True Lithuania

Society of Lithuania: Introduction

Lithuania is a cohesive society of 3 million people with no serious internal conflicts. The local Baltic culture has been influenced by both the West and the East.

Lithuanians are quite introverted and speak little to people they don't know. The nuclear family is the most important (further relatives and childhood friends may be far away due to migration). Own home is a kind of shrine for a Lithuanian, both as a secure location and for self-expression. Modern fashions are largely inspired by the West but the restrictive Soviet past (and the post-Soviet freedom) left its marks. Lithuanian virtues, ethics and morale includes Christian, Soviet and Western influences. The same can be said about etiquette as well; Lithuanians plan their time in advance and are relatively cold tempered, but both are not the extremes.

The importance of social classes is negligible and there are few districts or institutions exclusively for "the rich" or "the poor"; save for a few extreme cases they intermingle. However the age-related expectations for a person to fulfill some roles tend to be more stringent than in the West.

Once *the* definition of a person, religion lost some of its importance under the Soviet atheist regime. Roman Catholic (~85,9%) practices and holidays are generally considered mainstream, while Russian Orthodox (~4,6%) is the most visible minority. Interfaith relations are cordial; religious (93,2%) vs. irreligious (6,8%) may pose a bigger divide.

Religion has been replaced by ethno-linguistic groups as the most prominent self-identification even before the Soviet occupation. Lithuanians are the majority (85%). Prime minorities are the conservative Poles (6,65%) and mostly urban Russians/Russophones (8%).

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Socio-economic groups of Lithuania

In the Lithuanian society, class divisions are low-key. Members of very different affluence levels more usually than not live in the same neighborhoods, buy at the same shopping malls and send their children to the same public (rather than private) schools. Complex history, where classes were frequently shuffled by various occupational forces, played a part in this.

Ignas Staškevičius (left), one of the richest people in Lithuania, working as a salesman for his publishing house during Vilnius Book Fair. Even the largest Lithuanian businesses tend to be (micro)managed by their owners. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The influential elite of Lithuania consists of several very different groups. The first group is that of the so-called "Soviet nomenclature". To the dismay of 1990s independence activists, many of these remained in powerful positions, continuing their old practice of conformism with whoever is in power and reciprocal cronyism. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, many of them have switched their ideals to pro-European Union (as this is where the new winds are blowing). Slow lustration meant that unlike in some other ex-communist countries the people of Lithuania were not informed on who served totalitarian institutions during the Soviet occupation. The former "nomenclature" is typically reluctant to show off its wealth as this would attract unwanted attention and questions.

After independence, the Soviet "nomenclature" was joined in the competition for political power by the former independence activists (mainly libertarian or conservative intellectuals).

A former independence activist shows the underground printing press her family used to circumvent Soviet censorship. Many families have such stories of resistance, suffering or quiet defiance to tell. Those who collaborated however usually keep silent. The division is noticeable and even the young are sometimes evaluated by their parents' occupation-era deeds. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

In vying for economic power, the "nomenclature" was in some sectors outcompeted by 1990s self-made men who established retail, import/export and other businesses in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as well as privatized those Soviet "businesses" that the "nomenclature" didn't want. As the new opportunities were most eagerly grabbed by people in their 20s and 30s the Lithuanian millionaire community of the era was younger than in many other countries. In the early 1990s people were eager to put their newly acquired wealth into large suburban homes and expensive cars, but with time this trend diminished, although a constant and stable group of Lithuania's rich "elite" publicizes their endeavors in socialite magazines.

Despite the relatively similar class lifestyles, there is some resentment against businessmen, rooted both in the Soviet propaganda ("trade=theft") and the significance of "turncoat Soviet nomenclature" among the rich. The recent 2000s high-tech entrepreneurs are respected more.

With high streets and malls dominated by chain stores, the small businessmen largely stick to marketplaces and fairs, although online retail/services gain popularity among younger starters.

The relative lack of labour-intensive industries means that there are few industrial workers in Lithuania. Labor unions are generally weaker than in the western Europe and they suffer a certain image problem as a part of society associates them with the former Soviet regime (when the state was both the only true employer and the real power behind the puppet labor unions). Businessman, on the other hand, are skeptical of the labor unions because of the situations when their leaders mobilize the unions for their own personal gain rather than that of the workers.

Traditional intellectuals may be considered another class that consists of teachers, doctors, scientists and classical artists. Loyal intellectuals were supported by the Soviet regime, moreover, their jobs used to be the most prestigious ones as they offered access to various other people. This access was more important than money in the Soviet society where many goods could have been obtained only through personal relations with someone responsible for distribution. After independence, the education and healthcare remained public rather than private (leading to mediocre salaries) while classical art failed to attract enough customers to be commercially viable. Therefore some intellectuals, while deeply critical of the Soviet totalitarianism, believe that the current system is treating them unfairly. However, it may be so that a significant part of this group has failed to adapt, with (for example) universities still choosing which research projects to undertake based on personal relations with the scientists, which impedes the will of private companies to fund these projects.

Another significant force in the society is the peasantry. Some 12% of the workforce is in agriculture, but this is diminishing as agriculture turns into another form of business, partly funded by the European Union money and impossible without sacrificing the workforce numbers for technology and economies of scale. Emotional peasant protests against government policies and roadblocks by farming equipment of the 1990s are therefore a thing of the past, replaced by other forms of lobbying.

