I can’t count how many times I’ve been called Russian, Polish, or Latvian. My absolute favorite was a remark by a hotel receptionist in Malaysia. After looking at my passport, he exclaimed, “Oh! You’re from Republic of Libya.”… Not just Libya, but Republic of Libya.
Here’s a sample of 90% of the conversations I have when I tell people where I’m from:
And that is when I give up and change the topic.
If you’re tall, blond, have blue eyes and an accent, and you’re walking along the streets of Phuket, Bali, or really anywhere that’s not Lithuania, you tend to incite remarks like “Zdarov” or “Spasibo.” Major offence! Due to our rather tragic national history, we do not like to be associated with Russia at all.
Praising Communism and suggesting that being part of Russia was so much better for us is not going to make you our friend. Yes, we are small, but we are independent, with our own distinct traditions and our own language — one of the oldest living languages in Europe.
Here’s how it usually goes down: You’re standing by the bar and a hot guy approaches you. He starts with the usual ice-breaker and asks where you’re from. Once you say you’re from Lithuania, he nods with acknowledgement and orders a shot of vodka to demonstrate how well he knows your culture. When you politely refuse, you automatically get this reply: “What? You don’t drink vodka? Isn’t it like your national drink?”
No, vodka is not the national drink of Lithuania.
The national drink of Lithuania is actually mead that’s made from honey. Balts, the ancestors of modern-day Lithuanians, were drinking mead thousands of years ago out of horns coated with metal. While we’ve now moved from horns to crystal glasses, mead remains popular amongst Lithuanians, especially during weddings, birthdays, and national holidays where everyone cheers to each other’s health.
And for the record, we also like beer, just like everyone else in the world.
When one of my friends recently visited Lithuania, we sat at a bar where he ordered a German beer.
My reaction: “Whaaaaaaat?”
Lithuanians make some impressive beers, having won numerous international awards for the subtle taste and high quality of the drink. 500 years ago, when Lithuania was still pagan, we even had gods that looked after the production of beer. They included the god of beer, Gambrinum; the god of brewers, Ragutis; and the goddess of hops, Austeja. So be noble and drink OUR beer!
We have just about every kind of beer you could wish for: We have kaimiškas alus or “village beer,” which could either be šviesus (pale) or tamsus (dark). Sometimes it’s even juodas, or black. They also come in lightly filtered filtruotas, or nefiltruotas, which are much less filtered.
For you, basketball is just a game, but for Lithuania, it means far more. Particularly since the summer of 1992, when the Lithuanian team took the Barcelona Olympics by a storm, bringing home the bronze medal just when our nation needed it the most. Basketball has since provided inspiration and become a symbol of our freedom.
Basketball is practically worshiped as a religion by Lithuanians. Every time we have an international competition, Lithuanians will trek to wherever it’s held…by the thousands. And always with our yellow, red, and green flags, our drums, our uniforms, our songs, and our loud chants.
If you want to know why basketball means so much to us, watch the documentary The Other Dream Team, produced by Marius A. Markevicius.
The answer is simple — no. So let’s just stop talking about it.
While we’re great singers behind the mic at any wedding or birthday party, don’t ask one of us to perform on an international stage. Lithuania has participated in the annual Eurovision Song Contest held amongst many of the active member countries of the European Broadcasting Union 14 times since 1994.
The first year we participated, Ovidijus Vyšniauskas finished last, without a single point. After that, Lithuania withdrew and didn’t return until 1999. It just went downhill from there.
Every May, after the contest is finished, the press floods with harsh critiques about Lithuania’s performance. One month of public shame is more than enough, so stop reminding us about it all the time!
Let’s stick with our strong suit instead — sports. Bring up the Eurovision again, and I’ll change the subject to Ruta Meilutyte, who broke the 100m breaststroke world record in the World Championship semifinals in Barcelona. There, we’re the best at something.