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Viewpoint: 10 essential facts aboot Latvia

Relations between the leader of the free world, Canada, and the leader of the European Union, Latvia, are getting ever closer, as evidenced by the Saeima's supersonic ratification of the CETA trade deal and a flurry of visits from Canadian ministers. 


At each of these meetings, someone says "...and we're all crazy about hockey!" at which everyone falls about laughing. But with Canadian troops soon to arrive and set to stay for quite some time, we will need more to discuss than our shared penchant for slap shots and icings. 

Talking about hockey is not enough. Plus, there is the danger of it all ending in a mass brawl as everyone gets fully into the spirit of hockey.

That would be a shame, as what we are witnessing in Latvia is nothing less than the rise of full-blown Canadophilia. It is, to paraphrase Canada's everyone-says-he's-a-dreamboat Prime Minister Justin Trudeau "a thing".

So LSM has taken the trouble to identify some additional bonds between our two great nations: one the second largest on the planet (10 million square kilometers) and the other the 123rd largest (65 square kilometers. CORRECTION: 65,000 square kilometers).

This might usefully be printed and handed to Canadian troops to read as they float down to Latvia on their parachutes in order to make them feel completely at home.

1) Eating/drinking trees

Everyone knows about maple syrup. Fewer people realize that Latvians too drink maple products. Indeed, so keen are they on this, they can't even wait to boil it down and put it into bottles that never properly empty themselves onto your pancakes. Instead, Latvians can frequently be seen throughout springtime sucking the maple juice (kļava sula) direct from tree trunks. Those with more patience and class collect it in empty water bottles before chugging it by the gallon. It's good for you.

2) Indigenous peoples

Canada has its Inuits and its other first nation peoples with their own languages and dress. Latvia has its Livs. People frequently claim to have Liv blood from some obscure part of the family tree even if they don't really, to make themselves sound a bit more exotic.

3) A region a bit unlike the others

Canada has French-speaking Quebec with its own proud traditions that nevertheless manages to be a fully functional and energetic part of Canada. Latvia has Latgalian-speaking Latgale region! Basically the same, with the added bonus of Šmakovka (you'll need to get a Latgalian to explain this).

4) Moose

Latvia has that large creature, the moose. Its real name is not 'elk' as some believe but 'alnis'. Latvians revere it in the same way as Canadians by turning it into sausages, ham, jerky, and a range of other delicious products. HERE's a typical recipe.

5) Bilingualism

Pretty much all Latvians are at least bilingual, many trilingual. You'll have to take pot luck as to which languages they actually speak, but you can usually find one for mutual communication. However, Latvians never use their hands to gesture while speaking, as they need to be ready for a hockey brawl at any moment.

6) Beer

Canada is very famous for its mainly not very good beers (Molson, Labatt and Coors, which technically speaking is a Canadian-owned rubbish American beer, not a genuine rubbish Canadian beer). Latvia is not very famous for its mainly very good beers (Valmiermuizas, Bauskas, Tervetes). In this respect Canada's soldiers have really hit the jackpot by being sent here and will probably compete among themselves for repeat postings.

7) Crazy coins

In 2007, presumably after a heavy night, the Canadian Royal Mint decided to mint a coin with a face value of $1 million just for fun. It was made of gold and weighed 100 kilos, which made it difficult to carry around. The Latvian Central Bank also likes to mint crazy coins and has recently produced them to celebrate The Planet Earth, cats in bed, and, yes, beer again. The 'bullet hole' coin may be of particular interest to military personnel, though hopefully it will never be put to the test in any practical sense.

8) Prime Ministers with loose ties

Justin Trudeau has become a fashion icon for slipping into casual mode by having his tie hanging loose from his collar to look cool and unpretentious during meetings. Latvia's Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis does exactly the same thing, albeit without actually knowing he's doing it. We'll leave the Trudeau/Kucinskis comparison here.

9) Eh?

As is well known, Canadians love to add the word "eh?" at the end of nearly every sentence they utter. This provides an excellent opportunity for interacting with Latvians, who do almost exactly the same thing! Their version is slightly longer, being "Vai ne?" but it means the same.

So just think of it as "Vine, eh?" and add it to the end of your sentence. Most people will take you for a local, and even those who sense you are a foreigner will pay you the highest compliment any Latvian can bestow telling you: "You speak better Latvian than some people who have been here 50 years!"

10) Mentality

Okay, it sounds cheesy, but it's true. Latvia and Canada really will make a great buddy movie. Latvians and Canadians may not be the most outgoing people in the world, but they are friendly, modest and do things without a lot of fuss. They'll get on fine.

Compare this with what will happen in the other NATO battalion deployments. The British face the prospect of trying to explain their sense of humor to the Estonians, and the Germans are tasked with working with precision and efficiency to a strict timetable alongside the Lithuanians.

Welcome to Latvia!

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