Historical classes, such as the nobility, are completely meaningless, as they were stripped of their final benefits some 100 years ago. Subsequently, the Soviets completely destroyed their culture and remaining landholdings.

A certain underclass, so-called asocial people, lives on benefits and criminal activity. Many of them are dependent on alcohol, some on drugs. Among the criminals, there is their own division into castes, largely inherited from the Russian and Soviet prison system.

While the post-independence generations (born ~1990 and later) that are now entering the elite lack the Soviet experiences that forged the divisions in the Lithuanian society, they often still align themselves with those older groups, often depending on their upbringing, ethnicity, circle of friends and more. Still, another part of the post-independence population associate themselves with social groups common in the West instead (this is more common among those who studied or lived in the West).

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Age groups and genders in Lithuania

The Soviet clichés imposed on every age group had a person's life neatly divided into distinct "age bands", each with its own duties. For example, playing board games, watching animation and drinking refreshing drinks had been only acceptable to children, only adults were permitted to eat at restaurants, while the seniors were expected to stay at home (garden) and help rear grandchildren. Many watched with disbelief as president Valdas Adamkus (a Lithuanian-American) drank Coca Cola in the 1990s - "is he still a child?" question lingered.

This mindset still limits senior citizen's lifestyle. For example, unlike in the West, it is uncommon for retired citizens to travel abroad as many consider themselves to be too old and unhealthy for this. The fact that most senior Lithuanians spent their youths without many things that were already commonly available in the West (e.g. personal cars, dining out, bank cards) also influences their lack of will/ability to use them today.

Moreover, the former Soviet policies made the retired Lithuanians rather poor. There have been no pension funds in Lithuania, meaning that the current workforce (rapidly decreasing due to emigration) is forced to pay the pensions to the entire retiree population (23% of all citizens). The old age pension is therefore relatively small but even this puts a great strain on the economy, pushing the state to borrow money at high costs.

Perhaps due to lack of safety during their lifetimes most retirees are saving a large share of their incomes (in their home rather than in the mistrusted banks). This further reduces the actual disposable incomes of the retirees and leads to sad stories when these savings are stolen by con-artists specializing at this.

While the elderly are customarily respected (e.g. by yielding them a seat in public transport), more often than not they are somewhat "written off" by the society. Their wisdom, acquired in life conditions extremely different from the ones today (i.e. under the Soviet occupation), is seen as no longer useful.

The youth is generally more westernized than their parent or grandparent generations and the old social divisions give way to the new ones that are common in the Western Europe. The common way to grow up is to attend a kindergarten, attend a school 7 to 18 y/o and then immediately seek university education (up to Master's degree). Of these, only the school is compulsory. Most people start to seek job only after completing their studies; prior to that they commit their free time to "being students" instead (partying, etc.), save for an occasional summer job (if one follows the massive study programs rigorously (s)he'll have very little free time anyway). While the rigid "first education, then job" sequence dates back to the Soviet age-band clichés, parts of them have changed: back then universities were reserved only for the most capable while army conscription and vocational education were for the rest.

Adults aged 25 to 55 are the bulk of society and the major taxpayers. They generally live on their own and decide independently (including selecting a husband/wife). The late 20s to early 30s are popular ages for the wedding and having children. "Official marriage" these days both comes later and feels more optional than under the Soviet occupation when somebody unmarried at 25 used to be considered a likely lifelong bachelor(ette) by peers. While many still meet their serious partners in the early 20s, many prefer some career before the wedding. The psychological definition of a "young person" has also widened: it now generally covers much of the 30s whereas before independence 30s was held to be "middle age" and even parties/discos for "those over 30" used to be separate.

Women are prominent in Lithuanian public life, making up more than 49% of the labour force (a larger share than in every single Western European, Northern European and continental American country) and 51% among researchers. Female suffrage dates to the very first democratic elections in Lithuania (Great Seimas of Vilnius, 1905).

The women are customarily respected by allowing them to pass a door first.

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Personal and family relations in Lithuania

The basis of Lithuanian nation is the nuclear family. The number of kids has been decreasing recently; today a family of four (two parents and two children) is the social norm. It is now acceptable for couples to forego marriage (see: marriage traditions).

Lithuanian language has a multitude of words to describe obscure family relations (e.g. "kaliboba" - 4th husband, "dieveris" - husband's brother, "laigonas" - wife's brother). This signifies the importance a wider family once had but today these words are largely forgotten. Under the Soviet occupation, it was common to relocate people - therefore now relatives rarely live nearby and meet only on special occasions if at all.

Housing shortage under the Soviet occupation meant that three generations typically had to share the same apartment. This changed now and adult children usually move out (although may still be supported financially) largely breaking free from parental control.

Husband and wife usually share the income with the wife spending more. Student children are given limited allowances on family money. A richer family may also give money to parents and a few other relatives in dire straits.

Lithuanian parenting styles and values vary greatly from family to family, and libertarian laws respect this. Any state intervention into child-rearing (which is common in the West) is generally frowned upon.

While a part of youth has a dissenting opinion, having sex is commonly held to be an important commitment and faithfulness is valued. The average number of lifetime sexual partners is less than 3. Teen pregnancy, abortion and STD rates in Lithuania are all considerably lower than those of the two other Baltic States.

Some urban Lithuanian keep cats and dogs which they treat as a "junior family member". Villagers, on the other hand, more often regard their pets more like farm animals limiting their time inside homes and expecting utility rather than cuteness (i.e. mice-eating cats and security dogs).

