The Differences Part 1: Money

The Differences Part 1: Money

Atšķirības

I suppose that one of the interesting topics to write about is how Latvia is different from the United States. Since it is a part of the European Union, I’m sure that some of the differences will carry over to other countries you might be interested in visiting, but I am also even more sure that every country has its quirks that you will have to figure out on your own.

Money (Nauda)

Euro

Money is different in so many ways, that it would take a long boring post to explain all of it. First of all, for those of you who do not know, Latvia is a part of the European Union, and they have adopted the Euro. Right now, Euros are worth just a little more than a dollar. I think that’s good if you have Euros.

Some things are cheaper here than they are in America, but so far, I haven’t found many of those things. I was trying to buy a simple dish drainer like this, but they are harder to find than you think, and when I finally found one, it was €21! I’ll just use a towel for now.

 

My experiences with rental cars has been nothing short of a nightmare. My “Enterprise” car rental in Italy charged me €250 on top of the very expensive price to begin with because I changed the flat tire. Because. Something. And in Riga? Remember my parking nightmare? I emailed the Sixt to make sure they got the car back, and they informed me that the car is fine, but I will be getting a €55 parking ticket because apparently I wasn’t parked in the right place. These nightmares and anxieties I have are real. I don’t make them up!

One thing that is pretty cheap is the bus from here to Riga. I can get to Riga and back for about €3 on a nice comfortable bus without worrying about traffic or parking. If I get a job (an interesting “if” at this point), and I have to go back and forth to Riga, that could get a bit pricey, but it’s still better than trying to find a parking spot.

Unicorn

I opened up my bank account, and of course, this unicorn ran into some issues with that. While working with the wonderful woman at SEB Bank, I had to call Ansis and Rita to try to get things figured out. They needed some evidence of employment and this and that in order for me to open a bank account. I also had to give my American Social Security number. Curiously, I was just reading about how Paul Manifort may be in trouble for not doing that with some of his offshore accounts. I didn’t know it was the law, and I certainly didn’t know that I had anything in common with Manifort!  I always find it so strange how people seem to be able to get away with doing all these illegal things. When I try to do them legally, I can barely make it work. And then, when I tried to deposit cash, she told me to wait until I get my bank card because it would cost €5 for her to deposit my money at the counter. I also paid 30 cents to use the bathroom at the mall. Seemed like a fair price at the time.

In general, it seems that food and services are a bit cheaper than in America, but technology, electronics, and even clothes are as expensive or more expensive. Beer is pretty cheap. A big bottle of beer at the local shop is about 70 cents. Speaking of the local shop… the other day, I went in just as she was closing, and the cash register was off. I bought €5.24 worth of stuff, but I didn’t have change, and she didn’t want to break a bigger bill, so she took my name and gave me credit. Old school cool, right? I went in the next day, and a different lady working there knew who I was right away. “Divdesmit četri?” she asked. I gave her a quarter and said, “Keep the change.”

I got cellphone service here through Tele2, one of the top 3 cell phone providers. I’m doing a pay-as-you-go plan. They call their regular plans “tariff” plans. I have no idea why, but unlimited calls, text and data will cost about €24 a month. That seems pretty good to me, but Ansis says it’s still too expensive. I just added 2 GB of data to my phone for €5.99. I have no idea if that’s a rip-off or not. I just know I confused the guy behind the counter when I tried to explain what I needed.

Many Latvians leave to get decent jobs in other EU countries, which is a sad fact of globalization. Everyone warns me not to get a public teaching job because public employees do not make any money at all. At this point, I don’t really care about salary, I would just like to be working somewhere. It is so weird to fill out a form (like at the bank) and to realize that for the first time since I was 16, I don’t have a job to put down on the application. Weird.

Codes

In order to pay people, most Latvians just use bank accounts. Businesses post their bank accounts right on the front page of their websites so you can send them payments. Apparently, credit cards haven’t quite caught on. So in order to attend this Latvian Association of Teachers of English (LATE) Conference next week, I need to pay with my bank account that doesn’t have any money in it… yet. I find myself giving out personal information like it’s nothing, where in American, we guarded that information and kept it close to the vest. I haven’t found anyone here who is shy to ask, “How much did you pay for that?” or “How much do you earn?” On the other hand, they are super serious about security. To log into my online bank account, I need to use my special coded username, my 9-digit password, and then they gave me this funky card with 56 alpha-numeric codes. I need to match the code to the number they give me online. It’s kind of like I am in some Mission Impossible episode every time I log in!

When I bought that used bike, I thought I was getting a good deal. But when I tell others how much I pay, they kind of cringe about the price. It’s so hard to tell if you’re doing the right thing. I just know I suck at renting cars. It is not my strong suit! And let’s not forget gas… it’s about €1 per liter, which is about €4 per gallon or so. That’s pretty high, but natural gas is only 50 cents a liter, and there are many cars here that use it for fuel. Even Ansis had his minivan converted to use natural gas.

 

Everything will be fine. I didn’t come to Latvia to become a millionaire or anything, so learning all of this is just a part of the grand journey!

Let me know if you have any questions about this stuff. I find it fascinating! Sorry for the lack of photos… not much to tell.

 

 

 

 

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