Hollywood kills Latvian ambassador

I had never seen an episode of the USA Network’s crime show Monk, so when I happened to tune in tonight, I was surprised to run into yet another Latvian connection to popular culture. The episode (actually a rerun) begins with the killing of the Latvian ambassador to the United States.

Titled, “Mr. Monk Takes Manhattan,” the episode is the opener for the third season of the show. But like so many other references to Latvia that have appeared in American popular culture over the years, this one gives the audience bad information.

In the episode, neurotic San Francisco detective Adrian Monk has traveled with his colleagues to New York to try to solve the murder of his wife. They are checking into their hotel when shots ring out. The Latvian ambassador is among three men killed in an elevator.

Within minutes, Monk is on the case, somewhat to the chagrin of a New York cop named Captain Cage who, suggesting a possible motive for the murder, claims Latvia is on the brink of civil war.

How can Hollywood scriptwriters be so stupid?

Latvia, they should know, is not on the brink of civil war, not now, not back in June when the episode first aired.

Of course, it might be easy to dismiss the gaffe as part of the fiction of the show. It’s not real, after all. But in that case the scriptwriter could just as well have made up a fictional country.

If Hollywood insists on using real places to bolster its fiction, it should at least get the facts straight.

Further in the episode of Monk, the detective and his assistant, Sharona Fleming, interview a couple of supposed Latvian men, one of whom had been sending threatening letters to the ambassador.

One of the things Monk wants to know is what the ambassador meant when he said, “She’s now gone meatless,” a phrase the detective heard the ambassador say in the hotel before the shooting. But Monk has misheard, one of the men tells him. It’s not in English, but in a dialect spoken in Latvia. It means, “It’s not my coat.”

What dialect?! Whatever it was, it wasn’t Latgallian, Russian or anything else recognizable.

Regardless, it turns out to be the key to solving the ambassador’s murder. The murderer wasn’t gunning for the ambassador after all, but wanted his coat. The murderer had earlier killed his wife, taking her jewelery to suggest robbery. Afterward, in a bar, his coat containing the jewelery was inadvertently switched with the ambassador’s.

Heck, they couldn’t even get a real Latvian to play the ambassador. Instead, he’s portrayed by Dmitri Boudrine. Among his other credits, Boudrine is cofounder of the American Russian Theatrical Alliance. Not that Boudrine can’t portray a Latvian, but maybe if folks in charge of casting for Monk had found a Latvian, they would have at least been able to use the Latvian language in the show.

Perhaps the real Latvian ambassador to the United States should give Hollywood a call.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

18 thoughts on “Hollywood kills Latvian ambassador

  1. Many years ago a US wine merchant protrayed a ‘Latvian ambassader’ named Sergei in a radio commercial. That was silly. This is a bit more disturbing. Then again, poetic license lets scriptwriters do what they want. While the way in which the Latvian diplomat is used is not that pleasant, it is a sign that we are entering the mainstream, albeit on the periphery. We can be thankful they didn’t develop the civil war plot line any further. Uninformed TV viewers have a tendency of believing that what they see is true. Such is Hollywood.

  2. 150% I agree with
    Andris Strautmanis.
    The supposed Latvian
    “dialect” they use
    in the film is Jibberish I have never heard before.
    It is real sad disgrace to Latvia
    and it’s language.

  3. I am not a fan of the show, neither do I hate it, I just want to point out that they actually could have been speaking latvian in this episode.The following mentions a scene in the show that is singled out as one where a crappy imitation of latvian was used instead of the actual language.
    “One of the things Monk wants to know is what the ambassador meant when he said, “She’s now gone meatless,” a phrase the detective heard the ambassador say in the hotel before the shooting. But Monk has misheard, one of the men tells him. It’s not in English, but in a dialect spoken in Latvia. It means, “It’s not my coat.””
    This line “She’s now gone meatless,” immediately struck me as “Shis nav mans meetelis” which does indeed mean, “it’s not my coat.”
    Sounds to me as if they were tryting to speak Latvian.