After the family, an average Lithuanian spends much of his remaining free time with friends. "Friends" include select relatives, select workmates, a few (former) classmates and (former) university mates. Friendships are generally within the same age group and more-often-than-not the same gender.

Male friends tend to limit touching each other to handshakes while for female friends hugs and kisses are acceptable. Younger people treat seniors (older by 10+ years) more formally than otherwise expected, whereas older people treat younger ones less formally.

Social differences do not preclude friendships but boss-employee or teacher-student friendships are rare as hierarchy prevails in most institutions. Deliberations have now become more fashionable but it is still usually up to the leader to individually decide whether to take the advice of his/her subordinates. This decision-making hierarchy, however, does not mean inequality of working conditions.

Lithuanians almost never talk to strangers, except for "designated areas" such as nightclubs and internet forums. They keep a high degree of formality towards acquaintances (e.g. co-workers who are not friends) and service personnel. It may be considered untactful to display emotions or (to a lesser extent) political-philosophical opinions to anyone but one's friends.

In Lithuanian villages, the "everybody knows everybody else" tenet still holds true. In cities, however, the neighbor relations essentially have been destroyed by the centrally-planned Soviet urbanization (when very different people used to be moved into the same neighborhoods). Average urban Lithuanian knows very little about those who live next door even for years. Not saying "hello" to one's neighbor is not considered rude. This is somewhat changing in post-independence housing developments where more similar people (in age, salary, education) acquire apartments.

Typical large Soviet residentials in Klaipėda. Nearly every such building houses both rich businessmen and poor pensioners, Lithuanians and Russians, hard workers and alcohol-addicted social security recipients. At one time even the acting Prime Minister lived in such apartment. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

On the other hand, many keep relations with people far away as a massive emigration led to virtually everybody having some relatives and childhood friends abroad (until 2004, mostly in the USA but now mostly in the Western Europe). They come back for holidays and cheaper medicine and may send remittances. Some locals see emigrants as traitors, however, believing them to have sacrificed the needs of their small nation and families for personal material gain. Such views are usually held about the ones who assimilate into the foreign cultures and have no plans to return or perpetuate Lituanity abroad.

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Home and away: Lithuanian public/personal space

A large modern detached family house is the coveted accommodation to many (a popular saying goes that "Every Lithuanian has to plant a tree, raise a child and build a house"). In Vilnius, Kaunas and Klaipėda, however, a non-Soviet apartment can also be a status symbol. The majority lives in Soviet apartments (cities) or old detached homes (villages).

Nearly every family owns its home, 90%+ without any bank credits attached. Rental is considered acceptable only for students and expatriates. Most homes are even self-designed (at least the interiors).

Types of Lithuanian family homes

On average every Lithuanian has 26,2 m2 of living space. 36% live in detached homes, 63% live in apartments (the division is 15%-85% in cities/towns and 80%-20% in villages).

All Lithuanian single-family detached homes can be roughly divided into 4 main types:

Dwelling type Common locations Common features Percentage of total dwellings
Pre-WW2 detached homes (-1945) Villages, town centers, former city suburbs The traditional dwelling. Usually wooden, lacking indoor WC and sewerage. 7,8%
Soviet detached homes (1945-1990) Villages, town suburbs The "mainstream" dwelling of a Soviet countryside. Small and of dubious building quality, their brick or prefab walls and modern amenities still seemed an improvement to many. 21%
1990s detached homes City suburbs Large-to-enormous, self-designed brick homes that people rushed to build "for generations" when they were finally able to earn money with the advent of capitalism. New technologies, ideas, and movement made many of these homes obsolescent, however. 2,5%
2000s detached homes City suburbs, towns In 2000s more Western ideas (styles, layouts, materials) reached the detached home construction 3,1%

The four main types of detached homes in Lithuania. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

All Lithuanian apartments may be roughly divided into these 5 types:

Dwelling type Common locations Common features Percentage of total dwellings
Pre-WW2 apartments (-1945) City downtowns Brick buildings of pretty architecture from the ages gone-by. Every apartment is unique and most are expensive, but a lack of parking space and the "building aging problems" make them a dream home only to some Lithuanians. 5,8%
Early Soviet apartments (1945-1960) City downtowns Dating to the Stalin's campaign of rebuilding downtowns in his own grandeur these apartments have especially high ceilings and are semi-prestigious due to their central locations. WC and bath are in a single room. 3,6%
Soviet apartments (1960-1990) City Soviet micro-districts, towns Still the "mainstream" accommodation in cities. Prefab, badly insulated, unprestigious, cramped. All buildings and apartments designed the same way and many still have the same furniture. Very different people live next door leaving no place for a true community. 46,8%
Soviet dormitories (1945-1990) City Soviet micro-districts The crampiest form of Soviet accommodations where every family has a single room and must share toilets and kitchen with an entire floor. After independence people used to allocate part of their room for amenities thus effectively making dormitories into apartment blocks. Note: today it is also common among out-of-city students to rent large apartments and use them as dormitories. 1%
Post-independence apartments (1990-) Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipėda Despite a rapidly falling population residential construction boomed after independence as the economic growth permitted many to acquire new better quality apartments. These are preferred by young families leaving multi-generational homes 7,7%

The four main types of Lithuanian apartments. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Lithuanian home culture and etiquette

A great care is taken to keep the home tidy and comfortable. It is not entirely a personal space however and guests are commonly invited (removing shoes is a must). Guests may be given a home-prepared dish (see: Lithuanian cuisine).

