During the previous days, I have been told how Lithuania and Latvia are very similar, while the third Baltic state Estonia is not. While crossing the Lithuanian-Latvian border in northerly direction, I am trying to find out how the southern Baltics compare to each other.
Georgy (22) serves as my first source of information. He is a fellow passenger on the bus to Riga. He frequently travels back and forth from Riga to Klaipeda to visit friends. He tells me how Lithuanian and Latvian belong to the same family of languages, but are not mutually exchangeable. Some words exist both in Lithuanian and in Latvian, but they may have completely different meanings. The language Lithuanian-Latvian language family by the way, is rather small. Beside Lithuanian and Latvian, only Sanskrit is distantly related with the group. Fellow Baltic people are most likely to speak Russian when visiting their neighbouring countries. English comes second and hardly any people take the effort of learning additional languages on top of Russian and English. It is very unlikely that somebody will learn the native language of the neighbouring country.
Karlis (19), Krista (17) and Lauris (19):
`Lithuania and Latvia are very similar`
Another difference between the two countries resides in the composition of their population. Lithuania only has a few ethnic minorities, of which the Polish are the biggest because of historical ties. Latvians only make up just over half of their own population, with Russians accounting for a third. Religion is also more shattered, with Lutheran as most frequently practised, catholicism second and Eastern Orthodox third.
Sergej (23) is one of the good examples of the cultural mixture that makes up the Latvian society. He has a Tatar mother, a Russian father and lives in Latvia after having studied in Russia. He is working as an independent entrepreneur, hosting websites. Sergej is generally identified as a Russian by people at first sight. This does not give him any trouble, nor does it bring him any advantages over the native Latvian population.
Both countries celebrate two independence days per year: one for the independence from Russia in 1918, the second one referring to independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. However, it seems that both countries currently maintain satisfactory relations with Russia, even though the exact location of the Russian-Latvian is still subject of debates.
When looking at nature, Latvia is again much like Lithuania. Flat plains, with a few hills in the East of both countries. Latvia is even so flat that one could mistake it for Holland or Denmark, just looking at how flat the countryside is. Latvian buildings look similar to Lithuanian ones with maybe more wooden houses in Latvia. Roads are in comparable condition with the difference that Latvian local roads are better while in Lithuania, the intercity network is of higher quality. Shopping streets tend to be dominated by similar big chains, including Cili Pica (Chili Pizza), Maxima supermarkets and Hansabank, obviously a bank. Small shops are present to the same extent, but since they are locally owned, few companies can be found in both countries. In both countries, diary products are sold in plastic bags rather than carton packs or plastic containers.
Passing the border
Considering all of this together, the minor differences perceived when passing the border post are hardly any surprise. Customs are not a big hurdle. There is no check for leaving Lithuania, only one for entering Latvia. Everybody can stay on the bus and show their passports individually. We enter Latvia without any hassle.
As I arrive to Liepaja, Latvia, it becomes rather difficult to collect more similarities and differences between the two countries. There are few people in the streets and all of them are fairly young. What does become apparent, is how many people have Lithuanian relatives or travel to Lithuania every now and then. Krista (17, photographed with Karlis - 19 and Lauris - 19) travels to Lithuania quite frequently. Unfortunately, that doesn`t enable her to tell me about the differences between the two countries. She thinks they are first of all very similar. They even have the same superstitions: whistling in the house is not allowed because you will invite little devils in. And sitting down at the corner of a table means you will not marry soon.
Baltic state number 3
Apart from the many similarities between Lithuania and Latvia, I have been told today that the other Baltic neighbours - Estonians - are seen as different. They are said to be slow and, for that reason, they are the subject of many Latvian jokes. I will report some of those during the coming days, provided that they are worthwhile.
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