Things of Latvia: Perfect families living abroad

When Latvians move abroad they become perfect and carefree. This is something they would never say out loud, but it is what can be inferred from the tales of those left behind.

These tales are told by parents or grandparents still living in Latvia. The tales are very consistent and can be summarized thus:

"Our children/grandchildren were very clever and ambitious from an early age. They were always top of the class and won many awards. But they soon realised they could never realise these great ambitions in little Latvia and so moved away to make them real. Since then they have done wonderfully well. They have won rapid promotion in a major international company. They have a lovely house in a lovely town. They take regular holidays in exotic destinations. Their own children are very clever, top of the class, just like their parents. They are very happy."

They are very happy. This is the thing that always concludes these stories, and is always the thing that adds a very quiet undertone of something less certain, even as you nod and say "That's great" at the photograph you are being shown of a family hugging each other on a sun-soaked beach or skiing down a mountain, a hundred other content families doing likewise in the background.

They are very happy. Probably they are, and they do not burden their parents or grandparents with any darker sides of their lives overseas. That may also be why they constantly send packages back home containing souvenirs of the charming town in which they live, T-shirts emblazoned with the name of the tropical beach and scarves or tea-towels embroidered with the crest of the Alpine ski resort. These items can be seen in every corner of their parents' and grandparents' houses, and seem like exhibits held in evidence at an ongoing trial to decide whether or not they have lost touch with home, whether they have forgotten their roots, and whether they will ever return.

They are very happy. The evidence is overwhelming in the emails, the photo albums, the letters and lists of how much cheaper and more expensive things are where they live. The cheaper things make a virtue of their value, the more expensive things of the fact the quality is so much better, so worthy of the extra outlay. We can send you some! Even with postage it is worth it!

They are very happy, that is the main thing. While these words are said again, the speaker always has a strange, one might say tearful look in their eyes. It is supposed to be the look of overwhelming pride, both in those who have left, and in those who gave them such a good upbringing that they could make successes of themselves anywhere in the world.

But at the same time there is something about the knick-knacks around the house, whispering the names of places far away, the English-language mugs in the cupboard, the vast gallery of photographs above the fireplace and in the windows, and above all of the way the words "They are very happy" are spoken that makes one think the watery eyes of the speaker often have a simpler and sadder explanation.

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