This cherished "home" ends abruptly at the front door (front gate) - the staircases/public yards may be dirty and derelict. In the Soviet apartment blocks, this has been a necessity as the inhabitants are simply too different to agree on common rules. In modern housing developments, there is more respect for common good.

Lithuanians are especially attached to the location. A popular Lithuanian expression "[he is] so sad as if he sold his land" implies that even a willful transfer of one's real estate has traditionally been a sorrowful event. To this day many spend entire lives (or at least entire adulthood) in a single home. Even when buying a new apartment most prefer improving size/quality but not the neighborhood (this helps city districts to remain socially heterogeneous). However the historical fondness of location has found its limits: many (especially the youth) "improve status" by moving from towns to cities, from non-capital cities to Vilnius, from city apartments to suburban houses or emigrating abroad. While Lithuanians used to build homes "for generations" until 1990s today they increasingly take the new mobility into account.

In villages, most people own some crops or cattle, even if they have other jobs. Urban relatives may come to help in harvests. "Going to the village" and "Where is your village?" are common expressions among middle-aged urban Lithuanians, showing that fairly recently ~80% of Lithuanians were rural and, as a local proverb goes, [nearly everyone is] "a 3rd generation from a plow". Lithuanian villages are however aging swiftly and today's urban kids may already lack "their village". Some reestablish the connection to nature by buying an abandoned farm or visiting "village tourism" sites in summer to enjoy a sauna, swim in a lake.

A car is a kind of obligatory "home away from home" and well cared for (Lithuania is among the global leaders by car ownership rates). Intra-city public transport is thus used mainly by the poor and those unable to drive. Used prestigious cars are preferred to new(er) small ones.

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Lithuanian daily and annual routine

Most Lithuanians live, work or study in cities and therefore their daily routines are quite similar. Time is generally important to Lithuanians so they schedule many of their activities in advance.

The usual day of a Lithuanian: home and work

Most Lithuanians work from 8:00 to 17:00 Monday to Friday, with a break at 12:00-13:00. This schedule is especially strict in most national and municipal institutions but may be more flexible at private companies.

Separate office rooms for 1-4 people each are the most common office arrangement. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The commute is short as most people both live and work in the same city/town, so most could wake up at 06:30 or 07:00, eat a quick breakfast and drive to their 8:00 jobs (public transportation is slower and generally limited to the poor and those unable to drive).

The mid-day (~12:00) meal is sometimes translated as "dinner" rather than "lunch" as it is the primary meal of the day. It is enjoyed by taking up special offers at restaurants near the workplace, reheating meal taken from home or (in smaller towns) going back home. Shorter coffee or cigarette breaks may also be taken if there is less work.

An average Lithuanian can be home after work ~18:00 devoting the evening to his hobbies, household chores or TV. The supper is then prepared and eaten, more commonly by a wife, whereas the husband is expected to do repairs and physical work needed at home. This traditional reliance on do-it-yourself has somewhat withered as post-independence economic boom made eating out and hiring professional help much more affordable. Still, being good at the chores of the respective sex is considered honorable. Full-time servants or nannies are rare even among the rich.

Evening rush hour in Vilnius in January. Short winter days mean that Lithuanians leave homes before sunrise and come back after sunset. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

If the family has kids and the school is far away they may drive them in the morning. However, usually kids are enrolled into the nearest one and walk or use public transport to there on their own from a very young age (~8 years old), which is generally safe. The lessons start at 8:00 and may end at 12:00 to 15:30 depending on a day and schoolyear (older kids have more lessons). In any case children usually come back home earlier than parents unless they go out somewhere. In the evenings, kids are expected to do extensive homework.

University student schedule is similar to that of school students although the lecture times are less regular.

The youngest kids usually spend the entire daytime at kindergartens where they are driven in the morning and taken as parents are going home from work (unless there are grandparents or hired nannies to look after them).

The schedules are different for those who work evening shifts or long shifts alternating with prolonged leisure periods (e.g. in supermarkets). Night shifts are less common since most labor-intensive factories have closed down. Peasants also have unique schedules dependent on the annual cycle of seasons.

Weekends (Saturdays and Sundays) are free for most workers and students.

Walking around parks without a particular goal is a popular weekend activity in summer. In winter such strolls are mostly confined to shopping malls, where far from every visitor buys much. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Lithuanian vacation and travel habits

The Lithuanian Labor code gives 1 month of annual paid holidays, 2 weeks of which must be consecutive. Lithuanians usually spend these times in the garden, countryside, visiting relatives, on the seaside, traveling abroad, prolonged partying or simply at home.

After independence (and scrapped Soviet travel limitations) an annual or more frequent foreign travels became a norm. Middle-aged and small-town people prefer regularly coming back for holidays in the same Turkish or Egyptian resorts. Young generation increasingly travels independently. Still, Lithuanians love their own beaches and the local resorts get extremely crowded in summer weekends (even if nearly everyone agrees that they have far too little sun). Some now own a house or apartment at the seaside.

Crowded beach in Palanga resort on a hot and sunny summer day. Short coastline and sea-worshipping vacation culture mean many sunbathers per beach kilometer. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Alternatively, some city dwellers hold a strip of suburban farmland ("garden") and may spend free summer time at their homes/sheds there. Foraging, fishing, and sports activities are popular seasonal hobbies as well. Some other pastimes, such as alpine skiing or scuba diving, usually require a vacation abroad. Binge drinking is a far less glamorous weekend/vacation activity, its popularity considered a societal problem.

