Monday, 2 May 2005

The Latvians

I am aware that the following discourse has the potential to make me sound like a Daily (Hate) Mail reader, but no matter. The Latvians. Everywhere in Ireland. Of course it may be high-handed xenophobia to call them that. Perhaps they are from Lithuania. Or Slovakia. An Eastern place in any regard, sporting skin with a waxen pallor suggestive of a lifetime of cabbage soup.

Now, I welcome a country with mixed-up people. Hurrah! New music, culture, food, ideas etc. It’s a good thing. But…is it too much to ask that if you move to a country and work in the service industry that you speak the language?? After the nth time of being met with a blank stare when asking a reasonable question, I can feel the Daily (Hate) Mail thoughts rising up within.

Example 1 – To The Latvian waitress in a restaurant.
“Can you tell me what’s in this dish please?”
Lather, rinse, repeat, lather, rinse, repeat, order something else.

Example 2 – To the Latvian man in a store, sporting an Assistant badge.
“There’s no price tag on this bag, could you please find out how much it is?”
Lather, rinse, repeat, lather, rinse, repeat, go ask somebody else.

It’s not like I was asking for a discussion on nuclear fission. I used to teach EFL. I speak and enunciate clearly, and I never use that loud patronising tone that so many people do, when speaking to someone whose first language is not English. But honestly, at times it makes you despair. I’ve worked abroad where I’ve had to use a language not my mother tongue, and if I’ve ever not understood someone I’ve apologised and run off to get someone who could help, not stood there shrugging glumly and thinking of dumplings.

It reminds me of all those ridiculous UK TV shows – “A New Life Holiday Place in the Overseas”. Cut to miserable looking British man standing in front of a lovely (falling down) Tuscan farmhouse, wife and six kids in the background.

“No, it hasn’t really worked out. We sold everything we had to move here, now we’re broke. I couldn’t get a job (BECAUSE I COULDN’T BE BOTHERED TO LEARN ITALIAN), my wife couldn’t get a job (BECAUSE SHE COULDN’T BE BOTHERED TO LEARN ITALIAN), my kids are starving (BECAUSE NONE OF US BOTHERED TO LEARN ITALIAN AND THEREFORE COULDN’T ASK FOR FOOD IN THE SHOPS). It’s a disaster. I don’t know what we’ll do now. (LEARN ITALIAN?)"

But I do have a favourite Latvian. She could speak fairly good English, and was working on the check-in desk at Ryanair (Kwality!). Having ascertained the price of the bag in the shop from someone non-Latvian, I had bought it and stuffed it full of the books I’d bought from Johnny Pottymouth. If I picked it up real quick, it wasn’t that heavy, honest guv. BA might have let it through. But Ryanair are not known for their generosity. I put my bag on the scales. Tap tappety tap.

“Ok, you arr two kilos over, you vant take somevink out or you vant pay?” Big smile from The Latvian. Beads of cold sweat from me. I’ve never had to pay excess luggage, but I’ve heard the horror stories from those who have. 1% of the highest fare on that flight, per kilo over. Cogs start turning in brain. Was it an aviation authority rule or an airline rule? For if it was an aviation rule, then the highest fare on a Ryanair flight could not be that much. On the other hand, if it was an airline rule, you could bet your grandma that Michael O’Leary would have a seat down the back with a price tag of a squillion euros.

“How much would it be to pay?” I winced.
“Ayte euros”, big Latvian Smile.
“8? 18? 80? 800? How much?”
“Ayte euros.” Yes, I had heard correctly. Eight euros.
“Where do I pay?”, big Irish smile.
Go Ryanair & The Smiling Latvian!