THE LATVIAN CULTURAL BACKGROUND
Latvians occasionally refer to themselves by the ancient name of “Latvji,” which may have originated from a “Latve” river that presumably flowed through what is now eastern Latvia. A small Finno-Ugric tribe known as the Livs settled among the Latvians and modulated the name to “Latvis,” meaning “forest-clearers,” which is how medieval German settlers also referred to these peoples. The German colonizers changed this name to “Lette” and called their initially small colony “Livland.” The Latin form, “Livonia,” gradually referred to the whole of modern-day Latvia as well as southern Estonia, which had fallen under German dominion. Latvians and Lithuanians are the only directly surviving members of the Baltic peoples and languages of the Indo-European family.
Gift Giving Etiquette: In general, Latvians exchange gifts with family and close friends for Christmas, birthdays and other events such as baptisms and weddings. Gifts need not be expensive; it is more important to buy something that shows you have thought about the recipient. If you are invited to a Latvian’s house, take a box of chocolates, a bottle of imported liquor, fruit or flowers for the hostess. Gifts are usually opened when received.
Meetings often begin with a welcoming speech from the most senior Latvian at the meeting. If this occurs, the most senior person from your team should respond with a short speech.
Latvian businesses are extremely hierarchical. Decisions are made at the top of the company and information flows downward like a funnel. It is important to make initial introductions as far up the hierarchy as possible. You and your company will have to be evaluated by lower level staff and, if you are deemed a good potential business partner, you will be invited to a subsequent meeting with the next highest level.
A Nation of Singers
Latvia is called “the singing nation”. It unusual to find a Latvian who has not sung in a choir or some other group at some point in their life. Every few years all Latvia’s choirs, as well as folk dance groups, gather together for the Song Festival, which includes several thousand singers.
Folk songs are one of Latvia’s national treasures. The Latvian folk song (“daina“) is one of the distinguishing features of Latvian culture. There are three essential elements of these folk songs: tradition, literature and symbolism. The daina is a form of oral art and is a symbol that has both shaped and epitomized Latvia’s national identity for the last two centuries. Dating back well over a thousand years, more than 1.2 million texts and 30,000 melodies have been identified.
Cuisine: Latvian cuisine typically consists of agricultural products, with meat featuring in most main meal dishes. Fish is commonly consumed due to Latvia’s location on the east coast of the Baltic Sea.
Latvian cuisine has been influenced by neighboring countries in the Baltic region. Common ingredients in Latvian recipes are found locally, such as potatoes, wheat, barley, cabbage, onions, eggs and pork. Latvian food is generally quite fatty, and uses few spices.