There was an article about Lithuania launcing a website for expatriates. While this is a a nice thing, I still have to wonder why no such effort is made to attract immigrants?
When I moved to Lithuania, there were a lot of issues trying to get settled. And there still are, even though I've been here for almost a year. Nothing has changed during that time and I would seriously like to know why that is so.
The country is interesting, but it is very off-putting for foreigners when you can only get by with Lithuanian, many times with Russian and sometimes in German or Polish. English, not so much.
When you need to go to Migracija to handle your residency permission, the pages are quite unclear and at one point I was sent back two times to get more documents. They couldn't be bothered to say the first time what I need and the website was quite unclear about that also. They didn't say I need copies and originals of documents.
Residency permits are given only in Lithuanian. This is the same in other countries too, but they don't even say that this paper is extremely important. If you lose it, it's not like you can get another one. No, this paper is The One, no matter that they have all the information in their systems. One paper. Good thing I didn't lose it.
One would think that a place where immigrants have to go would have English speaking people, always. Not always so. I've had to speak with my limited Lithuanian skills there.
One has to register their place of stay in Lithuania. You go to Seniūnija to do that and get a personal ID. They don't speak English. You have to handle things in Lithuanian and hand waving. Maybe your landlord will speak some language you speak and can help translate. Maybe not. And don't even think of having good information available in English or other languages.
Maybe your landlord is renting the apartment out without paying taxes and they don't want to help you declare your place of stay. Maybe you have a one-year contract which forces you to pay while you can't legally stay in the country without registering your address. This has happened, and nobody warns beforehand about these things.
You start working here. You need something from Sodra. Everything is only in Lithuanian. If you need their website, only in Lithuanian. And understanding those words and legal things is immensely hard. You really can't handle it without a lot of Lithuanian studies.
So don't come working here, or if you do, don't get sick and don't ask us for help.
Again, everything's in Lithuanian. Want to donate part of your taxes to a certain charity (possible in Lithuania)? Too bad. You won't understand anything there. Most people won't study tax law when they start learning Lithuanian, so it's illegible. Don't come here to pay taxes, thanks. Go somewhere else.
Of course all laws and legislation is in Lithuanian. But many parts are also translated into English and some other languages, so you are actually able to understand them. This is a big plus.
I haven't had a run-in with the police yet, so I can't say how they treat foreigners or if their language skills are enough for there not to be problems. Hopefully I won't have the experience.
You go into a clinic to get treated. You take a queue number for the English queue. Your number comes up, you ask politely in Lithuanian if they speak English, just to make sure. "No. Do you speak Russian?" Well, not really. So that's it for the English queue. Why is there one, if nobody speaks English?
You show your EHIC, which guarantees free local service. "We don't have any doctors now, go to a private clinic nearby." And meanwhile locals get appointments without problems.
Even though banks are not part of municipality or state, one would still think they would have English speaking people there. I've only had one person that speaks good English and one that was able to explain some things. While I knew enough of Lithuanian to be able to handle my issues, for many it will be totally impossible to even get a bank account.
The banks have websites in English, since they're foreign banks. But personnell should be available. They could at least have certain times in certain branches guaranteed to have English/foreign language speaking people. Even in a tourist flooded place like Akropolis there might not be an English speaking person.
Of course it's possible someone does speak English, but people working there don't care enough to ask anyone if they could handle this customer. It's go away or try to wave hands.
Another non-governmental thing, but a big issue for foreigners. In my 10 months here only once has a cashier spoken English to me when I haven't understood what they say in Lithuanian. Usually the response I get is eye-rolling and silence. Probably it isn't anything important they just said, but it still makes a person feel like a lower class human being when they don't even try to explain in other ways or look sympathetic that we don't have a common language. Stupid foreigners, coming here to buy things and pay part of the cashier's salary.
You go into a restaurant in the center, you'll most likely have no problems. You go two kilometers away, you might be treated like a pariah. In some places when one asks politely in Lithuanian if the waiter speaks English, they just run away, leaving you wonder if there's another person coming or should you just leave. Of course, when that kind of "service" happens, the best thing would be to leave. They don't deserve your money.
You want to rent an apartment. Find a nice place online. Ask to get to see it and some information. "Sorry, it's already rented out." And it stays on the rental web page for 2-3 weeks after that. Foreigners not wanted.
You want to rent a car: "No, we don't have anything available at that time." A local friend calls five minutes after that to the same company about the same car: "Yes, we have it available, do you want to reserve it?"
Getting Internet Service
Oh, you're a foreigner? Then you'll have to pay a deposit and you can't rent a router from us. You'll have to buy one. We don't trust foreigners. We don't care if you have a personal ID here, a job, a residency permit for five years. You're a bad foreigner so we will never trust you.
To sum it up: if you're thinking about coming to live/work/study in Lithuania, you have to have very helpful friends 24/7 by your side, or no rush to get anything done. And lots of patience being handled as a lower class person, even though you might be there doing an important job, bringing money to the state and keeping the economy going. Nobody will care that you chose to come here and there would've been other options also. Learn the language, study the law, then maybe you'll be welcome. Maybe.
The trust issues are very annoying and disheartening. Are there really so many people doing bad things that we can't be trusted? Or are the scars of the Soviet era still so fresh that every foreigner must be a conqueror?
And this is not to say the country is horrible or everyone here is impolite, inconsiderate and cold. That is not the case. The problem is that there doesn't seem to be any hurry to change things to be more welcoming to foreigners, even though all it would take was a few web pages translated and some services enhanced. Not a huge cost and would only hit one time.
Unfortunately I have received a comment that seems to explain the mindset of some people in Lithuania and the reason why things are like they are:
Wow! Real disaster! I feel for you! Though I remember living several years in the UK, and those folks apparently don't speak Lithuanian too! WOW! No shops, no restaurants, no banks, no clinics, Job Centre...just name it, - NOBODY spoke Lithuanian. They didn't even have any translations!!! Well, what can you do - I had to try my English then grin emoticon grin emoticon grin emoticon No offense, please, but this is how it works if you live abroad grin emoticon
It is sad that some people don't see anything different in the fact that a country in the EU offers services mainly in their own language, spoken only by a few million people or that another country offers services mainly in their own language, spoken by hundreds of millions of people in the world. Not to mention most, if not all, other EU countries offer services in several of the most spoken languages.
I really hope this attitude is not more wide-spread, or Lithuania will not truly be a part of the western world. And I'm sure it isn't.