Friday, 29 February 2008

Thoughts from Other Expats about Life in Lithuania

As I promised, here are some thoughts from other expats about life in Lithuania.
Let's start off with a quiz.

Are you a Vilnius.....?

Hey, you’ve had the withering stare as you make a whimsical wisecrack, you’ve been shouldered out of the way by one at the supermarket (and that’s just the staff) and you’ve had to dive for your life to escape being mown down as you cross a pedestrian crossing—but how do YOU know that you’re not one too? Well, now you can find out: by taking this simple questionnaire, you can know for sure whether you’re a mercenary Mindaugas or an egregious Egle…

You have just come into some money and decide to buy a car. What will it be?
a) Something reliable and economical, a Japanese car perhaps.
b) Something with a bit of grunt, a little Alfa maybe
c) A black or very very (very) dark grey top of the range BMW, which you will then proceed to drive as if you are of another realm, one where natural laws of consideration and courtesy are not to be found.

You are parking your relatively flash car (see above) at a supermarket carpark. It’s busy and spaces are at a premium. Do you:
a) Park as near to the entrance as you can, within reason.
b) Maybe leave it by the kerb or in a disabled spot – you’re not going to be long.
c) Park it diagonally across two (or three) spaces (preferably disabled ones). Hey, your car costs money. F*ck the people whose spaces you’ve taken.

It’s election time and you’re weighing up the pros and cons of various candidates. You see a candidate who you’ve decided you’re not going to vote for – but why?
a) You are concerned about this candidate’s track record and doubt that they will be good for the country as a whole’s interests.
b) You’ve read the manifesto and you are concerned this party will raise taxation.
c) The candidate looks like a Jew

You are given some advice on a point of technical, legal, financial or sporting interest. You decide to disregard it. Why?
a) You think that this person has no real knowledge or experience of the subject.
b) You hear what they say but you think you know better.
c) The advice was given to you by a woman.

You meet a man who is of a certain age, yet is unmarried. You think…
a) This is OK. It’s not for everyone. Better than getting married to the wrong person.
b) You think it’s a little strange, and you wonder how he manages to eat, clean or wipe his own .
c) You think he must be gay and therefore must be taken out and dispatched. They are trying to take over the world after all.

It’s a nice sunny afternoon and you want to chill, maybe with some music. What do you put on?
a) Some cool 1950s jazz, John Coltrane, perhaps.
b) Metallica’s latest album.
c) Two tracks by some godforsaken europop group which you proceed to play through 300 watt speakers over and over and over again, dancing round and round and clapping your hands in the air as you do so.

You are a woman. What do you think about your appearance?
a) I care about it of course but it’s not the be all and end all.
b) I like to spend a lot of time in the morning on it, check all the magazines regularly, and shop for clothes virtually every week.
c) I spend more than I earn every month on makeup, accessories, clothes etc. My idea of functional shoes is that the heels should be capable of engraving intricate details into cut glass. I cannot walk past a surface with a refractive index above 0.8 without checking myself off in it, and in summer I wear hotpants smaller than the average handkerchief, with a g-string prominently showing through then wonder why the crowd of British stag do guys have been reduced to a mélange of incoherent half-wits.

In your opinion, what is the essence of a valid piece of information? A legal document, an official letter, or a translation are just three possible examples here.
a) It is relevant, to the point, written in clear English, and is set out legibly and consistently
b) It is neatly presented on nice paper.
c) It has been stamped. Twice.

What is the key issue in Lithuania’s accession to the EU?
a) It signifies the continued success of the European vision and opens up still more opportunities in trade, business and international cooperation.
b) It doesn’t really interest me much but I suppose it’s good to raise the country’s profile.
c) We can get money from it. On the other hand the worry is they’ll let Turkey join.

People who are out of work and living at or below the poverty line, often due to illness or injury, sometimes with kids to feed and no obvious source of income or advantages in life, are:
a) The very people a civilized society needs to protect, through a comprehensive and fair welfare system funded largely through a progressive system of taxation.
b) Unlucky, I feel sorry for them, but there is nothing I can easily do.
c) Stupid.

What is your idea of hell on earth?
a) Iraq.
b) New York City.
c) Kaunas.

