you can buy them in Latvia, the price still being several times your monthly wage, but because she is some big shot in advertising she thinks everyone is on cocaine-level remuneration packages.

These are the only sorts of Latvians who would use a word like "kick-ass" and when they do so they absolutely deserve the curled lips of contempt and raised eyebrows of disdain with which such utterances will be greeted. Latvians are good at curled, contemptuous lips and soul-withering stares.

It's one of the reasons I like Latvians.

It's one of the reasons the #IAmIntrovert campaign about Latvian writers works. 

It's one of the reasons I like Latvia's forests. You can always escape from the sort of people who say "kick-ass" and in a few places you can even find no WiFi signal, even up a tree.

I fell into the trap. Only 96 more to go.



Seen a mistake?

Select text and press Ctrl+Enter to send a suggested correction to the editor

Select text and press Report a mistake to send a suggested correction to the editor

Related articles


Most important