Becoming friends with lithuanians- mission possible

Written by a journalist Laima Karaliūtė

According to immigrants living in Lithuania for several years- although Lithuanians are very cautious people, after getting acquainted they often become best friends. So, if you are an immigrant, especially from a Muslim country, you should know that a part of Lithuanian society is afraid of visitors who look different, speak an unknown language and practice other religion. Why is it so? Where does the fear come from? And, most importantly, how to make friends with Lithuanians and integrate in Lithuania successfully? Communication specialists ARIJUS KATAUSKAS and MANTAS MARTISIUS asnwer these questions. 

A collage by Tomas Terekas

Fear comes from ignorance

“In Lithuania, the number of immigrants from Muslim countries is relatively low, and we will certainly find a lot of locals who have never been in direct contact with newcomers. At the same time, information, especially the negative one (e. g., about religious conflicts, terror attacks), is easily accessible. Therefore, some Lithuanians form their opinion about Muslims just from the news pages, and that opinion is usually negative,” says A. Katauskas.

“Fear comes from lack of knowledge

“When a person himself has never been in contact with a person of a different nationality, he begins to believe in myths and legends, often putting a label “dangerous”. He considers all Muslims the same, according to what he sees on the news, therefore, the fear of Muslims comes from lack of knowledge, and lack of direct contact. And only after getting acquainted with a person, the opinion changes. He understands that a Muslim is the same human being as himself,” A. Katauskas narrates the fears that Lithuanians have. 

The anxiety of a small society

Mantas Martisius (associate professor of communication at Vilnius University) believes that a part of Lithuanians, especially the elderly ones, haven’t had a possibility to travel abroad for a long time, that’s why other nationalities still seem as if from other space for them. A part of these people are afraid of newcomers because they still remember the Soviet occupation. There is a fear that newcomers can enslave, impose their own rules and religion. In other words, these are the fears of a small society with a history of occupation. “Just a few years ago, our country started the integration of refugees, which is why society has not yet accustomed to a person of a different culture living in the neighborhood. It takes time for tolerance to emerge,” according to M. Martisius.

Enmity because of social benefits

Both interviewees emphasize that even a greater intolerance from locals is possible to expect in small cities of Lithuania. Communities there are more confined, people more settled and conservative, while residents of a large city are usually more liberal towards newcomers. “In a small town, you don’t have to be a Muslim for the locals to point fingers at you. Dressing differently will do,” says M. Martisius.

“A part of Lithuanian citizens, especially those living more poorly, fear that immigrants will take their jobs. Some are reluctant to accept the newcomers because the country pays social benefits for them. So, why don’t they increase the social benefits for us, Lithuanians, but grant them to people of other nationalities? Lithuanians simply don’t understand that state support for an immigrant is not being given at the expense of their social benefits,” emphasizes M. Martisius. 

A. Katauskas believes that some people do not understand the integration system itself and that it is a task for a state to explain and educate so that the situation does not become conflicting. 

Lithuanian language – a way to gain respect from a Lithuanian

For an immigrant, friendship with Lithuanians opens many doors and enables him to feel a full-fledged member of the community. However, how can an immigrant of another religion and culture find a way into the hearts of Lithuanians? “First of all, if there is an opportunity, an immigrant must find out what country he is going to, otherwise, he might experience shock and, probably, disappointment. One has to understand not only the society to which he has come but also the way locals respond to immigrants,” advises A. Katauskas.

“A friendship with Lithuanians opens many doors”

According to the interviewee, if a person wants to make friends with Lithuanians, three essential rules need to be followed: “communicate, understand, and respect.” “The greatest expression of respect to a Lithuanian is the immigrant’s ability to converse at least to some extent in Lithuanian language. In the beginning, only essential phrases and words are enough. The mere fact that you are making an effort to learn the Lithuanian language, are interested in Lithuanian customs and history is the fastest way to friendship with a Lithuanian.” 

Being different is good, imposing your own rules – is not

The specialist advises not to expect immigrant’s traditions, habits, and lifestyle to be taken for granted by Lithuanians. “If an immigrant thinks this way and even gets surprised that Lithuanians don’t understand his customs, resistance arises, and the conflict is almost inevitable,” A. Katauskas believes.  

“Having come to another country, you cannot act like at your own home and establish your order”

The interviewee advises not to impose your beliefs on Lithuanians and not to criticize local customs by any means. Especially, not to engage in disputes over religion (which religion is more advanced, and so on). If an immigrant does not understand this, not only will he be unable to make friends with locals, but also the interactions may lead to conflict or even violence. “Having come to another country, you cannot act like at your own home and establish your order. Not only the laws but also unspoken ethical and moral norms exist. An immigrant must be aware that Lithuanians don’t like it when somebody is explaining, complaining, and criticising everything in a row. Culture is not only defined by laws,” the interviewee is confident.

A Lithuanian citizen is the best advisor

M. Martisius recalls an incident of how, without understanding the moral norms of Lithuanians, it is possible to provoke locals’ resentment. “In the yard in a big Lithuanian city, immigrant Muslims, according to their customs, decided to slaughter a lamb. They couldn’t understand why the locals were horrified at this act as this is absolutely normal at their homeplace,” recounts M. Martisius. 

A. Katauskas advises the immigrants to find a local guide, an advisor who is well acquainted with written and unwritten rules of the Lithuanian society. “It is very unlikely that you will find any advice on how to make friends with Lithuanians online or in books,” the specialist thinks. 

“It’s a mistake to believe that everyone should be acquainted with your religion”

Both interviewees believe that some Lithuanians may not understand the newcomers’ customs and the way they dress. Therefore, it is necessary to explain your roots, the way of dressing, praying, and so on. “It’s a mistake to believe that everyone should be acquainted with your religion. On the contrary – if you don’t explain, people won’t trust you even more and have no will to communicate,” A. Katauskas is sure. 

M. Martisius describes Lithuanians as conservative and, at first, maintaining their distance with strangers. “It takes time and patience to make friends with a Lithuanian. An immigrant is most likely to gain the sympathies of Lithuanians when his actions start showing that he’s hard-working, honest, and respectful of Lithuanian values,” M. Martisius discusses the possibility of gaining the goodwill of Lithuanians.

Tips for making friends with Lithuanians

Learn even the slightest bit of Lithuanian language
Take an interest in Lithuanian history, customs, ethical and moral norms
Get acquainted with and respect the Lithuanian laws
Don’t engage in disputes over religion or nationality
Don’t identify Lithuania with Russia. For Lithuanians, it’s a painful historical topic
Show that you came to work, not to be a burden
Don’t demand too much
Don’t confine yourself exclusively in your own religious or national community
Explain your cultural differences
Don’t dictate your rules, tolerate the local ones 
Taste Lithuanian dishes that are acceptable to you and don’t spare any compliments
Commend the achievements of Lithuania, e. g., basketball, which, with a smile, is even known as the second religion of Lithuanians
Be patient and forgiving