Monday, 1 August 2011

Cultural quandaries

Our village is getting a new hydroelectric
plant - not sure if it replaces the old one or is
in addition to it but the river has been
dredged in preparation. Before it was
dredged I went to get some water mint from
the riverside. I am so pleased I did as the rest
is now under gravel. Wonder what else was
lost under that and did they do an
environmental assessment first?
Culture is a funny thing and cultural expectations are so varied that it is difficult to know what to do sometimes, especially in a different country. Mind you culture and traditions even varies from family to family. In England if someone called in at our house, the first thing we would have done is offered a tea or a coffee and we loved it when people called round unexpectedly, we just loved having visitors. Some people though didn't like unexpected visitors and liked to be phoned beforehand or an appointment arranged. We found it quite hard in Denmark that we had to arrange weeks in advance to see someone, it was rare for a spontaneous event, although I did have one friend who loved unexpected visits, but she had a huge family so she needed to expect the unexpected. Having said that it was usually because families we knew were quite close to relatives and spare time was spent at their homes or having family visit them. In America it was more usual to arrange a meeting at a restaurant, but thankfully I did have a friend who loved to be visited and she lived miles out in the countryside and would always have the kettle on when I arrived.

This is the drained lake, it used to go to the trees and will
do again once they have finished the work on the plant
Here in Latvia, people are lovely but often not very confident and so it has taken us time to get to know people which is fine, I can understand that. It was therefore surprising that one lady we had got to know commented that we passed her house frequently but never stopped for a coffee. We did not expect that we could just drop by, except maybe to ask a question, maybe it is not even very Latvian. The problem is that usually it is just Ian that passes as he travels back from the land, and when it is both of us we can be rather tired, hot and sweaty - not the kind of state where you want to drop by and take a coffee, even if someone says it is okay. However the offer was made and so we decided one evening to call in and spent a lovely evening chatting and drinking tea outside on the patio. I sure think we shall be doing that again sometime soon.

This is the funnel through which the water
will flow
Other things that vary are superstitions. Here in Latvia you cannot give a gift of something that grows, you have to accept payment or it won't grow according to superstition. Shaking hands across a threshold is also to be avoided. It does make you wonder where such superstitions arise from. I remember in England there was a guy who had come to take a look at the house, I can't remember if it was pricing it up to sell or rent and after taking a look around inside we went out the back door and he had a look up the garden, but he would not leave the premises by walking around the house, he insisted on coming back in and leaving by the same door he had entered in by - he said it was bad luck otherwise. I hadn't noticed this work of bad luck personally and would hardly even take notice if I left by a different door to the one we entered. Neither had I noticed that things died that I had been given and I have been given many plants in my time that seem to have thrived even though they were gifts, okay I probably killed one or two in the process but the majority survived. I have to say there is one superstition that I am always hesitant to break and that is walking under a ladder, but to me that is plain common sense, as I always check to see if there is anyone up there before deciding whether to walk around it or under it.

A view from the tractor of our cutting
We have been highly entertained this week with the antics of the young boys who live in the other apartments. They have been having a whale of a time (where does that phrase come from to mean having a fantastic time?) in the sand pit, as they have had the delivery of more sand and they have been digging big holes and filling it up with water, first carried from the pond which must have been hard work, and then from the drain pipe from the roof during a very heavy shower. It was one of those moments when you can see the fun they are having and thinking "thank goodness they are not mine as they are going to need a lot of washing by the time they have finished." I know what it is like to have to clean up after a youngster who has mixed sand and water together. We had a sand pit in our front garden and I had put out a washing up bowl for our youngest to wash himself off before he came in after playing in the sand pit. It was obviously too much of a temptation as he poured the whole lot into the sand pit and plodged away to his hearts content, he had a great time. I had to laugh but oh the mess, he was covered up to his knees in a thick layer of sand. I had to retrieve the washing up bowl and pour water all over him before he could come in.

