ER: Where are you from?
UB: I am a Catalan expat from Barcelona, moved to Latvia about a year ago.
ER: What is your profession? What do you do for living as an expat?
UB: I am a freelance photographer and tour guide in Riga, where I opened my photography business – Uri Foto, specialised in weddings, musical & corporate events. I also offer guided “photo shooting tours” in Rīga and Cēsis, combining history and portrait photography.
ER: What was your previous experience?
UB: I studied Media & Film in Prague, graduating in Contemporary Philosophy some years later in Barcelona. Since then, I have been living and working as a freelance documentary photographer for different NGO’s and media companies.
ER: Is Latvia the first place you are living in like an expat?
UB: No. I also lived in Scotland, the Balkans, Algeria, and the Czech Republic. But Latvia is definitely the one that suited my soul the most.
ER: For how long have you been living in all the above-mentioned countries? Why did you move?
UB: I lived in those countries for about 5 months to a 1 year period, in most of them, and decided to move there in order to experience a different way of living and gain photographic skills in the field of documentary photography.
ER: For how long have you been living in Latvia? How did you know about Latvia and what were the main arguments for moving here? Like the climate, mentality, other things…
UB: I have been living in Latvia for about a year already, and I honestly didn’t know much about it before moving here apart from thinking of it as one of the 3 “blocks” that constitutes the so called “Baltic States”, that winters were cold and people were even colder… such a common and silly stereotypes I must say (laughs). The decision of moving over was taken as a result meeting a very special person some time ago in Barcelona; someone who happened to be a Latvian who was living in Riga. Besides that, other reasons to move were secondary. However, I must admit that I also felt thrilled by the possibility to experience a new country once again; where I could find a more peaceful way of life away from the ultra-competitive and stressful Barcelona.
ER: Have your expectations proved to be true?
UB: I specifically didn’t want to make myself any kind of expectations when I moved here, so life could develop itself naturally as a new experience day by day. That’s in theory, but in practice it’s always a bit different. But in overall I remember having quite dramatic expectations about the country (extreme weather, peoples’ character, road conditions, etc.). The first 2 proved not to be true; the 3rd one proved to be absolutely right (laughs).
ER: Which positive traits of Riga and/or Latvia have you discovered as well?
UB: The main positive traits I discovered in Latvia are: the first one is a modern conscience and a truly cosmopolitan attitude that represent the young generations, clearly breaking away from the restricted values of the past; the second is the importance of nature in the lives of Latvian people, something I believe they have embraced through the centuries; and the third is the empowerment of women as a pivotal role in the Latvian society, consolidating it in a more gender parity.
ER: What have you learned from living here?
UB: That Latvian language could be way more difficult if it wouldn’t be for clear and single-sounded phonetics, that the calmer temperaments aren’t necessarily the less passionate ones, and that it is possible to live happily and fulfilled with less hours of a sunlight per year. Also, and this is not less important: the privilege of enjoying 4 weather seasons, which makes everything more interesting and diverse at a life-quality level.
ER: Which things surprised you the most about the Latvian society?
UB: To start with, the thing that shocked me the most when I first moved here was the pushing manners and rush behaviors of some people when getting in and out of a shop, while waiting to pay on a counters’ queue, or coming in and out of the public transport. I thought there was literally no respect for the other as an equal social member, which leads to a very poor sense of community after all. Secondary, it surprised me so much to literally “suffer” from the aggressive driving ways of some of the drivers here: abrupt and extremely impatient, as if a race would be held on the streets all the time. And for more “INRI”, some pedestrians don’t help much by crossing the streets in quite a careless and anarchic way, without even looking at cars. A very positive thing that surprised me quite much is the fact that almost everyone speaks very good English here; not only the youngsters, but older generations as well. This is objectively very good, of course, but quite bad in the sense that it makes it very difficult for the expat to practice his Latvian skills.
ER: How do you spend your free time here? Which places in Riga do you like the most?
UB: I like to spend my free time either travelling to random places I hadn’t been before (when the weather suits); going to watch some movie in a small kino; attending music concerts or jam sessions; or just staying at home playing guitar or reading an interesting book. When I’m going out, if I feel like playing some pool I’d usually end up in BAMS, very cool place in Cēsu Iela; if I feel more like hanging out for a gig or a good beer, Chomsky, Kaņepes or Trompete are usual choices for me.
ER: What would you recommend to other expats, who are just planning to move to Latvia?
UB: On a general level, to let themselves feel surprised by a unique atmosphere and magnetism of Riga’s way of life; calm but dynamic at the same time. And that they come with an open-mind, eager to adapt to this society that, after all, is not as “cold” as people might think it is… On a practical level, to get ready to face with a lot of bureaucratic adversities that might come out of the simplest things.