When Cultures Clash: Spain vs. Latvia

When Cultures Clash: Spain vs. Latvia

Spain vs. Latvia

One great thing about being an American in Latvia is that I get to sit back and just observe the way the world works with a whole new perspective. I get to watch people, like an anthropologist, and make notes about what I see. Today, I witnessed the clashing of tribes—a showdown of European cultures just about as far apart as you can get and still be on the same continent—Spain vs. Latvia.

Senā Klēts

The show began at Senā Klēts, the shop that Monta runs where they design and sell traditional Latvian costumes in a very authentic and beautiful way. I was in Riga all day working at the school and meeting Rita for coffee, and so I arranged to get a ride home with Monta. The shop closes at 7 p.m., so I hustled my way across town to meet her just as she was locking the doors. As with any business, she had to close out the register and do some math. Then, along with her workmate, we headed for the exit. Just as we were leaving, these women started knocking on the door begging to be let in. They pointed at their watches and said, “5 minutes, just 5 minutes!” They even did the prayer gesture emphasizing their desperation to enter.

They hastily explained that they were from Spain and had just finished a photo shoot. It ran a little late, but they wanted to make sure they visited the shop before they left. “I love places like this!” one of the woman exclaimed.

Spanish Hurricane

The clash of cultures began as soon as they entered the store. There were three Spanish women and they were being shepherded by a young Latvian woman working for a travel agency. The Spanish women dropped their bags wherever they were and began grabbing costume items from all over the store. I got to sit back and watch as Monta and her workmate tried to maintain their composure as the Spanish hurricane, as I aptly named them, tore up the shop.

Mannequins… do not touch!

In the shop, there is a special display with costumes from all over Latvia on mannequins. These are for display only, and if a person wants one of these items, they have to order it to be specially made. Not knowing that, one of the women just walked right in and took a hat off one mannequin and tried it on. When Monta’s workmate saw this, she walked right up to the woman and took the hat off and explained, “This is not for sale.”

“I have a very large head.”

“Do you have these in other sizes?” The other woman shouted as she pulled skirts and belts off racks grabbing this and that willy nilly. “No,” Monta explained carefully, several times, “we can make adjustments, but it takes a few days.”

They tried on hats, mittens, scarves, skirts… just about everything in the store. 5 minutes turned to 10, then 20 and when it was all said and done, 45 minutes had gone by. Monta’s poor workmate just looked so sullen. I wish i would have taken a photo of her.

The good news is that they actually did buy some of the items, so it was worth the time. The highlight for me was when the older of the two Spanish women took off her pants in the middle of the store and just started trying on clothes. She did not care at all that we were there. Incredible! Latvian modesty be damned!

Thank goodness!

I snapped a few photos because the whole thing was just too weird. At the end, I chatted with the older of the two woman a bit, and she gave me her business card. She worked for the Spanish fashion magazine, Hola!, but that didn’t mean much to me. So then she showed me her Instagram and said, “I spent the summer with him,” showing me some photo of some older man with cool sunglasses. I clearly didn’t recognize him, and it wasn’t until hours later that Ansis and Monta figured out that I should have known who he was. Then she said, “We spent time on his boat,” and she showed me a picture of an incredible yacht. “Cool boat!” I said.


Then the other woman gave me her Instagram account name @samyspain which I read as “Samys Pain”, but when Ansis read it as “Samy Spain” it made a lot more sense.

After they left, and Monta and I returned to Sēlieši, I did a little research. We found out that the woman who took her pants off and showed me her pictures was Naty Abascal, a fashion model who is pretty well known. She was once a duchess for goodness sakes. And the man in the photos? Valentino.

Samy turned out to be a famous chef from Spain, Samantha Vallejo-Nagera. When I looked them up on Instagram, I saw that Naty had 144K followers, and Samy has 280K. Well done.

So when we told him, Ansis just laughed and laughed about the poor Latvian peasants and ignorant Americans for not recognizing these famous people who are probably recognized everywhere they go in Spain. Monta and I agreed that it was probably refreshing for them to be treated like normal customers. But I feel like Naty just wanted me to know who she was… especially when she showed me Valentino.

Oh well, live and learn. So that is my little brush with fame all the way in Riga, Latvia.


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