Latvia is called “the singing nation”. It unusual to find a Latvian who has not sung in a choir or some other group at some point in their life. Every few years all Latvia's choirs, as well as folk dance groups, gather together for the Song Festival.The family is still the centre of the social structure, and people are respected because of their age and position. Although friendly and informal with close friends and family, Latvians are reserved and formal when dealing with outsiders. They are private people and do not flaunt their possessions or readily display emotions.
Today the constitution guarantees freedom of religion. There has been a religious resurgence since the fall of the Communist regime, with the majority of the population belonging to the Lutheran church, although there are also large Catholic and Orthodox Christian minorities.
The official language of Latvia is Latvian, which belongs to the Baltic language group of the Indo-European language family. Another notable language of Latvia is the nearly extinct Livonian language of Baltic-Finnic sub-branch of Uralic language family, which enjoys protection by law. The Latgalian language (a dialect of Latvian) is also protected by Latvian law as historical variation of Latvian language. Russian is by far the most widespread minority language.
Handshaking is customary. Normal courtesies should be observed. The Latvians are somewhat reserved and formal, but nevertheless very hospitable. They are proud of their culture and visitors should take care to respect this sense of national identity.
Latvian hors d'oeuvres are delicious and are said to be the best part of the meal. The soups are especially satisfying in winter; try the skabu kapostu zupa (cabbage soup), sweetbread soup with dried fruit or sorrel soup with boiled pork, onions, potatoes and barley. Specialty dishes include kotletes (meat patties), smoked fish and piragi (pastry filled with bacon and onions). For a dessert try an Alexander Torte which is raspberry or cranberry filled pastry strips. Popular local beers include the dark bauskas Tumsais and the pale Gaisais. Or for something stronger try Riga's Black Balsam- a thick, black alcoholic beverage, which has been produced since 1700. It is drunk either with coffee or mixed with vodka. Kvass and sparkling wine are popular and are refreshing summer drinks. Do not drink the tap water.