I like food. Yes, Latvian food is wonderful and delicious but I enjoy diversity. Thai, Italian, Mexican, Lebanese, Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian… grateful for international cuisine. In Latvia this year I have noticed two popular trends – kebab and burger.

This story is not about food though. It is about people who serve our food and about hospitality.

First story: One rainy afternoon in Riga city center, we looked for a quick bite. Noticing a new kebab restaurant, we decided that some gyros and fried potatoes would be the perfect ‘comfort’ food. I could not help but notice that two of the guys working there did not look Latvian. They were Asian but spoke fluent Latvian and were very friendly. After the meal we thanked them for the food and then casually asked where they were from.

“India”, answered the guy at the register and gave a big smile. “Well, we have never been to India but would love to visit one day”, was our reply. “Oh, you should definitely visit India. You are welcome. I can give you contacts there”, he kept smiling.

I told him that the closest I have been to India was a trip to Burma. “Burma? That is where my ancestors are from! My grandmother is from Burma and she can still speak Burmese. Are you Burmese?”, he gave me a curious look. When I said that, no, I was Latvian, I could tell he did not really believe me.

“What do you do here in Riga?”, was my next question to which he replied, “I study here. I am doing my master’s degree at the university. I like Riga and I like studying here. Working at the kebab restaurant is a part-time job.” Now it was my turn to say, “Welcome to Riga! I am glad you chose to study here.”

His name was Pravi. He asked me a second time if I was a ‘real’ Latvian and I assured him, yes.

I walked away wondering if a guy like Pravi who is educated and speaks Latvian and English, would consider staying in Latvia after finishing his studies. I don’t know his plans and I cannot offer him a job, but I can offer a sincere “Welcome to Latvia!”

The second story is from a few years ago. On one of our visits to the United States, we were invited to a Vietnamese restaurant. The guy who invited us, was praising the food and mentioned that he eats there every week.

When we ordered the food, I noticed that the waitress who spoke very little English, recognized him. “Do you want to order the usual?”, she asked and our host nodded. Later we were talking about hospitality and how easy it is to be friendly to people. As an example, I pointed to the waitress and said, “It is as simple as talking to the people who serve your food. Surely you know this waitress. What is her name?”

“I don’t know her name. We have never talked and I have never asked her name”, he was a little embarrassed. But she knew what kind of food he likes and what he wants to order!

This came to my mind recently when a friend asked for some practical ideas how to welcome people. Immigrants, refugees, international students… It can start with something as simple (and important) as this – meeting people who serve you and simply saying,

Welcome to Latvia! Nice to meet you!

Kebab

Latviski:

Man patīk ēst. Jā, latviešu ēdiens ir brīnišķīgs un garšīgs, bet man patīk daudzveidība. Taizemiešu, itāļu, libāņu, vjetnamiešu, ķīniešu, indiešu… priecājos par visām garšām. Novēroju, ka šogad Latvijā modē ir kebabi un burgeri.

Bet šis stāsts nav par ēdienu., bet gan par cilvēkiem, kas mūs apkalpo. Stāsts par viesmīlību.

Pirmais stāsts. Kādā lietainā pēcpusdienā Rīgas centrā mēs meklējām, kur varētu ātri iekost. Pamanījām jaunu kebabnīcu un nolēmām, ka giross un cepti kartupeļi būs tieši laikā. Ievēroju, ka puiši, kuri mūs apkalpoja, neizskatījās pēc latviešiem. Viņi bija no Āzijas, labi runāja latviešu valodā un ļoti laipni apkalpoja. Vēlāk mēs pateicām paldies par ēdienu un vienkārši pajautājām, no kurienes jūs esiet?

“No Indijas” atbildēja puisis pie kases un plati smaidīja. Teicu, ka nekad neesam bijuši Indijā, bet labprāt aizbrauktu. “Protams, jums jāredz Indija. Laipni lūgti! Es varu iedot kādus kontaktus!” viņš turpināja smaidīt.

Es ieminējos, ka vistuvāk Indijai ir Birma, kur esam bijuši. “Birma? Mani senči ir no turienes. Mana vecmamma ir no Birmas, un viņa prot birmiešu valodu. Vai tu arī esi no Birmas?” viņš uzmeta pētījošu skatienu. Kad teicu, ka esmu no Latvijas, vienalga nebija pārliecināts.

Prasījām, “Ko tu dari Rīgā?” … “Es šeit studēju. Esmu maģistra programmā universitātē. Man patīk Rīga un manas studijas. Kekabnīcā es piestrādāju brīvajā laikā.” Tagad bija mana kārta teikt: “Laipni lūgts Rīgā! Priecājos, ka izvēlējies studēt tieši šeit.”

Viņu sauc Pravi, un atvadoties viņš vēlreiz pārjautāja, vai tiešām esmu latviete.

Ejot projām, pie sevis nodomāju – vai tāds jaunietis kā Pravi, ar augstāko izglītību, ar labām latviešu un angļu valodas zināšanām, vēlētos palikt un strādāt Latvijā pēc studiju beigšanas? Nezinu viņa plānus, un arī darbu nevaru piedāvāt, bet vienu gan varu izdarīt. Varu patiesi teikt: “Laipni lūgts Latvijā!”

Otrs stāsts no ASV. Pirms dažiem gadiem viens paziņa uzaicināja uz vjetnamiešu restorānu. Viņam ļoti garšoja šis ēdiens un lielījās, ka ēdot tur katru nedēļu.

Kad pasūtījām ēdienus, es ievēroju, ka viesmīle, kura slikti runāja angļu valodā, viņu pazina. Viņa jautāja: “Vai vēlaties to pašu, ko parasti?” un viņš apstiprināja. Vēlak mēs sākām runāt par viesmīlību un draudzīgumu pret iebraucējiem. Kā piemēru es ieminējos par mūsu viesmīli, kura viņu atpazina. Kā šo sievieti sauc?

“Nezinu. Es nezinu viņas vārdu. Nekad neesam runājuši, un nekad neesmu jautājis.” Bet viesmīle zin, kas viņam garšo, un ko parasti vēlas pasūtīt!

Atcerējos šo gadījumu, kad nesen viens draugs lūdza praktisku padomu attiecībā uz viesmīlību. Pret imigrantiem, starptautiskiem studentiem, patvēruma meklētājiem… vārdu sakot, viesmīlība pret iebraucējiem. Tā var sākties ar tik vienkāršu lietu kā iepazīšanos ar cilvēkiem, kuri mūs apkalpo, un vienkāršiem (bet svarīgiem) vārdiem –

Laipni lūgti Latvijā! Prieks iepazīties!

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