All Rights Resrved
Richard Green

A British journalist Richard Green who came to Lithuania for the first time by accident and has been coming back for decades since believes that Kaunas is a city full of curiosities worth recording. An interview with a passionate traveller on the positive side of immigration, globally growing multiculturalism, and Kaunas, the city that is great even for winter visits…
Richard, could you introduce yourself briefly, who are you and what do you do?
I’m a British travel journalist and media specialist who lives in London. Actually I have something of a mania for travel. So far I’ve been to 137 countries, and I haven’t finished yet. I guess the best possible way to earn a living is in an area that you are passionate about, so that the line between work and pleasure is sometimes blurred even, and that’s how it is for me.
I’ve a passion for communicating too, and as well as travel writing I’m involved with a small film-making company, a start up firm that has invented a drone for cleaning solar panels, and I give seminars on travel writing and the like.
Your latest project, a documentary film called 13 Shades of Romanian, is about the good side of immigration and the positive effect that it has for the UK. That is a rather unusual point of view, especially when we are talking about the immigrants from Eastern Europe who come to live in Western European countries. Why did you choose this subject? Do you think that many Western Europeans notice the good impact of immigration from the East to their countries?
I’ve lived in London since I moved here from the Midland’s city of Derby in 1982. The diversity of London thrilled me from the moment I arrived, and over the years I’ve watched waves of new immigrants arrive after me – most recently the East Europeans. Like the Huguenots, Ugandan’s, Jamaicans, Kosovars and Somalis before them – to mention just a handful – the East Europeans have got stuck into London life and are (mostly) thriving.
I think that each new wave makes London a better place, and while it may take a few years for everyone to find their place and settle in, the most recently arrived community eventually does, and adds to the richness of London’s cultural life in the process.
Everyone in the country doesn’t hold my views on immigration, but certainly London is a tolerant place and most people I know feel this way too. Research shows that the fewer immigrants there are in an area the more likely the locals dislike immigration. I guess people mistrust or fear the unknown, but once you have chatted, danced, shared a meal or a celebration with ‘an immigrant’, then the oxygen for fear has vanished.
Getting back to why I made the documentary. All the good that immigration brings to the host country was getting drowned out in the run up to our 2015 election, especially due to the rise of the far right UKIP party, and one night a group of Romanian friends and I decided to do something about it.
I agreed to help them by presenting a documentary film showing the positive side of Romanians living in the UK, and over the next few months we chose 13 Romanians living in the UK who we could shine a spotlight on for our film. There was a professional footballer, a student, an actress, a construction company owner, grandfather who writes children’s stories for his grandkids so they don’t forget their Romanian heritage, and so on.
I’m proud of the message that we got across, and although the film hasn’t been shown on UK TV, it has been seen at film festivals around the world and has since won six awards.
Are you familiar with the Lithuanian diaspora in the UK? If yes, what do you hear about it? Are there any prevailing stereotypes about Lithuanians in the UK?
I’m aware of Lithuanians living here in the UK, not least because there are several small shops selling Lithuanian food in my area of the East End. I’ve also met many Lithuanians here over the years, but because the numbers are relatively small, the Lithuanians don’t get singled out like say the Poles and the Romanians do.
Lithuanians tend to get lumped together with all ‘East Europeans’. That in itself rather irks me, as obviously East Europeans are as diverse as West Europeans – a Portuguese is as different from a Norwegian as a Bulgarian is from an Estonian.
But on the positive side, the stereotype of an ‘East European’ here in the UK is a person who is extremely hard working, punctual, practical, and family orientated. The flip side is that people feel East Europeans can be taciturn and a bit dour. I’d advise any Lithuanians coming to the UK to master the art of chat, banter and small talk as soon as possible – you’d be amazed what doors it can open. Start with the weather – a “Looks like rain later don’t you think” and you are bound to end up in a conversation.
You are a passionate traveller, who has now visited almost every country of this planet. What are your observations on cultural diversity of the world and its interaction nowadays? Is it a common worldwide phenomenon or is it just an illusion?
I get the feeling that each country thinks that it is the only one that is changing through becoming more diverse. But that’s not the case – many countries and cities are seeing large inflows of people from outside.
With those people come cuisine, art, ideas, and a sort of civic flourishing. I remember searching high and low for a Thai restaurant in Munich a few years ago, and actually the only one my Thai friend and me could find was in a metro station concourse, and the food wasn’t great either. Now there are many Thai restaurants in Munich.
Many of my favourite places are partly the product of people arriving there to settle from abroad; like London, Tangier, Dubai, Stockholm, Los Angeles and Toronto. In time, whether we like it or not, I think most of the world’s cities will become much more multicultural places.
Is it your first visit in Lithuania? What is your opinion about this country? What do you think of Kaunas and its citizens?
It sounds crazy, but I first visited Lithuania by mistake, back in 1993. I was working for an airline in London and got a mega cheap ticket with Finnair from to Dubai via Helsinki, for a short holiday.
I changed planes at Helsinki and arrived at the check in desk, with my small luggage of just a few T-shirts and shorts, and was told that the weekly flight was overbooked and as airline staff, I wouldn’t be able to fly to Dubai.
They said they could send me anywhere else I liked though, and as the next flight leaving was to Vilnius, I arrived into the freezing cold city with all the wrong clothes and a map of Dubai. Never mind, I found a hostel, bought a thick jumper and proceeded to have a fabulous few days gorging on cepelinai and strong beer, and enjoying the beautiful streets of Vilnius.
Since then I have been back to Lithuania many times, to write about Vilnius, Palanga and the Curonian Spit, and also to visit a great friend who now lives in Kaunas.
I like Kaunas very much. It’s refreshing to be somewhere just being itself. The people are great, but as compared to the UK, the people in Kaunas are rather on the reserved side.
I may be kind of odd, but I love visiting in the winter when it is really cold outside and the bars and restaurants are at their most cosy.
Kaunas is known as a student city, and some of its students come from abroad. The foreigners are generally nicely greeted by the locals in Kaunas, but, on the other hand, we are still struggling to accept the foreigners in our everyday life. What would be your advice on getting along with foreigners better and seeing what benefits it might bring?
I often feel when travelling in former Soviet Block countries, that there is a suspicion of foreigners, especially amongst the older generation. It is understandable of course, but sitting in a bar and not talking to the foreigners on the next table has utterly predictable results. Nothing new or interesting is going to happen. Yet if people are a bit more open and start chatting to people from other lands it never ceases to amaze me just how enlightening it can be.
As for me I can’t think of better foreigners to have in your city than students. They have made the decision to come and study, to better themselves through travel and education – and it always seems to me that students have such a marvellous open-minded and free spirited acceptance of others.
If your next documentary film would be about Kaunas. What would it be about?
That’s a little hard to say – I haven’t really visited Kaunas with my filmmaker’s hat on as such. For myself though, my interest has been piqued by the city’s connection to the pioneer aviators, and also I’m curious about the daring Flag Project that put a large grey flag atop the former hotel Britanika a couple of years back. But it would be nice to make a film to capture the essence of the city and to celebrate more of its quirkiness and current culture.