Ranting Time

Does the Latvian economy want overseas investment or not. I want to buy a house, the seller wants to sell her house. But the level of bureaucracy, inefficiency and incompetence in the system is astounding. Let me give you a list of what we had to do this week. Pleae bare in mind that I was also meant to be at school this week sorting computers out:-

  • Monday – Rest day – well it was meant to be. I had to go to the CSDD (DVLA IN THE UK) to get my new car I had delivered from Germany registered and have a technical inspection. This all went well and only took just over 2 hours.
  • Tuesday – Visited SWEDBank in Riga to open a Darījuma Kontu. This is is a special bank account which is opened to hold the money for the payment of the house we are buying. Once our names are on the land register then the bank takes it’s part to pay off any outstanding mortgages/loans and transfers the balance to the seller of the house. We then visited our bank SEB and tried to transfer the money for the house to the Darījuma Kontu.Unfortunately the bank don’t trust you to spend your money wisely and you have to be able to prove what you are spending your money on. Despite having the documents regarding the Darījuma Kontu. with us, these weren’t deemed sufficient: we needed the contract regarding the sale of the house. Needless to say we didn’t have these. However the gentleman in SWEDBank was very helpful and told us that if we could get the contracts then we could go to SEB bank in the ALPHA shopping centre on the outskirts of Riga which was open until 9.00 pm. So after a few phone calls and armed with the necessary contracts we arrived at SEB only to be told that because they were only a small branch they couldn’t handle a transaction so large. My blood was starting to boil.
  • Wednesday – Armed with the contracts we went to our branch of SEB, all the staff there now know us very well. We were attended to by a very nice lady who speaks excellent English, as she had lived in Ireland for 7 years.. She joked that because of the extremely large number of contracts, and there were a lot, this seemed like the sale of the century. Transfer of funds successfully made we had to wait until we had notification that they had arrived at  SWEDBank before heading to Riga to meet a notaire (lawyer) who, for a fee, would check that all the contracts were legally ok before we headed off to the Land Registry. Arriving at the notaries we were told because she was busy she could only validate the Darījuma Kontu. We now urgently had to find another notaire who could validate the house sale contracts. Fortunately the seller of the house found somebody who could see us 2.00 pm the following day. By this time I am unhappy to say the least.
  • Thursday – Armed with a wallet full of money we arrived at the notaire’s office hopeful that we could finish quickly enough and get to Limbazu (75 km away) before they closed at 5.00pm. Job done, we got to the car just before the heaviest thunderstorm for a long time and Riga ground to a halt. So did we.
  • Friday – Alarm at 6.00 am, in the car by 7.00 am arriving at Limbazi at 8.40 am. First in the queue and finished by 9.30 am. SUCCESS !!! We move on 30th June.

I have tried to rationalise this apparent lack of trust Latvians display to towards strangers, and let me stress that it only applies to strangers. Nobody smiles at strangers in the street, not even eye contact is made if it can be avoided and the big banks obviously don’t trust each other. I have come to the conclusion that this is a legacy from the soviet occupation when nobody knew whom to trust in case they were or were being paid by the KGB to spy on people. As behavioural habits are learnt from parents, even young people behave this way. I think there is a wonderful opportunity for some enterprising young Latvian to start a campaign to change the Latvian persona. We could call it “Keep  calm and smile at a stranger”. I would do it myself but I don’t think some Brit telling Latvians how to behave would go down to well

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37 Responses to Ranting Time

  1. Expat Eye says:

    Yeah, I tried that before – ‘Smile. Confuse a Latvian’ – it didn’t work and I got a lot of ‘at least we’re not fake like you Westerners’. To me there’s nothing fake about being polite – something that is quite rare in Latvia in general. Glad you got everything sorted – finally 😉
    http://expateyeonlatvia.wordpress.com/2013/03/24/smile-confuse-a-latvian/

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    • aedoxsey says:

      Interesting to see us westerners observe the same things. How’s your washing machine. Fived?

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      • Expat Eye says:

        It’s still there anyway! I’ve been in Germany for the last week so haven’t used it. It’ll get a workout today, that’s for sure! Yeah, most of the foreigners I know feel the same – especially after they’ve been here for a while. The rose-tinted glasses don’t last long 😉

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    • Imants says:

      That’s the thing with you I can’t really understand. You think that when people are polite they smile. I think people smile when they are happy, have feelings of joy – I think there have to be a reason for a smile to be genuine and seeing a stranger isn’t a reason for me. Politeness doesn’t mean smiling. That’s why I’m one of those who give ‘at least we’re not fake like you Westerners’ attitude to your kind.
      By the way, Expat Eye, I have read some of your posts and the main vibe I got from your blog was “They don’t do things like I do or like I want them to do. Therefore they are dumb, uneducated and ignorant”. If life is so hard and unbearable here why don’t you just go back home?

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      • Expat Eye says:

        Clearly you haven’t read enough posts – I am leaving. But not because it’s unbearable, simply because it’s time for a change. And I’ve never called anyone dumb, uneducated or ignorant, merely pointed out some differences I’ve noticed. People can take that how they like.

