One of the most striking differences between the UK and Latvia is the degree to which individuals take personal responsibility for events in their lives and don’t take to the courts or expect the state to sort their problems out. Let me give you a few examples.
In the UK the road systems are designed so that you really need to be an idiot if you are going to have an accident. Motorway junctions all have roundabouts so that traffic entering and exiting at a junction who are travelling in the same direction don’t come into contact with each other. Not so in Latvia. When exiting at a junction you have to be very mindful of vehicles joining the motorway from the inside lane. It is your responsibility to be aware of what is going on around you. Another major difference are traffic light signals. In the UK when a traffic light changes to green, you can go. Not in Latvia. If you want to turn right or left at traffic lights you have to check that no pedestrians are crossing your path as they have priority over you. If you hit a pedestrian you’re to blame. It is not the authorities responsibility for not designing safer systems.
Probably for financial reasons many of the roads in Latvia are littered with holes and raised or sunken metal inspection covers. Everybody knows they are there and take appropriate steps to make sure they avoid them. There is no one to sue if you damage your car so you just have to be careful.
In Latvia, the pavements can be in poor condition and when winter arrives they can be absolutely lethal. Does that stop the stylish Latvian woman, risking her life and limbs by wearing her 10+ cm designer high heels on a night out. Of course not. She just takes care, watches where she puts her feet and doesn’t get too drunk. It’s called personal responsibility.
Again for financial reasons, the state welfare and benefit systems are not as generous as the UK. There are few benefits and everybody has to pay something for medical care. I’m not aware of anyone complaining, people just seem to take personal responsibility for their own health and get on with their lives. I know the NHS is the UK is a fantastic institution but because it is free do the British really value it.
The Latvian sense of personal responsibility served them well after gaining their freedom from Soviet occupation and will serve them well again as they try to recover from the current financial crisis. At Christmas I visited my family in the UK and had a conversation with my cousin who is a lawyer representing insurance companies when individuals try to sue their clients for negligence. He said that a sign of how highly developed a society has become is by looking at its compensation system. If that is the case then please, Latvia, don’t develop any more.