Families with children tend to adapt their out-of-home vacations to the children schoolyear, which starts invariably on September 1st and ends (summer holiday begins) at late May to late June, depending on school and pupil's age. There are also Winter school holidays (December 24th-January 6th) and Spring school holidays (a week before or after Catholic Easter), in some schools also Autumn school holidays (variable). Universities generally follow a similar pattern with the Autumn and Spring semesters ending in January and June respectively (when the exams take place).

Students begin their school year in formal attire and flowers for teachers on September 1st. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

It is not uncommon to have foreign holidays by taking children from school for some time, in general, the family freedom to decide upon child's upbringing is respected in Lithuania more than in some Western societies.

Lithuania is among the world leaders in the number of public holidays. Most of them lack popular celebration traditions and are thus considered as short vacations (especially when joined with a weekend). A few holidays, however, are nearly universally celebrated at hometown with family or a wider circle of relatives. These are Christmas (including Kūčios) and to a lesser extent Easter, Vėlinės. Most also celebrate their birthday though that celebration may be moved by 1-2 weeks for convenience.

Summer is the traditional time for vacations and the only time when local seaside or countryside holidays are feasible. Foreign travels, however, made such vacations possible anytime. In spite of this, climate still frames the Lithuanian yearly routine: cold winter weather brings nearly all activities indoors while massive heating bills strip poor-to-middle-class families of much of their disposable income.

See also: Holidays / Celebrations in Lithuania.

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Lithuanian ethics, virtues, and morale

Lithuanian ethics and morale have been largely formed by alternating periods of self-rule and foreign regimes (each of them spreading its own ideology, in many cases by force). The prime lasting external influences are Christian (14th-19th centuries), Soviet (1940-1990) and Western European (post-2004).

Business, work and financial ethics

For centuries Lithuanians had to work hard to achieve prosperity in an unwelcome climate and this respect for hard work remains. Workers at private companies work faithfully and school requirements are massive. Strikes are rare and overtimes are done if needed. Laziness is frowned upon.

The Soviet system where results would not be rewarded created a very different work morale in state-owned and municipal institutions, many of which are still infamous for procrastination and corruption. This declines as the Soviet generation is replaced by a post-Soviet one.

Caring about the future is another virtue and many families save large sums of money "for a black day" (as a popular saying goes). Living on credit is frowned upon and may be seen as a form of dangerous addiction comparable to compulsive gambling (why pay interest when one can save up instead?). The way Americans use up their credit limits is completely alien to most Lithuanians.

In business circles, however, credits are the main source of funding as issuing shares is even less welcome in Lithuanian psyche. Most Lithuanians feel the need to have something "their own" and dislike to share or to be controlled. To be merely a CEO responsible to hundreds of other shareholders is seen just as a career mid-point before starting a family-owned business (even if it won't ever grow that large). In ~75% of the Lithuanian companies, CEOs are also the main shareholders. The boards also typically consist of company owners. As such, the personal values/opinions of the key shareholders may outweigh financial gain in decision-making. As businesses commonly double as a mean of self-expression, franchises are not popular.

Own home is also cherished and individualized. The native neighborhood, native city, and native region are respected as a part of personal identity. The Family is seen by many to be above all in its importance (and the inspiration for many long-term decisions).

Loyalty to the employer is less common, however: some may spend decades at a single company out of convenience, but others (especially the youth) switch jobs if a better offer is available (especially in the same city). Salaries are the prime motivation to stay or leave. Lithuanians tend to see little value in what isn't "immediate money", making schemes such as share ownership and pension contributions nearly non-existent. History-inspired fears of revolutions, legal/taxation changes, economic collapses (that would wipe out the promised benefits) may contribute to this. "Perks" (health insurance, sports club memberships), even if available, are derided as wasteful by many employees ("let us choose ourselves where to spend our money"). Work events are often limited to annual parties (e.g. Christmas). One reason for all this is that Lithuanian lifestyles depend relatively little on social status and especially much on things like the generation. Therefore the fact that people share a job doesn't help much to find a non-monetary benefit or activity the majority of them would enjoy.

Prestigious jobs are those that give either money or admiration. However, the perception of economic benefits is slower to change than market realities, meaning some of the best-paying professions are not (yet) very prestigious (e.g. programmer) while some oversupplied ones still are (e.g. lawyer). The aforementioned "admiration" may come both with fame (e.g. model, sportsman) or gratitude (e.g. doctor). Businessman and (especially) politician jobs have a mixed image as the benefits there come with heavy risks and a perceived need for some immoral decisions. All-in-all, white-collar jobs are seen as far more prestigious the current "university generation" often regards blue-collar jobs as "below them". Many consider a degree in humanities and social sciences to be a "generic degree" that improves access to any white-collar job. Therefore the "door-opening" prestigious specialties are often selected by students instead of the ones more related to the jobs available.

After death, the inheritance is usually split among children, who are expected to "continue the family path" by living in the same home and doing the same business (if the parents had any). The law supports such disposition of wealth by waiving inheritance tax for family members. Many key Lithuanian decisions (business, home improvement, wealth accumulation) are thus made taking into account further generations. However, massive emigration means that some children break with parents' "ways of life" regardless.

Law and morale

Many Lithuanians feel more fear/disdain towards governmental institutions than trust/respect. These attitudes partly date to Soviet occupation, when the laws were immoral and the government was alien. Avoiding authorities used to be the best practice and cheating them was considered honorable. Even if the government is now freely elected, many laws are followed only when strictly enforced.

