For the non-sentimental at heart, I am just warning you....this is not the blog post for you! I am writing introspectively today. You know, the stuff that makes other people say, "B-O-R-I-N-G", "Ya, I totally know what you mean" OR " Ok, she did it, she rubbed me the WRONG way!" So, here I go......I am rubbing my little hands together and just typing away what I think.
I have gotten the slight impression that folks around here just aren't that impressed by America. You know, our big, bad country that we think everyone wants to flock to for the chance of wealth and opportunity. Well, the people we have mentioned "America" or "Americans" to (which haven't actually been that many) don't seem that wildly impressed by us and don't really have a desire to go, much less live there. They like their European culture of cafes, coffeeshops, cobblestreets, sweets without sugar, and well, I don't really know what else because I don't really know the depths of their culture. And I am speaking in generalities. I think a lot of people here know at least one or two people from America and perhaps have even been there once.
I just met an American at the park the other day, who has lived in Latvia for 2 years (her husband works at the embassy). I asked if people have received her well here. She responded, "They haven't received me at all!" Hands off and unapproached. Even (forthright or possibly well-travelled) Latvians will tell you the culture is "cold", only warm and fuzzy with those you know very well (and even that depends on personality). Her experience is different than ours, of course, since Jekabs still has a network of family and friends from church, so we always arrive knowing we will be received well by certain family members and old friends. It makes a great difference.
I can see that by the sheer physical appearance of people here, you can tell it's a place where individuals feel more free to express (somewhat expose) themselves, for better or worse. In other words, I am thinking by my observations, that there is less pressure to conform. Most likely because you are always a bit of a stranger walking the streets, constantly commuting by foot or tram to get from point A to B to C to D.......that produces this sort of unfriendly demeanor on the street. And the reason it leaves such an impression on me is that I see it and feel it every time I am out. So, in the US we are in our cars minding our own business. Here, you are passing people constantly on the streets who are minding their own business, but it is at such close physical proximity that it produces an environment that feels, well.......unfriendly. I have to credit some of my sensitivity to the fact that I have lived in Texas for the past 12 years, which is quite possibly, the most friendly state in the U.S.! Seriously. Very friendly folks there. So, I am starting to understand the "street" mentality here now. Although, there seems to be very little connection between customer and customer paying money to keep lights in the shop/restaurant ON! Last night on tv, we heard a newsclip about Ukraine hosting the next European Soccer Championship games and how important it will be for waiter and waitresses to serve the customers politely and with a smile! So maybe the happy vibe will start catching on and spread like wildfire, afterall!
Honestly, I can't write much about understanding Latvian culture. Even Jekabs' family has their own unique family culture to them that I can't seem to understand the workings of! It just leads me to seeing that it makes no significant difference where you come from. What matters is who you are thru your actions. That is what I have learned from living with Jekabs for almost 7 years. I'll tell you, in a world of consumption and constant need for various affirmations, I have seen Jekabs portray the same character no matter where we go: Texas, Latvia, Portugal, Kansas, Italy, France..........I can't say that about myself. It is the difference between being driven internally and being driven externally. And, for you and me both....no matter where in the world you are, there is an endless difference between being driven by the world's pressure or by God's purpose and impact on your life. One leads to peace, internal peace....the other leads to.....well, you can put that into your own words. "Give Me Your Eyes" song by Brandon Heath