So how did you do? For each question you answered a) to, give yourself one point, two points for each time you answered b), and the maximum three for every c) answer. Tot your scores up and check against our Vilnometer below.

The Vilnometer

28 or above
Valio! You are tikras vilnietis/e! You’ve got the look, the bombastic demeanour, and the utter lack of consideration. A BMW 850i is your chariot, the Akropolis Centre is your, er, acropolis, and LT United provide the soundtrack to your life. This country needs more people like you.

Šiaip Sau — You get by but one suspects you are not the ‘tikras’ deal. You need to work on this a bit; stopping smiling and taking fewer showers are a good start if you’re a guy, or work on that vacant and utterly uninterested poker face if you’re a girl.

Jėsus Marija! — What’s wrong with you? Are you a foreigner or something? I’ll bet you don’t even have a business. Peasant, you must be soooo stupid. You probably have been on a trolleybus at some point in your life, or think that it is OK to wear clothes which aren’t made by dolce y gabbana. Get out of here before I call the police and get you sent to Pabradė.

(This came to me by way of a friend who was not the writer. If the writer so wishes, I'll give him credit for this in the future.)

Next: excerpts from an SMS conversation that took place between me and a friend from the States.
"'Callous' is the term I prefer, though it doesn't capture the completely natural way it is done here--without remorse, as if I'm the one with the problem for mentioning the near atrocity they've just committed."

And finally, excerpts from an e-mail of a friend who's just relocated to Japan.
"Yeah, so far there is a entire world of a difference between Japan and Lithuania...I have to say it is difficult for me not to view Lithuania without a shake of the head...the way I describe my time in Vilnius is by alluding to a cut off reel from a David Lynch movie...where even Lynch himself felt it was all just too odd or even he thought it didn`t make any sense - I also think of Lithuania as a troubled teenager maybe 17 years old... Tokyo is Yoda and Princess Leia rolled into one...whereas Vilnius is the Death Star waiting to be detonated.

So, there you go. A glimpse at the dark side of what it means to live here.

Thursday, 28 February 2008


Welcome to my blog. I suppose an introduction of sorts would be useful. I was raised on a farm in south-central Kansas, about 20 miles south southwest of Hutchinson. There was plenty of room to run around, but I did feel as if we were rather isolated. Every time I returned to school in the autumn, I felt sort of left out, as if I had missed something and needed to get reacquainted with everyone again. Ah well, life on the farm. As I grew older, I began to hate living on a farm, especially the work. But later, as I approached my late teens, I began to appreciate the experience of living in the countryside. Still, my main goal was to travel and see the world. I never really had any desire to enter any particular profession or to have a specific career, only to see the world. After graduating from Pretty Prairie High School in 1984, I left for the University of Kansas in Lawrence. What a great time! So much to do; so much to see; so much to learn. I managed to find a good mix of partying and studying and was able to finish with a bachelor's degree in linguistics in four years. After that, I followed a girlfriend to Taiwan, where we ended up spending two years teaching English. While there, we got married ... which later proved to be a mistake on both our parts. Five years after we had returned to the States, we were divorced, although things were over well before that time. While going through the end of our relationship, I again thought about my goal of seeing the world. I never had the money to just travel around, especially for an extended period of time, so again I thought about going overseas to teach English. I thought seriously about going to the Far East again, maybe Vietnam, which was just beginning to open up at that time, but I listened to the advice of a friend and decided to try Europe. I ended up going to Lithuania about a month and a half before my 30th birthday. And, except for nine months in Germany and a year in Singapore, I've been there ever since. Sooo, this blog is mostly going to be about my experiences as an American in Lithuania. As things stand right now, I'm 42, have been married for 10 years to a wonderful woman (Vaiva), and have two kids: Adomas (Adam)-8 and Meta-3.

Here's my family.

One of my main reasons for blogging is to capture my impressions of my life here and compare them as the years go by. Life in Lithuania is not easy. In fact, it seems to be filled with daily turmoil, anger and disappointment. But there are some things that make up for the problems.

So, that's the beginning. Next time: some comments from friends and fellow expats about Lithuania.