Most Lithuanians are genuinely tolerant towards offenses that cause no direct harm. Decades of absurdly strict Soviet regime made them especially libertarian-minded. State regulation in many spheres (e.g. parenting, traffic regulations, "hate speech", taxation) is widely considered to be excessive or wrong. As such, those who report such violations tend to be blamed by many peers as "skundikas" (the same pejorative that was used for people who informed the KGB on government critics).

Litigation is thus mostly limited to major property disputes and heavy injuries. People are expected to "get over" simple "emotional distress" or at least limit their "retaliation" to appropriate negative feedback, otherwise, they may be seen by peers as either weak or profiteering. After all, many Lithuanians suffered far worse fates under the Soviet occupation than could happen to anybody today.

In a real trouble Lithuanians do help, but firstly they should be able to judge that the trouble is real. For instance, many Lithuanians would neither stop nor report a streetfight because they would assume both parties want to fight. Therefore somebody in need of help should clearly indicate it. Even after deciding that something needs to be done some Lithuanians would prefer direct action or personal acquaintance networks over the distrusted authorities.

The rift between people and state authorities is furthered by corruption, cronyism, and embezzlement at the latter. Culturally foreign to Lithuanians, these practices are seen to be a Soviet import which permeated the society so much that it is sometimes impossible to do without them (e.g. if one competitor bribes a corrupt licensing agency and the other doesn't, his business may be hampered). Back under Soviet occupation personal gain at the expense of government used to be condoned by peers (at the time the government controlled the whole economy, including factories, shops, agriculture and services, meaning most property crimes would have actually been "against the government"). The "old system" has lost this "moral ground" with independence, but it is too convenient for those benefiting from it to be wilfully abandoned.

The younger generation tends to have more trust in state authorities and law (confidence in police experienced the largest gradual opinion poll gains).

Lithuanian confidence in institutions in years 2000 and 2015. In the post-Soviet 1990s, newly-free non-governmental behemoths such as the media and the church were commonly seen as chivalrous fighters for justice, while the directly-elected president used to be the only hope many saw in the government. The generational change increased confidence in low-level non-political agencies, but the institutions that make key or final decisions remain mistrusted, undermining confidence in system-as-a-whole. Media lost much of its confidence with the rise of political/business influence and tabloids. Sources: Lietuvos žinios, Vilmorus.

Westernization of the law itself (especially after 2004 EU membership) however had its drawbacks on societal cohesion. While some changes were well-received and the economic reform spurred growth, the Western-style social restrictions have gained little popularity outside parts of "the elite". They ushered the end of 1990s libertarian Lithuania and increased the number of voices claiming "We have made our stand on January 13th, 1991, to end restrictions rather than replace the old restrictions by new ones".

Charity and help

Many Lithuanians would proudly note that their nation is far less materialistic than the West. However, there are less "mass campaigns" for/against a cause in Lithuania as "advertised goodness" is often suspected of being insincere or even fraudulent. The majority of Lithuanian "good deeds" are instead done personally or clandestinely towards less well-off relatives and friends. Donating to the church (which then supports the needy) is popular among the religious.

The TV-station-led charity programs (asking for SMS donations) are a relatively new phenomenon but already a well-entrenched one, probably helped by a historically massive Lithuanian trust in media. Responsible buying has been also slowly gaining ground.

Many "foreign troubles" however are less acute or non-existent in Lithuania, leading to less local attention towards them (these include terrorism, surveillance, racism, religious intolerance, global warming, gender inequality). Russian imperialism is considered to be a/the key global menace and compassion/charity towards its victims is a popular activity. Orphan(age)s and sick children are favorite local recipients of help.

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Lithuanian etiquette: meetings and presents

In order to avoid misunderstandings, a foreigner dealing with Lithuanians should learn Lithuanian etiquette, especially on the time management, gift-giving and conversation topics. While not every Lithuanian will stick to the etiquette described bellow, it is better to adhere to it to be "on the safe side". Also, understanding the Lithuanian behavioral norms helps to better understand what to expect from Lithuanians and why, and what their expectations are.

Lithuanian time management and meeting arrangements

Lithuanians follow their day-time schedules quite rigorously. It is impolite to be late at business meetings or other work-time events. One should call or text in case he/she plans to be late 5 minutes or more. If one arrives before the agreed time however he/she should expect to wait.

Blue-collar help (repairmen, handymen) tend to adhere job schedules less strictly (coming 30 or even 90 minutes late without notifying) even though this may be frowned upon by their clients. If timing is especially important this should be repeated several times when ordering blue-collar services.

In the evenings and weekends, the schedule is a bit more relaxed for everybody. Most leisure events (e.g. theater performances) begin ~15 minutes late in Lithuania. Likewise, it is not inappropriate to be ~15 minutes late when invited to somebody's home after work. Any more than that would also require a polite call or text message, however. Furthermore, arriving up to ~15 minutes before the agreed time is also usually ok - meaning that one should always aim to arrive on time and the +/-15 minutes window is only the "grace period" in case the traveling time is miscalculated.

Save for a few rush hours in Vilnius the traffic in Lithuania is generally quite predictable, so it is not a good excuse for being late. If one doesn't calculate the time needed to drive to destination that is his/her problem.

In case one doesn't plan to show up at all, or plans to show up at a significantly different time, (s)he should inform about that as early as possible, preferably at least a day in advance.

