Jambo Gringo Slug

Letter to Lithuania 2017

Dear Lithuania,

I recently came to see you and it was nice. But, while you were lovely, I thought it would be only fair for me to help you to be a better country. I am sure you will appreciate that. So I thought I would write to you.

The first thing to say is that you do not smell of cabbage very much any more. Well done. There is however an occasional whiff of Eastern Europe which I think may have something to do with pork and fur hats. You should watch that just in case it gets noticeable and puts off other countries who might want to snuggle up to you (in a good way).

Which brings me to Russia. A Russian You are obviously still very angry and can't resist making snipey comments about them in your guide books and museums. I can understand that. I think I would be very angry too. I don't know what to say except try to be polite and try to look at their best side. They have a very curly alphabet which is interesting and they also like wearing fur hats, like you do (and you can secretly feel smug that they now smell of cabbage more than you). And there are still a lot of them around and your older people often speak their language. Which is something.

Some times, you're angry about the Germans too. But then, who isn't? They say they have changed and are now more interested in making washing machines than conquering your strategically important factories and port facilities. You should probably give them the benefit of the doubt. You don't have to buy their washing machines if you don't want to.

And remember that you also used to occupy lots of other places which weren't Lithuania, or necessarily, full of Liths. You have at least one museum on the subject. It involves lots of grand dukes and kings of Poland who seem to have enjoyed wearing fur hats and, it must be said, mostly staying in Poland. Presumably it is warmer there. All this was a very long time ago.

Anyway, you are now a new old country, who has joined the European Union for the road investment, travel opportunities and German exchange rates. You have some nice roads. And apparently the middle of Europe is somewhere near Vilnius which is very appropriate. If hard to believe.

A statue of Lenin On the subject of roads, you need to sort out your speed limits. They are very confusing and keep changing without anyone bothering to tell drivers. Not that the drivers seem likely to obey them anyway. And your speed cameras look very sinister. Did you recycle them from Stalin era community centres? You seem to have got rid of most of the communist concrete things. Which is swift work - I doubt you will regret it. Although you should put more of them in that history park where tourists can go to point at them and mutter about how amazingly recent it all was. Have you considered renaming the park with a snappy descriptive title more in keeping with Soviet times? Something like The People's national park for the struggle for the ultimate victory of the independent state of Liths through the inspiration of monuments and petting zoo might work.

And you have a very interesting nuclear missile launch site. I think it is a good thing there are no missiles there any more because the lady on the reception desk didn't seem very observant. Someone might easily have walked out with one of the things while she was huddled around the samovar. Maybe that is what has happened. There don't seem to be very many things left there which aren't attached with serious concrete blocks and/or girders. The buttons for annihilating western Europe look like they might have been on the bridge in Star Trek which makes them look both futuristic and dated at the same time. And the stuffed dummies are more scary than the stories about the Cuban missile crisis. It all seems amazingly recent.

A hanging bench And why do you hang things from the bottom of bridges? A park bench and a very big Christmas bauble are examples which must annoy boat captains. And I couldn't work out how to sit on the park bench and was disappointed. It is okay. It didn't ruin my day.

You have many castles although they are not real castles. Most seem to be made of brick which seems cheaty in a castle. And they are over-run with French and Spanish tourists. Anything which French and Spanish tourists can overrun is not impregnable enough. I suspect all your proper castles got obliterated at some point during your frankly rather disturbed history. Sorry about that. Although I should point out it wasn't me.

Having said that, they are very nice and have lovely tiled turret style towers which are reassuringly round. I like orange tiles and they remind me of pencils. And they tend to be in places with lots of water like lakes and rivers, so are very photogenic which shows that the original architects were very foresightful.

Obviously the walls of the castles are very thick. But I noticed that this does not just apply to your castles. Other old buildings are very thick too which makes it easy to sit on the window ledges unless an officious official stops you. There are many officious officials in your old buildings. I feel sorry for them. They seem to have very little to do apart from shake their heads at people taking photographs with their phones, and be largely ignored. While his is the way of officials everywhere, your officials manage it with a particularly Slavic frown just like the Russians do. This is something else you have in common. I am sure the officials are lovely people who are kind to their families and domestic pets. At work however they need more stimuli. Have you considered engaging them in state sponsored games of hide and seek, or requiring them to play hunt the renaissance chamber pot?

I suspect the thick walls are because you are often cold. Does anyone really swim in the Baltic? If so do they wear their fur hats when they do? Even away from the Baltic it is cold which may explain why long skirts, leather jackets and bomber boots appear to be a persistent fashion. This is perhaps why rock music has been so successful with you. While we're on that subject, did you invent goths?

I did see lots of people with accordions too. This comes as a shock for a Briton. Particularly as some of the people playing the accordions were under sixty years old. Please do continue your traditions. However, please continue them at a slightly greater distance from tourists than is currently the norm.

Talking of tourism, it appears clear that you wish to sell amber to tourists. Amber is nice. It brings to mind thoughts of jewellery and tradition and Jurassic park. However, other than making the mouthpieces of overly elaborate tobacco pipes, of which there must now be a limited demand, it is not particularly useful. There can only be a limited number of people who dream of owning a bonsai tree constructed from amber pebbles. Consider what else you could sell tourists. Examples might include warm coats, gloves and hats. This has worked well for the Icelandics. Alternatively long skirts and bomber boots might be a niche market.

A mushroom Another thing tourists buy is cake. You have lots of cake. Some of it is very intricate and some of it is basically waffles formed into a tower. Do you have a diabetes problem? Just asking.

The other thing (apart from cake and pork) which I noticed you eat a lot of, is mushrooms. The guidebooks say that you spend lots of time mushrooming in the forests. Obviously I did not believe that. It is the kind of thing guide books say because other guide books say it and they do not want to be seen to have missed something out. It is, on any level, unlikely.

I was however wrong. It turns out that you do spend lots of time mushrooming, regardless of how unlikely that is. I have thought about it and decided it is a good thing. I am glad you have embraced the cool, wet, mouldy and forested nature of your countryside to adopt a nationwide pastime which gets you out of doors at all times of year. I am also impressed that you have taken the time to invent cakes in the shape of mushrooms just in case any Liths exist who like cake but do not like mushrooms and who nonetheless want to be patriotic.

Overall I was very happy with my visit to you and all the Liths I met were lovely (or at least I think they were, but as most of them only spoke Lithuanian and Russian I may have been misled). So there is not much work to do on your part. Do, however, have a look at your ever changing speed limits - this is something you could do something about relatively quickly.

And I hope you don't get fat.

See you soon. And be nice to the Lats even if you can't manage to be nice to the Russians or the Germans for a bit yet.

Yours sincerely

A friend

Jambo Gringo 2017

Ian Tucker 2017