Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Things You Cannot/Should Not Do in Riga

Let me preface this by saying that in no way are these meant to be taken 100% seriously. There are some places where I'm obviously having a bit of fun. So if something seems overly ridiculous, chance are it's because I was writing it to be ridiculous. I live here, too, y'know.

Somewhat more extensive than originally intended, here's a list of cannot's and should-not's for Riga/Latvia. The list will be modified/added on to as items are remembered, brought to my attention, or their statuses change.

1. You cannot or should not drink the tap-water, unless you KNOW the place has a filter. Ask to see the filter, or a receipt for purchase/installation of the filter if said filter is not in a clearly visible location. Even if said filter truly exists, you may want to ask for boiled water instead.

2. You should not pay the bus attendant for a single ticket with anything bigger than a 1 lat coin, unless you really really want to get back a handful of copper and the cold shoulder.

3. You cannot get a full night's rest, unless you live somewhere surrounded by NOTHING. The people in the apartment above mine have been hammering on something starting at 8 A.M. every weekday and Sunday, since last September.

4. You cannot sit on the grass in public places. Seriously, there are signs, and you probably have to pay a hefty fine if you are caught doing so. And tourists may wonder why the grass is so pretty. FOR A LIMITED TIME ONLY it is permissible to sit, sleep, stand and roll on the grass in the city parks in Riga! This offer is only good for the month of June and is a test to see whether or not the people of Latvia can "handle" the responsibilities that come with being allowed to sit on grass. I don't stray grass stain and some crazy person might snap and try to burn the mother down.

5. You cannot find a decent cup of coffee at a cafe without an all-out search or at least with insider information. Latvia is not a coffee nation. I realise there are cafe's called "Coffee Nation", but other than a pleasing ambiance, free 15-minute WiFi cards and good pecan pie-cake, there really isn't much to it. Insider information: All Capuccino (K. Barona, Centrs, and right next door to Lidojosa varde) has coffee that is, by leaps and bounds, more like coffee should be. Index Cafe not only has cheap and very decent sandwiches, but also serves up a fantastic espresso shot, or anything with espresso in it. They also have a drip-coffee machine, which is, apparently, VERY RARE in Riga. Rare as in, like, it's the only one we've seen.

6. You cannot get from point A to anywhere within two blocks of point A in under 20 minutes if you're (quite literally) trapped in a motor vehicle. Your best options are to walk or bike.

7. You cannot read a single restaurant menu without laughing, especially if you are fluent in the English language and/or have a degree in literature/English/writing.

8. If you listen to the "mainstream" radio stations, you cannot go a single day without hearing music from one of the following artists at least five times and preferably doubling up on at least one of the songs: Mika, Robbie Williams, The Sugababes, Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, The Backstreet Boys, Rihanna, Madonna.

9. You cannot and should not start crossing the street without looking both ways several times (that goes for any country), or start crossing the street the moment the little man turns green. Although some cars stop, the general mentality seems to be "If there are 10 or less people on the crosswalk the road's as good as clear".

10. You cannot win with ATMs. If you want one 10 and one 5 to make 15, you will get three 5s. If you want two 10s to make 20, you will get a 20.

11. You cannot commute to work in the morning without smelling alcohol on at least 5 people around you. You cannot go a single week without seeing a person stumbling around completely inebriated at a seemingly abnormal time of the day.

12. You cannot get a bad serving of potatoes. Anywhere.

13. You cannot "finally" get rid of all of your small change (1s and 2s) with a clear conscience because, as Murphy's law would have it, the next time you make a cash purchase you're going to wish you had held on to something.

14. You cannot buy alcohol after 10 P.M.

15. You cannot get home using public transportation after 12 A.M. or before 5 A.M.

16. You should not assume that, even after living in Riga for 6 months, you know how to get to your apartment by car. Because you totally don't. You know how the BUS or the TRAM or the TROLLEY gets to your house, but not how a car might achieve the same thing.

17. Some taxi drivers will, after being told what your destination is, say "Right, so which way should I go?" and then get angry at you for telling them to go the wrong way, which only happened because you thought you knew how to get to your apartment by car. But you don't. (ref. No. 16)

18. You cannot go a single day without running into or seeing someone you know - excluding colleagues. Even if you hide out in your apartment all day, but make a short trip to the store, you'll probably randomly bump into someone who decided to randomly stop at the grocery store tucked away in your labyrinth of a residential community.

19. You cannot be served at the bank (or other similar places) without a numbered ticket. If you took the wrong type of ticket, it's not their problem. If you were given the wrong type of ticket by an actual person, it's still not their problem.

20. You cannot buy letter envelopes by the box. But you can buy them by the "packet". I finally noticed them in a pen/pencil/stationary store I go to now and then. Problem solved.

21. You cannot get soy milk in your coffee at a cafe. If you ask for soy milk, the only response you will get is a blank stare.

22. You should not dry your laundry at a laundromat. It costs around 6 USD for one small load of laundry.

23. You cannot see a play, opera, or ballet in Riga that does not include some kind of random, psychedelic or otherwise awkward-moment dance or scene.

24. You cannot drink in public, as in sitting on a park bench sipping a bottle/can of booze. However, it seems that if said bottle/can is concealed in a paper/plastic bag, regardless of how conspicuous the concealment is or isn't, the act is ignored.

25. You cannot attempt to take care of any bureaucratic documents or business without being sent to X number of offices, given X amount of telephone numbers to call, X amount of forms and applications to fill out. Once you have completed the aforementioned tasks, you cannot attempt to take care of the documents/business without repeating the process.

26. You should not forget to stamp ("compress") your tram or trolley ticket. If ticket-control personnel board the tram or trolley and find that you have not compressed the ticket, you will be fined.

27. You should not cross the train tracks at any point other than the indicated crossings. If you get caught, the fine is probably around 30 lats.

28. You cannot get large, plastic grocery bags for free.

29. You cannot easily recycle plastic or glass. Most of it is just thrown away with the rest of the trash.

30. You should not dispose of still-lit cigarettes directly into metal trash bins. The trash inside WILL start on fire. I regret not having my camera with me, because it's not every day you pass a burning metal bin.

31. If you want to have a quick meal, you should not eat at a restaurant where there is a middle-man, e.g. a server, between you and the food.

32. Even if a car is backing up slowly, you should not assume that the driver is actually looking back, looking in the rear-view mirror, or even aware that his/her vehicle is backing up.

33. You cannot leave work early on a Friday and expect to make it out of the city centre in a timely fashion because everybody else has the same plan.

34. You cannot use public restrooms for free, unless you are in a larger shopping centre where the door is not monitored very carefully.

35. When planning on using a public restroom, you should not assume that there will always be a toilet seat, a rim to the toilet, or even an actual toilet. (Most places now have normal situations, but there are the few exceptions where there's not much to nothing)

36. You cannot buy hand sanitizer. We have yet to see it in stores.

37. You should not, absolutely SHOULD NOT piss on the Freedom Monument. If you do you are unbelievably childish and should have your passport taken away (if you are a tourist) because you obviously are incapable of respecting the culture and history of other nations. If you are a local doing so... what's wrong with you?

38. You cannot touch the guards standing by the Monument. Or maybe it's "you should not". I've never tried or seen anyone try to do so.

39. You cannot buy/find "standard name brand" medications, such as Tylenol, Advil, Pepto-bismol, etc.
40. You cannot cross major streets in logical places because crosswalks are not logically placed along major streets.

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