While searching my list of half-baked blog ideas, Mr Slager, who was in the next room, sent me a very helpful email. I appreciate how dysfunctional this non-verbal communication sounds but sharing workspace in isolation has somehow made this method of delivery another “new normal”.
He’d sent an article entitled ’The unexpected benefits of being weird’. I could have taken this as a subtle hint at my need for self-betterment, but I took it for what it was, a loving gesture of solace from someone who knows my feelings about life.
The article, which you can read here, was all about outsiders, or “weirdos” who thrive in communities where acceptance is hard to come by. The writer discusses their own trouble finding people they are in sync with.
“Growing up as a Russian immigrant in West Texas I brought beet salad to school instead of Lunchables…”
When the writer mentioned taking root vegetables to school instead of meals where the outer wrapper contained more nutritional value than the food inside, I was reminded of my childhood and the longed for “food” of my school friends. Instead of speckley white “fairy bread” I was greeted with pickles, cured meats and other peculiar arrangements.
I’ve since put all this pickling and mustard-ing down to my mother being a European immigrant, Latvian-Estonian to be exact. It wasn’t until recently, I discovered how much of her lovely Baltic heritage had become a part of me, like deeply engrained beetroot stains in a school backpack.
More often than not when I tell someone my mother is Latvian, they look at me intelligently, wait a few seconds, then blurt out, “Where is that exactly?” Here’s a map in case you were wondering the same thing. As you can see, it is not the same as Lithuania.
My Latvian-ness became most apparent when Mr Slager and I completed DNA tests earlier this year. It wasn’t the kind of DNA test the local bobby would perform, but the kind of ancestry palaver you see advertised on TV.
It took months to psych ourselves up for the humiliating process of dribbling out the required sample, so once I got my much awaited heritage results, I felt like a deflated air mattress when it showed no signs of anything untoward:
44% - Baltic - predominantly Latvia, then Estonia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine
23% - England, Wales (Dad’s cronies)
21% - Scotland, Ireland (More of dad’s cronies)
12% - remaining made up of Norway, Sweden, Germanic Europe
0% - Sultan of Brunei royalty
Everything was above board, but my Latvian suspicion sprang into action. I felt uneasy about my DNA being “in the system”, and I developed an irrational fear the government was recording my every keystroke.
WHAT ARE LATVIANS LIKE?
I’ll preface my assertions about Latvians by saying, this is a generalisation and birthplace does not dictate personality. For instance, I’m an Australian who doesn’t enjoy surfing, tanning or acting like a bogan. I don’t own a kangaroo, I’m not sporty and I’m extremely unlikely to say, “g’day mate”. I don’t talk with an upward inflection and you’d have to be someone very special for me to let you add ‘o’ to the end of my name. On the other hand, I do have a self-deprecating humour and drown a lot of my food in tomato sauce.
Latvians, generally speaking:
- Love to sing folk music
- Are great at weightlifting
- Eat a lot of potatoes
I am none of the above, and I have THE strongest aversion to what I call the devil’s icing, better known as mashed potato.
By the way, there are a lot of dark humoured Latvian jokes involving potatoes. A less melancholy one being, “Latvian pray for months for potato. Next day potatoes rain from the sky. All the town dead by potato to the head.”
I’d suggest you stop asking for potatoes, but that’s just me.
It seems many people are curious about the Latvian charm. A quick internet search presents enquiries such as: “Are Latvians rude?” “Are Latvians introverts?” “How to annoy a Latvian?” “Why are Latvians so stony?”
Do you sense a theme? The reason for such enquiries is because Latvians typically:
- Don’t smile at strangers
- Cross the street to avoid passing another person
- Wait inside their home until their neighbour leaves, avoiding any awkward encounter.
- Prefer not to sit too close to others at a restaurant
- Are pretty frank and won’t tell everyone they like them
I confess, this aptly describes me. If I had a cured pork knuckle for every time I’ve been told to “smile more”…
I even impress myself with my creative ruses to avoid people.
On numerous occasions I have waited in my house to avoid the overly chatty neighbours. Much to Mr Slager’s dismay, I have ducked into oversize menswear shops pretending to make a purchase just to avoid oncoming acquaintances. If friends wave at me and ask later why I didn’t wave back, I blame it on not having my spectacles that day.
But it turns out, I’m not weird, I’m just Baltic!
ARE THERE BENEFITS TO BEING “WEIRD”?
Sadly, like a dill pickle next to a plate of party pies, my unusually reserved personality stands out in extrovert matey-mate Australia. But I’m learning to embrace my inherited European “weirdness”, seeing it as a useful positive rather than a negative.
The article mentioned earlier proposes a positive to all this “weirdness”: “People on the periphery of their environment often have surprising strengths, including creativity.”
While introvert traits don’t bode well for social gatherings in excess of 2, the preference for solitude generates a useful link to creativity.
But can you inherit creativity?
Like the inevitable redhead in a line of Scots, many say creativity is genetic, something you’re just born with. Studies suggest this is a high probability, yet science is yet to prove the assertion.
Rather than a single “creative gene”, I’m of the belief creativity is made up of a broader combination of traits such as determination, attention to detail, imagination, patience to learn and to practice.
I happily withdraw into my smile-less Latvian solitude to develop my creative ideas and practice my drawing skills. I’m thankful I have the patience for such detailed and time-consuming work.
CREATIVITY CAN LURK IN A DEFEATED WHEELIE BIN
But the idea of creativity is not art based. Do you work in an office? Do you work in construction? Do you drive a dump truck? No matter what you do, creativity still abounds. Creativity is displayed when you:
- solve ludicrous problems the company wouldn’t have encountered had they listened to you in the first place
- devise motivational strategies for lazy staff (tip: it’s easier if you use a cattle whip or taser)
- arrange an abundance of colourful knickknacks on your desk in such a loud way, your colleagues think you moonlight as a clown in a three-ring circus
As for the dump truck driver, dear sir/madam, you continually show your abundant creativity in the way you return my bin in everything but an upright position. I applaud you my friend.
SO, WHAT IS THE STEREOTYPE FOR YOUR HERITAGE?
- Are you from the Caribbean but hate salsa?
- Are you an excitable Italian that secretly enjoys a quiet spa night?
- Are you a Russian that hates vodka?
- Are you a vegan living in Germany?
- Perhaps you have 14 toes like grandad but still manage to fall over putting on underwear?
You too can choose to avoid, embrace or just put up with your genetic tendencies!
Anyway, I have a drinks order I need to email through to Mr Slager, so I’ll have to lovingly avoid you until next time.
P.S - Mum, I’ll never enter a Latvian potato eating festival, but I really do love your pickles! x