A Hierarchical Society
Latvia is a hierarchical society. People are respected because of their age and position. Older people are viewed as wise and are granted respect. Latvians expect the most senior person, by age or position to make decisions that are in the best interest of the group.
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.
The family is still the centre of the social structure. Even in urban areas it is common for generations of extended family to live together in the same apartment. Most families have only one or two children. The family provides both emotional and financial support to its members. It is common for parents to provide financial assistance to adult children. In return, children are expected to take care of their elderly parents. It is uncommon to move from the area where you are born. Even if a child goes to a city to work, they tend to go home for holidays.
Although friendly and informal with close friends and family, Latvians are reserved and formal when dealing with outsiders. They are private people and do not flaunt their possessions or readily display emotions. They believe that self-control is a behaviour to be emulated. They do not ask personal questions and may not respond should you intrude on their privacy.
Personal life is kept separate from business. If a friendship develops at work and is carried into the personal arena, this camaraderie is not brought into the office. Personal matters are not discussed with friends.
Latvians are polite and courteous. They can be extremely reserved. They do not readily smile, especially at strangers, and are not comfortable making small talk. They often appear to have little difficulty accepting what would be considered awkward silences in other cultures. This behaviour can make them seem austere. Once a relationship has developed though, some of the veneer will disappear. Personal matters are seldom touched upon in business.
Latvians are not especially emotive speakers. If you are from a culture where hand gestures are robust, you may wish to moderate them to conform to local practices. At the same time, they can be extremely direct speakers and task focused. Soft voices are expected. If you have a booming voice, you may wish to moderate it when conducting business with Latvians.
Latvians can be direct communicators, although they often temper their words to protect the feelings of the other person. As a group, they are slow to pay compliments and may become suspicious of compliments offered too readily and without sufficient reason.
Since good manners dictates that you do not publicly embarrass another person, it is important not to criticize someone in a public venue. Even the hint that you are unhappy could cause irreparable harm to your personal relationship.
Latvia is a low context communication culture. They do not require a great deal of background information and may become irritated if you attempt to explain too much. When asking questions, strive to be specific and ensure that the question is germane to the subject at hand. Do not ask questions for the sake of asking them.
At one time, Latvians ascribed to naturalist or what might be termed ‘pagan’ beliefs in natural deities. Although no longer practised as a religion the tradition lives on in folk songs, legends and festivals.
Christianity arrived during the 12th and 13th centuries while the Russian Orthodox religion took hold in the 18th century. The effect religion had on the population greatly diminished during Communist occupation, when followers were harassed and discriminated against.
Today the constitution guarantees freedom of religion. There has been a religious resurgence since the fall of the Communist regime, with the majority of the population belonging to the Lutheran church, although there are also large Catholic and Orthodox Christian minorities.