  4. Dear Mr.Strautmanis: 11/9/04

    In the crime show Monk it’s not the first time that Hollywood has shown its ignorance or better stupidity regarding Latviansand their language To mind comes one of Alfred Hitchcock’s early movies
    released in late 30’s or early 40’s (I can’t remember exactly) in which a Latvian, who doesn’t even remotely resemble a typical Latvian, mumbles a couple of times something that is suppose to be Latvian but isn’t.

  5. Let’s not also forget the episode of Seinfeld years ago, when Kramer (or was it George?) fell for a woman, but she said she couldn’t date him because she was “Latvian Orthodox” and she wasn’t allowed to date outside her religion. There were a lot of jabs at this ficticious religion that doesn’t exist, and as a result, it infuriated many Latvians who still boycott Seinfeld to this day.

    But there was also an episode of “Providence” where 2 people were speaking Latvian, correctly. Although they had very heavy American accents and they were American actors, they must have had a pretty decent dialect coach who worked on it with them.

    With some of these mainstream shows mentioning Latvians, you’d think more people had heard of Latvia. But still to this day when people ask me where my parents were born and I say Latvia, they still say, “Where? Laffia? You’re Laffian? Where is that? Is that like Latin?” Vai Dievin, I wish people would learn their geography!

  6. Let us not forget ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ where the pseudo-Slavic speaking pimp claimed to be from Riga or Latvia, I can’t remember which. I believe the response from the other actor was ‘Ooh, tough place.”

  7. have you heard about the scandal with the Norwegian TV before the Eurovision Song Contest in Latvia (probably it was 2003, if I remember right.)? In a Norwegian TV-show they had a joke band “Balalaika Latvia” that claimed to introduce the Latvian culture, but they were actually Norwegians, they had many Russian and Soviet symbols and they were only joking. When the real Latvians found out about it, there was a scandal, the Norwegian TV had to apologize, it went even to the official level: the Ambassador of Norway in Latvia apologized publicly in front of the Latvians. It seems to me that with the “Monk”-case Latvia just missed a good chance to catch attention in the USA: there should have been an analogical situation (not completely, because the USA wouldn’t probably have been so humble as Norway, but they would have been forced to say at least something). It’s not only Latvia’s problem: I’ve seen in American films that kind of negative fiction also about other countries (Kazakstan (have you seen the film Air Force One?), Moldavia, often some Arab and Latin American countries etc.). I’m from Estonia and I’ve heard about USA serials (that I haven’t unfortunately seen myself), where somebody gets a stomach-ache from the Estonian chocolate (it was probably in Ally McBeal) or Estonia is a completely fictional country with a name derived from the word “stone”!!!!!
    And by the way: do the Americans still think that the whole world thinks bad of them, but it’s unjustified?

  8. and I forgot to add: it seems to me personally that a big part of the Americans also imagine that their country is the safest / most developed / most worth living one in the world, that they’re something like lightning the whole world. It’s quite obvious where is that kind of attitude from.

  9. sorry that I post so many comments (maybe some editor can paste them together into one?), but I just noticed in the right side of THIS very same page here the advertisement of the Swedish novel “The Dogs of Riga”. If you see it as well, it speaks for itself.

  10. And there was the Billion-Dollar Brain, where the negative depiction of Latvia came straight from L. Deighton’s book–Hollywood didn’t have to invent it. And there was some TV action drama several decades back where a villain was identified as Latvian (I believe he had some title of nobility, so if anything he would have been a Baltic German, but no mention of this).

    Why? Well, there are not a lot of Latvians out there, so if you piss them off it won’t have a noticeable impact on your pocketbook. Getting it right takes a bit if time and money, so if you can get away with some ridiculous hokum, well . . . . Older movies in which Native Americans AKA Injuns are supposed to be speaking their languages regularly had gibberish instead. Now they can’t get away with it as easily, but they can still treat Latvians that way.

