In every country there are some prejudices and hot topics to talk about and be careful talking about. Here are some things which, depending on the local person you meet, in Latvia can be offensive and unpleasant to hear or talk about.
Latvia vs. Lithuania
There is no problem between Latvians and Lithuanians, we are friendly neighbors with similar languages, history, architecture, traditions and problems, even the names of these countries sound similar in different languages like Lettland & Litauen, Lettonia & Lituania, but... The same as Germany & Austria with the same language or Slovakia & Slovenia with similar names, Latvia and Lithuania are two separate countries. If you are in Riga and tell that you are glad to be in the capital of Lithuania, the face in front of you might change from friendly smiling to truly disappointed. Although it is not a big deal, but it is happening pretty often that foreign people being in Latvia keeps calling it Lithuania. The capital of Latvia is Riga and the capital of Lithuania is Vilnius. As a small country fighting for its identity and recognition, we just want people, who are visiting us, to know where they are.
Latvians vs. Russians
You probably know something about the history of Latvia, you see in the map that Russia is our big neighbor and have heard something about Russians in Latvia. What’s the problem? It’s the BIGGEST problem for a lot of people in Latvia now. Just 20 years have passed since we have got the independence from Russia and there is a huge percent of Russian speaking inhabitants in Latvia, referendum about accepting Russian as the second official language in Latvia, Soviet time memories that are still alive. You don’t know you are meeting Latvian or Russian and both sides are quite nationally minded. If you discuss this topic with Latvian you will get a version of stupid, cruel, rude, uneducated Russians. If you talk with Russian you might get a story about stupid, racist, heartless Latvians and that Latvia actually is Russian country not Latvian. We are just all the time incited against each other by politics and mass media. Don’t say that Latvians and Russians have no difference between them. In fact, there is no problem for Latvians and Russians to be good friends, but if you meet some especially nationalistic person with strict opinion about what is happening and how it should be, this conversation can become never-ending and pretty uncomfortable.
A lot of inhabitants of Riga would throw eggs or tomatoes on me just because I mentioned it here. Stay calm: I’m not promoting Riga as sex-tourism destination! Riga has sparkling nightlife, more girls than boys and open-minded girls what leads to what is called "sex-tourism" here. You might also face people considering that every male tourist in Riga is sex-tourist. The word ‘sex-tourism’ in Riga is not used meaning the same as in Amsterdam or Thailand – it’s not about prostitution. This 10 minutes Youtube video gives some explanations:
If you are in Riga there is no way you could miss seeing Freedom Monument – it’s 42 m high monument separating the Old Town from the new city centre with the majestic opera house on one side and the Bastion hill on the other side. We are all extremely sensitive about any joke you make about it. Mass media also have told us that many times foreign people find this almost holy place for relieving natural needs behind the monument. You get a penalty for this. Just don’t do it even if the police doesn’t see you (what is pretty impossible there in any time of a day). This monument is embodiment of Latvian strength, history and identity. Read about it here: Monument, Freedom & Flowers
At the end I should say that Latvians have sense of humor and they love joking about themselves (of course - we can joke about ourselves but are sensitive when others are joking about us - as anyone else). The picture below shows the world through eyes of a Latvian. :)
If you have other observations, questions or something to add to this post - feel free to comment here!