Most Lithuanian parties are open-ended and it is polite for hosts to try persuading guests to stay until morning or sleep over. Guests leave at different hours, and it is polite for the final guests to turn down invitations to stay even longer (unless they are good friends of the host).

In the main cities, meetings should be generally pre-arranged and even good friends do not just "pop up" at somebody's home or office. However, the smaller the town the more likely it is that somebody would stop by without notifying in advance.

Presents and gifts

The main occasions to give presents in Lithuania:
*Birthday. Those invited to a party give presents while co-workers (even if uninvited) may give symbolic gifts (e.g. flowers) during the birthday or the nearest workday. In return, the person whose birthday it is buys meals, drinks, and cakes at the party. The presents may be more expensive during jubilees (30, 40, 50 and such).
*Christmas. In families, everyone gives a present to everyone else (except for kids who just receive, believing it was from Christmas Grandfather, i.e. Santa Claus). "Present exchanges" are common in schools and workplaces whereby everybody is expected to buy a single present of a certain value and select its recipient through a lottery. Some companies buy Christmas presents for all employees as well as business partners (actually distributed before Christmas).
*Wedding. Presents of utility are usually given but increasingly this is replaced by giving an envelope with money inside. Usually, some of the guests are invited to the evening party while others are invited to the ceremony alone; the latter are expected to bring smaller presents.

Generally, the present is decided by the person giving it, there are no present lists. Asking to gift money during major events such as the wedding is, however, acceptable.

Under the Soviet occupation, there were much more "presents", most of which were not symbolic but meant for utility. This "gifting culture" was created by public shortages coupled with privileged access to certain particular goods many people enjoyed (e.g. a TV factory worker may have been able to "appropriate" numerous TV-sets while even getting a single TV-set may have posed a problem to many others). Most of such "presents" were bribes in reality as they used to be given expecting something in return (usually a favor related to recipient's job or goods accessible to him/her).

The remnants of the "Soviet gifting culture" are still entrenched in Lithuania (albeit declining). The following are its remaining instances when either money or useful things are gifted:
*Presents to public healthcare workers given before or after a taxpayer-funded procedure. They are illegal as they lead to preferential treatment of those who give better "presents" as well as extortion-like practices on behalf of some doctors in case a "smaller than usual" present is given. The "present"/bribe is typically money for major procedures and alcohol/sweets for smaller ones.
*Presents to public school teachers by parents/students. Less frowned upon than presents to doctors but also controversial as they may lead to preferential treatment of some pupils.
*Lauktuvės - presents (not souvenirs) distributed when returning from a foreign country (or by foreigners when they visit Lithuanian friends and relatives). This dates back to Soviet times when the stock at Lithuanian stores used to be pitiful. The few who were lucky enough to go abroad were thus expected to bring something back for their relatives and friends (e.g. clothing or electronics). Right now nearly everything could be bought in Lithuania and such expectations are limited to small towns and older people, or when the person visiting/returning to Lithuania is considerably more affluent.

Tips were not part of the Soviet system and while the tradition has been adopted after independence, it is not universal and limited to restaurant waiters/waitresses.

Conversation topics in Lithuania

Most dialogues in Lithuania take place in the Lithuanian language. But most international conversations are held in either English or Russian (translator into these two languages is usually brought in by those who need translation from any other language).

Business conversations in Lithuania stick to the point and small-talk is minimal unless they are in evening context or not everybody has arrived yet. Silence is rare and one may be left without saying his/her opinion if (s)he would wait until all the others cease talking. Interrupting is thus not entirely unacceptable, though it should be avoided if it's possible to make your point otherwise. While this makes Lithuanians hotter-tempered than northern Europeans, they are colder-tempered than southern Europeans and handshakes are the only acceptable touches in official contexts.

A foreigner conversing with Lithuanians always has one additional small-talk topic: his experiences and questions about Lithuania. Being a small nation Lithuanians are unused to their language, history, and customs being widely known. As such, they tend to genuinely admire when a visitor learns Lithuanian words, the taste of cepelinai, their main basketball victories/players, and key historical facts. Mastering the history is also important to avoid inadvertent insults. If you could remember just a single sentence about the Lithuanian history, this should be it: "Lithuanians never were Russians nor Slavs, they were under a brutal Russian yoke".

A foreigner who lives in Lithuania is however expected to be fluent in Lithuanian and not criticize the Lithuanian beliefs and way of life. Such protectiveness was forged by past foreign-led regimes whose numerous immigrants/settlers used to deride Lithuanian customs as inferior, more than once threatening to assimilate Lithuania as a whole. While nearly-miraculous subsequent comebacks saved the Lithuanian culture every time, Lithuanians remain wary of another similar peril arising. That said, a foreigner who *does* learn about Lithuanian ways and helps to protect them will earn the same respect for his own ways.

People of Lithuania first and foremost identify themselves by ethnicity. Ethnicity (of you and your forefathers) is another acceptable topic for a small-talk (including racial features, surname origins). Religion, on the other hand, is usually kept private (a habit forged under the Soviet occupation when being religious could have led to persecutions by the regime whereas being irreligious could have earned accusations of collaboration from fellow Lithuanians). Political views and emotionally charged personal issues are avoided as well unless talking to a friend.