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  2. Gvido Lucens says:

    First of all Hi, how are you, from Latvian living in Ireland(since 2004)!
    I am reading your blog since I found it with big interest, because always wanted to see how Latvia welcomes British there, as I have become more Irish than Latvian myself, I arrived here young, when i was 18 and had difficulty to Integrate because of cultural differences. Now when visiting Latvia(very rare) I can see how far that country has to go to achieve Europe’s human interaction and birocracy level. I hope you will enjoy your stay and will understand our culture eventually, as I did here in Ireland, but you know, still trying to change people here, even when realizing that I am the one who has to accept differences and take the best from what I have being Latvian by nationality. Reading your blog with interest how you will accept what I never did,and what keeps me here and stops me and my family from moving back, even knowing that economically things have changed since I chose to move away. I will tell you one thing I miss – weather and traditions. 4 seasons are nice to enjoy, not depressing rain and lack of sunshine here, no money can compensate! If you have any questions regards how things work there,send me an email and will try to help you! Sincerely apologize in the name of rude Latvian folks, that all is to do with trust and financial problems they all are carrying everyday, believe me,they do like strangers more that their own returning back home 🙂
    Gvido Lucens

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    • aedoxsey says:

      The odd thing Gvido is that Latvians are almost schizophrenic. They invite a complete stranger into their home and welcome him like the return of the prodigal son, but meet a stranger in the street and they look through you as though you are invisible.

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  3. Reinis says:

    Honestly, I don’t see what the big rant here is all about. I get that it can be exhausting dealing with large purchases, but then again Darījuma konts isn’t your usual bank account. When I was dealing with the sell of my apartment before moving to UK, I also had to open one. As the buyers had a different bank, I simply opened it up at their bank to avoid such hassle as misinformation and needless headaches over bank policies. Then again, if you would open your bank account at HBC, I’m fairly certain they wouldn’t be super excited about transferring large amounts of your money to, lets say, Lloyds. And Darījuma konts is actually a great way to seal the purchase/sell. only one party can transfer the money to the account and only the other one can deal with it the way they see fit (f.e., I had my money transferred from that account into two others automatically as I requested, have to give credit to SWEDbanka)

    And as for the strangers on the street, you just kinda have to accept that, I can guarantee you that Latvia isn’t the only Eastern European country that acts like that, not really sure if Eastern Europe is the only constraint for that.

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    • aedoxsey says:

      I guess what I’m saying is that compared to buying a property in the UK, the Latvian way is much more hands on buy the buyer and seller. In the UK you just negotiate the price and leave everything else to the lawyers. Yes, this is definitely a more expensive way to do it, but much less stressful.

      As for the not smiling, this is not a criticism but just an observation. I’m sure that in other East European countries this happens as well. However if Latvia wants to expand its economy, this is likely to involve dealing with West Europeans so smiling is something to get used to.

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      • Expat Eye says:

        By the way, they get pissed off when you call them Eastern European 😉

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      • aedoxsey says:

        Just found that out. Inta just informed me that they were all educated to know that Latvia was North Europe. Strange really when you consider at is on the same degrees north as Scotland. Technically in geographical terms it is north east if you want to be pedantic

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      • Expat Eye says:

        Yeah, it’s the rest of Europe they need to inform 😉 I’d never heard of this ‘Northern European’ thing before I moved here. It’s funny, some people get really pissed off; others refer to themselves as Eastern European – they must have missed the lesson on the NE concept 😉 To me, it’s more than just a geographical concept anyway. They’re light years behind the Scandinavian countries in every way. Saying ‘Northern European’ doesn’t magically mean that everyone will accept the country as such. Apart from perhaps, geographically 😉

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      • Reinis says:

        There is still some controversy about whether the Baltic States are Eastern or Northern Europe. To quote from Wiki (CBA to confirm these facts from scientific resources):

        Some sources place the Baltic states in Northern Europe whereas others such as CIA World Fact Book in Eastern Europe.

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    • CrazyCatLady says:

      Barclays don’t give a hoot which bank it goes to- 30 second and you’re done (seriously, can’t fleece your bank account fast enough!)

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  4. June says:

    Congratulations on finally closing on your house. These things are always stressful, even back home, but operating in an unfamiliar environment makes it so much more difficult. Best of luck with your move!

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  5. Latvija atrodas Ziemeļeiropā nevis Austrumeiropā, bet ko var gribēt no tipiska britu analfabēta.

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    • Expat Eye says:

      Yep, there’s the attitude that everyone loves. Congratulations on showing how Latvians welcome foreigners. Forget that he’s investing money in the country, setting up a home here, marrying a local, interested in the culture… just insult him in a language that he doesn’t (fully) understand – yet. Bravo.

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    • aedoxsey says:

      I suppose it depends on your point of view. If you were to put a pin in the center of Europe, I think it would be somewhere in the Alps so technically speaking Latvia is North East Europe. When I refer to Latvia as being East Europe I suppose I am referring to pre cold war political boundaries when there was just East and West Europe. To me the only North European countries are Norway, Denmark Sweden & Finland. There is no right or wrong answer here, it is just a matter of opinion or interpretation.