An eagle looking for an easy meal
Well besides watching the neighbours kids and drinking tea we have been quite busy this week. We had a few days rain and so we took the opportunity to get on with some indoor projects. We have ordered a wardrobe from the local joinery firm, the one who made our kitchen, and I asked him the other day when it might be ready, expecting him to say a couple of months, "Oh about 3 weeks he said." The problem is that we wanted the floor redoing before we got the wardrobe as our bedroom is the only room in the house not to have had the old vinyl taking up and replaced with laminate. Once the wardrobe is in it won't be moving in a hurry, it will be dismantable but not easily at is 150cm wide and 210cm high. It concentrated our minds somewhat and so we got the flooring and laid it this last week - it's looking really nice. Ian also replastered a wall in the hallway that we just haven't got around to finishing off. We could be in serious danger of actually finishing the apartment we live in - well nearly, perhaps! Is it only us who actually finish jobs that need doing just before moving?

Still flying around!
We have also started cutting hay this week as we are expecting a week of no rain or only short showers. We decided to start cutting the hay on the old ski hill as there are no corncrakes there- Ha! That's what we thought anyway. It is better to cut into the middle of a field and then work outwards if there are corncrakes but that is really hard on the ski hill as it is a difficult area to cut anyway and besides we have never heard corncrakes in that area. Yesterday Ian started off with the two wheel tractor cutting a steep part while I got on with some other jobs which included stacking two big piles of hay that has been laying on the ground for far too long. After lunch I started cutting another steep section, if cutting is what you call it. The grass is much longer this year, obviously the hot dry June has benefitted the grass and it has grown well, in fact it is higher than me and I felt like I was fighting the tractor the whole time to get it cut. I am sure the guy cutting the hill at the top on the neighbouring property was having a laugh as there were a few times he came near and would have seen me hanging over the tractor exhausted. Ian meantime used the little big tractor (bigger than a two wheeled tractor but still not what you would call big) to start on the rest of the hill. At about 6pm we called it a day even though there was a small section that still needed cutting right at the top of the hill, but with a big black cloud rolling in and rumbles of thunder the last thing I wanted to do was to be caught in a thunderstorm at the top of the hill with a piece of equipment I couldn't run with. Ian went back today to finish off cutting with the little big tractor and was just finishing cutting a section when the hay rustled and out popped a young corncrake - they get everywhere! Consequently we have a small refuge in the middle of our ski hill for the young bird, rather than make it fend for itself against the huge number of storks that were following behind Ian waiting for a meal.

Storks are also interested in an easy meal
I was interested to read this week an article by Polly Toynbee on the need for collaboration in the health services rather than an atmosphere of competition. Collaboration works well in many spheres not just the health service if the aim is to help others. Here in Latvia many firms would benefit from collaboration so that they could fulfil bigger orders for export but they are often wary of working with others, usually due to a lack of trust, settling for less rather than working with others. In some ways this is a hangover from the Soviet times where co-operatives were not run for people's benefit but for state decided initiatives but it is also a hangover from the early years of independence when some forms of collaboration were milked by a few to the detriment of many. Collaboration which seeks to make a profit at the expense of people is obviously not desirable as in the case of cartels but some forms need to be encouraged. I for one will be glad to see the back of the need for competition in a profit motivated society. Competition to provide the best service, or the best product or a good price is to be encouraged. I say a good price and not the best price as a good price should be one that reflects the true cost of the product, not paid for by slave labour and yet is also fair to the customer. Hopefully one day companies here in Latvia will see the benefit of working together, each contributing their own expertise at a fair price to the customer. I can live in hope!


  1. Being a northerner, I too like it when people just 'pop in' and on goes the kettle. I found it strange when I first moved from the north east down to the south west. That's not done here - you make arrangements and put it in your diary, It makes it seem so formal! So it's nice that you've got over that hurdle at least with one of your neighbours.

    When I see a ladder, I tend to deliberately walk under it (if it's possible and safe to do so), just to make the point that I'm NOT superstitious.

  2. Well when you come I am sure the first thing we will do is put the kettle on Mavis. Not long now!

    I too deliberately walk under ladders but I do check first.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. I'm not one for people 'popping in'' need at least three weeks notice to clean up!!....that's a pre warning...and I need another month to prepare myself for cheesecake making!

  6. Three weeks notice!!! Wow, I shall bear that in mind :oD


I love to hear your comments and will always reply, so go ahead, ask a question or just say hi