Lithuanian jokes ("anecdotes") have very few limits. Many are based on stereotypes: each ethnicity, gender, occupation and even anthropomorphic animals have stereotypes associated with them. These jokes are not meant to insult: everybody understands that they are laughing at stereotypical characters rather than at any real person, even if that real person has the same ethnicity or gender. In many cases, jokes are created by people of the group the jokes target, and Lithuanian ethnicity itself has a fair share of negative stereotypes associated with it in jokes.

Other Lithuanian etiquette norms

See the articles on:
Lithuanian home and public/personal space etiquette
Age and gender-related cultural norms
Personal relations etiquette
Clothing etiquette
Lithuanian daily and annual routine
Lithuanian cuisine
Restaurants in Lithuania (and related etiquette)

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Lithuanian Fashion

The mainstream attire of urban Lithuanians increasingly replicates that of the Western Europe and it is acquired in the same franchises (opened ~2000s).

The richest go to Milan and Paris to shop, while the small town "elite" visits the main cities and famous local designers. The less well off shop at marketplaces and used clothing stores (where a good suit may be bought for less than 1 Euro if you know when to visit).

Seasonal clothing in Lithuania

Major summer/winter temperature differences mean that Lithuanian street fashion is highly seasonal.

Summer clothing can be skimpy but it should still cover upper thighs and torso. Anything less than that is acceptable only for swimming and sunbathing. Being naked/topless is only common in nudist beaches/saunas, many of which are gender-segregated.

Spring/Autumn clothing is warmer, hands and face remaining the sole uncovered portions of the skin.

During winter Lithuanians throw in many layers of clothes to combat the frost: furs, scarfs, gloves, caps, socks... Most of these warmest clothes are removed while in heated interiors (at some institutions this is even mandatory), showing the usual Spring/Autumn clothing underneath.

Seasonal street clothing in Lithuania

Seasonal street clothing in Lithuania: from winter (left) to the hottest summer days (right). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Main clothing subcultures in Lithuania

Parallel to the Western fashion trends Lithuania has a more glitzy female fashion (more colors, shorter skirts, higher heels, more make-up), somewhat more popular in smaller towns and among the ethnic minorities. It dates to the 1990s when people were hungry for colors, glitz and less conservativeness (denied to them for decades by the Soviet regime). Even many male businessmen preferred red suits in the 1990s (unlike the female fashion, this has since died out).

People considering themselves to be more fashionable (i.e. imitating the West more closely) tend to denounce such "over-the-top" clothing as "Gariūnai fashion" (after the Gariūnai market in Vilnius suburbs where most Lithuanians started their businesses - and used to acquire clothing - back in the 1990s). A female that dress that way is known as fyfa, usually a pejorative. The male "style-counterpart" of a fyfa is forsas or marozas. They emphasize their masculinity by extensive use of sportswear, even for a simple walk or a night out (prestigious nightclubs ban this). Muscles and cars are also parts of their image.

Fyfa and forsas may be considered a subculture with an Eastern European flavor. Other parts of Lithuanian youth have embraced Western subcultures since the 1990s, each with its own clothing aesthetics, preferred musical styles, and festivals. They include goths, hippies, punks, "metallists", "street culture" (hip hop), skinheads, ultras and LGBT.

Street fashion in Lithuania

Youth street styles for an April Sunday casual stroll. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Fashion under the Soviet occupation

Modern glitz likely would have not become so popular if not the decades of clothing limitations under the Soviet occupation (1945-1990). Make-up for female school students and long hair for males used to be banned, for example.

Furthermore, there used to be a constant shortage of goods, including good clothes. There have been merely a few designs readily available (all conservative) - therefore most people of the same age dressed similarly. To avoid this most women used to knit and sew extensively well until the 1990s. Additionally, the few people privileged enough to be allowed abroad (especially to the non-communist states) used to shop there for their relatives (or buy goods for illegal resale).

Lithuanian factory workers in 1977


This image of Lithuanian workers made to watch a speech by Leonid Brezhnev in 1977 also shows the uniformness and bluntness of clothing at the time.

Older women may still dress in Soviet-style clothes or knit/sew but these practices are much less common after the advent of independent Lithuania and the free market.

Formal vs. informal clothing in Lithuania

Under the Soviet occupation, formal attire was required on many occasions, e.g. in theaters and restaurants, for students during all exams. New generations have largely adopted Western practices and there are fewer suits in streets. In fact, strict dress codes are less common in Lithuania today than in the West.

A folk costume is acceptable as formal attire under the Lithuanian etiquette. Such usage grew in popularity in the 1930s (women in full folk costume, men with folk strip replacing their tie) but has been since extinguished by the Soviet occupation. Today the folk costume usage is limited to folk singing and similar events. Prior to the 20th century, the folk costumes were used by most Lithuanian peasants; they are characterized by white shirt under a colorful jacket (exact patterns depending on region). Women wear long patterned skirts (shorter for folk dances), men use trousers. Women also cover their hair with scarfs.

Performing folk music in folk costumes (left) vs. attending a wedding at a church where formal attire predominates (right). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Uniforms are uncommon: few schools have them and many jobs that tend to be uniformed elsewhere (e.g. bus driver) allow workers to dress freely.

Lithuanian clothing and fashion industry

Lithuania used to be a powerhouse of clothing manufacturing. However, the lack of radical overhaul of models after independence created an image problem ("outdated local clothing" vs. "modern foreign clothing"), while Asia could not be outcompeted in costs, leading to the industry's decline in the 2000s.

On the other hand, a Lithuanian haute-couture scene developed and some designers reached some fame beyond Lithuanian borders. "Mados infekcija" is the regular fashion festival for young talents.

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