    And as for Seinfeld, I hate to mention this, but there are a lot of Jews, in the entertainment industry and out of it, who know about Latvia nothing except the Arajs gang and its abominable role in the Holocaust; they feel no obligation to avoid negative stereotypes because that’s all they know.

    There is, of course, a real Latvian Orthodox Church, but do you thing Jerry Seinfeld ever heard of New Hieromartyr Janis (Pommers)? And if he did hear of him, would he care?

    If you want to fight this sort of thing, you need to organize. A Latvian Anti-Defamation League? Depends on how serious you are about opposing the abuse. And you have to network; the “Latvian Orthodox” jape should have irritated all Orthodox as well as all Latvians; if a few archbishops and metropolitans had complained, that theme might have been dropped after the first episode.

    As long as the entertainers can continue to denigrate and misrepresent without consequence, and by doing so at least save some time and money, and in some cases make money, we can expect more of the same. Don’t look for help to American (and in general Western) defenders of the downtrodden; most of them don’t know anything about Latvians, and many of them are good at selective indignation.


  11. You are all fools! Don’t you realize that maybe the writers of Monk were not trying to accurately portray Latvia’s history and dialects? Does it matter if they say it wrong? No!

  12. I feel sorry for those who get offended just because ‘evil Hollywood’ or Americans for that matter do not portray Latvia accurately in their movies or TV shows. I am proud to be Latvian myself (as long as we dont talk politics). And i hope this Latvian provincialism syndrome fades away soon. Imho, it is our grumpy elder generation that’s most suffering from it. Movies are for entertainment after all, not geography classes. And yes, there is Latvian Orthodox Church. Very real, as opposed to word ‘kavorka’ – that one sounds fictional to me.

  13. Oh, lighten up! Complaining about free publicity (even if not 100% accurate) in a piece of fiction? Really? Most publicity about Latvija in the mainstream media of late has centered on the homophobic, racist attitudes of its citizens; riots; the drunks it attracts and encourages; and the occasional athlete. Instead of outrage, I would suggest gratitude. What if script writers actually depicted the “real” Latvija?

  14. It must be a conspiracy! …Dude, seriously, it’s television… it’s here for enjoyment purposes… lighten up, and try DECAF.

  15. So first you complain about the country they use, because they should’ve made one up. Then you complain about the language because they “made one up.” Not to mention that the guy monk talks to on the street mentions what dialect it is. Try more paying attention and less complaining next time.

  16. Indeed. I’m a big fan of the show. The first time I watched the episode I was thrilled because they mentioned an obscure dialect that I had only recently read about for the first time, and therefore remembered it. It was “Tahmisch” (in the German synchronisation I watched), i.e. tāmnieku (hope I got that right), the dialect in the northern Courland (Ventspils) region. Although I have no idea what the sentence would have sounded like in that dialect (possibly it was correct after all and it’s the Latvians here themselves that are not as well informed about the dialects of their own language as the writers of the show have cared to inform themselves? ;-) Perhaps they researched, or had an advisor from Latvia who happened to speak that dialect?), I added that information to the Wikipedia article about the episode.

  17. All fiction is seasoned liberally with inaccuracy, or it wouldn’t be fiction. What I find humorous about this incident is that the one thing that the OP and several commentators pick out about being inaccurate, is indeed one of the few things in fiction that is actually in fact accurate. The whole joke was that Monk didn’t speak Latvian, and was trying to portray a phonetic recollection of a language he didn’t speak. Monk’s version was SUPPOSED to be blatantly inaccurate, what would have been weird is if Monk had actually perfectly remembered the phrase “Šis nav mans mētelis” when there was no reason to pay attention to it in the first place. Anyway, just wanted to point out the grand irony that the one thing being picked out as inaccurate in a work of fiction, was actually one of the only things that was indeed accurate. I got a chuckle out of that, thanks! And for the record, “Šis nav mans mētelis” does indeed mean “This is not my coat” in Latvian.

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