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      • Es jau runāju pa Jūsu izglības un zināšanu līmeni, bet nevis par Jūsu privātajiem kļūdainajiem uzskatiem. Ja Jūs būtu inteliģents un izglītots, tad zinātu ka Latvija un pārējās valstīs pēc oficiāliem ANO standartiem atrodas Ziemeļeiropā: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_Europe

        Nevajag jaukt zināšanas un izglītību ar saviem privātajiem tumsonīgajiem uzskatiem!

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      • Ilze says:

        Actually, the geographic centre of Europe is located in Lithuania. Just to have another example of point-of-view. 😉
        And it’s not only the geographic division. We have Estonians as neighbours and they are related to Finns – the ones you perceive as being a Northern nation. We have a small number of Livonians (and many more have been assimilated by the Latvians), who, again, are related to Estonians and Finns. Even our old folk traditions have more in common with our Northern neighbours than those in the East.
        By this I do not intend to boast that we are on the same political, economic or living standard level as the Scandinavians, though you must admit that they have had the luck to experience a more or less peaceful living during the last hundred years and thus more chances to thrive.

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      • aedoxsey says:

        I am always happy to be proved wrong. Why do you say the center of Europe is Lithuania? I can only assume that you include Russia as part of Europe. I might be assuming wrong here, but I wouldn’t think that Russians would consider themselves European. I suspect some in this discussion are looking at physical geographical maps and others at political maps. I never thought that the use of one word would cause so much discussion and some bad feeling.

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      • Ilze says:

        Yes, the European part of Russia is taken into account. Who are Russians then, if not European?

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  6. Lily says:

    Haha, it is so true about smiling! Sometimes it feels that people are suspicious of you if you’re happy and smiling. I have been given weird looks by cashiers when is say ‘hello’ or ‘thank you’. But that’s just the way people are there and I’m sure that it will change over time. I’m told that some supermarkets already urge their employees to be more “western” by greeting the customer.
    Congrats on the house! I look forward to hear what you think of Limbazi – it is my hometown.

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  7. Jevgenijs says:

    Just a note. Once before I was staying in London for about a full year. And then get back home to Riga. Shortly after that I noticed some people are looking at me a complete stranger. I couldn’t see what’s wrong with me until my wife told me: “Stop smiling like a complete idiot to every teller in a supermarket. It’s not UK you are home now. People think you’re insane.” I stopped smiling, everything went normal then.

    Strange thing you should never follow this rule. People see very well you are a foreigner thus it’s your right to react different. Our people are tolerant.

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    • aedoxsey says:

      This made me and Inta laugh, thankyou

      Like

    • Reinis says:

      Definitely agreed. I remember when I first had an abroad experience for a longer time (UK actually, and only for a few weeks on my own). Came back, actually apologized to people in the supermarkets when I needed to get past them or ran into them, was looked at like a freak. After a few months that all went away and everything seemed normal again. Truth be told, people are becoming more tolerant and accepting back home so sure enough this will fade away in a few tenths of years or so, just have to wait it out.

      Keep in mind, it’s only been about 20+ years since Latvia became independent and not oppressed.

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  8. Vents says:

    imho term Eastern Europe is way too loose. probably that was coined to describe all former Eastern block countries as a group after collapse of USSR, etc. it is a very diverse group with little in common.
    how do you compare Latvians to Croats/Romanians? What’s in common? very little if anything (again, imho)
    for example, honestly, it took me few years to get comfortable (being Latvian) to deal with business partners from Czech Rep. I found business culture / mentality/ way of thinking very different from ours.
    same with other Eastern Europeans.
    to that end – I believe we have more in common w/Northern Europeans, culturally. but sure it is all very gradual and there are big and small differences everywhere.
    Say, if one would discuss Latvians being Northern Europeans w/people from Sweden (feel free to substitute for NO/DK/FIN)- I believe they would just laugh at the concept…. 🙂
    (ok, Finns are possibly bit different for closer ties w/Estonia and more of a common past as part of Russian empire before WWI)

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  9. Spock says:

    The bureaucracy and completely unnecessary paperwork is not directed only at foreigners. Latvians get it as well. There was a Catch 22 like saying from Soviet times “I need a sworn certificate so that I can apply go get a sworn certificate.” Everything needed a inked stamp, not only the presence but also shape of which was important.

    The bureaucracy HAS gotten better, but compared to more developed democracies, it is still huge.

    I am also a bit surprised that you view the initial reserve of Latvians to people they do not know as impoliteness or distrust. IMHO, Latvians are quite welcoming and warmhearted once you get to know them but yes, they do not jump into your arms at first site and distrust those who do. Here THAT is considered impolite!

    Having grown up in Toronto, Canada, a big city, that also was the case there. If someone smiled at you or spoke to you on the street that was either an expression of interest beyond the casual or, as pertained to me ;-(, more often a Moonie or Jehovah’s Witness trying to recruit you. (The exception was Younge street where girls would completely openly come up and express their interest, asking if you want a date.)

    If you want to speak to someone feel free to do so, making sure to leave plenty of personal space, and I think you will find people opening up to you very quickly indeed.

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