Here We Are Now, Entertain Us!


After a ludicrously long day of work, I passed through Piata Unirii here in downtown Unicorn City tonight and chanced upon an anti-Basescu march of about 50 middle aged men. I had to stop as they passed by me and a young woman standing next to me (wearing some kind of comical rabbit hat) whipped out her phone and began recording it “for YouTube!” as she told the marchers. And it was right at that moment that an old song began playing in my head and all the events of the past few weeks suddenly coalesced into a new understanding.

Last night it was bitterly cold and yet some 13,000 people showed up in Piata Unirii for a free concert, paid for and produced as part of the big launch of a television channel. I didn’t see the concert myself but I certainly saw the footage and there were definitely thousands and thousands of people there.

And you’ve got to wonder, especially after this week when I learned that Click! is the most popular “newspaper” in Romania, when domestic television is devoid of all substance, politicians are shouting to the heavens about the apocalypse, when the top bloggers are all busy competing to see who can goof around the most and when neither heinous national treaties nor the pillaging and looting of the national government can barely draw a fraction of the people that a free concert can, what exactly is going on.

Kurt Cobain was at the forefront of a musical revolution in the early 1990′s that became known as “grunge”, a word that previously referred to dirty or ill-kept clothing (or appearance). Indeed its fans (and Cobain himself) often dressed in raggedy, worn out clothing, often purchased second-hand. It was a deliberate choice as it came on the heels of the the ultra-materialistic and “greed is good” 1980s in America.

The song “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” which I’m sure all of you know, and which I’ve heard literally thousands of times in Romanian bars, however was not extolling the idea that all one had to do was show up and be entertained but was actually criticizing this mentality. After a decade or more of materialistic self-indulgence and the elevation of superficiality, grunge was instead an attempt to combine both the anger at that lifestyle and the empty angst that often went along with anyone who rejected it. Because if green isn’t good and materialist success isn’t everything then what’s left?

And yet here in Romania there is no “grunge”. There is only to each their own and let the devil take the hindmost, where barely 2,000 people can show up to protest an anti-democratic treaty but 50,000 people show up at the mall. Here there is only Click! and only Cronica Carcotasilor and only the posting of funny cat pictures or bullshit from 9gag. Here there is only Chuck Norris jokes and YouTube videos of people singing along to manele or falling and hurting themselves (if you want to entertain a Romanian, show them someone being injured and they’ll roar with laughter). Here even the protests themselves are entertainment, where the funniest and most entertaining slogans and signs are endlessly copied and reposted and shared and just about nobody even knows what the anger was about in the first place.

I’ve mentioned this before I guess, all this stuff, right down to the fact that I literally know only one person with a job who has more than pocket change left over at the end of the month. I see university students blow their money on beer and pizza. I see adult women blow their money on food and adult men blow their money on alcohol. I see a nation where literally everyone is falling over themselves to stuff their refrigerators, their closets and their computers with as many goodies as they can get their hands on and fuck working hard, fuck doing a job right and fuck anything else but partying on like there’s no tomorrow.

Meanwhile the country is ever more burdened with a crippling debt, the streets are maintained based on who’s got “the juice” with whom, degrees and placements in school are paid for with bribes, trains are getting derailed and delayed constantly, the bus systems are often barely functional, the population is shrinking and a third of the country is officially below the poverty line. Just about everyone with an ounce of ambition and drive has either left the country or moved to parts of Bucharest and hey, ho, raise the glass high because everyone right down to the mayor of a major city is busy lining their pockets while the going is good.

And the saddest part of all, the absolutely saddest part of all is that almost nobody in this country is happy, not the partiers, not the drinkers, not the ones pigging out on cured meats, not the city folks with their nice cars, not the girls with the designer jeans, not the university students with free schooling, not anyone. All you’ve got to do is glance around you at the faces on the street and all you’ll mostly see is misery, woe or hostile indifference, mouths pinched together in disgust and frustration. Turn on the radio or television and in between mocking their fellow Romanians all you’ll hear is how bad everything is, how terrible it is and how it’s always, always, always better somewhere else in some far off land and never, ever here. Literally every week of my life I have to explain to a Romanian why I actually like living here and they’re always, always, always surprised. It’s literally never occurred to a single Romanian I’ve ever spoken to that I might actually be right.

Well I remember the 1980′s quite well in America and for all of that horrific superficiality and celebration of greed, a lot of people did indeed enjoy themselves in those times. Some of the music was fantastic (Whitney Houston for one), some of the television was great (Simpsons anyone?), some of the movies were sublime and there truly were a lot of happy faces.

But poor old Romania, no matter how many parties she gets invited to, no matter that she’s in NATO and the EU, no matter that billions of funds have been spent upgrading and renovating and building and fixing and educating and teaching, no matter the donations and support and volunteers, no matter that free concerts and festivals and higher education and sports centers and parks are all there for free to every single citizen, no matter that millions of people receive totally free healthcare, no matter that this country is achingly, breathtakingly beautiful and home to some of the most beautiful mountains, beaches, canyons, gorges, marshes, wetlands, forests and rivers in the entire world, it’s never enough. It never brings a fraction of the joy you would think it would, a fraction of the joy it brings to foreigners every single day.

And if that’s not a tragedy, I don’t know what is.

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Categorised in: another satisfied visitor, Scolding of Righteousness, Unicorn City

16 Responses »

  1. Romania’s problem is psychological. Not sure though if it’s genetic or environmental, or a mix of both. Perhaps it’s because of musing and arriving to the conclusion that one can’t be young and live forever, whereas people in a place like the US are always active (work, volunteering, appointments, planning) and avoid this melancholy musing/reflecting.

    • Personally I know lot’s of people around my age, in their 20s or early 30s that, like, me see the filth that surrounds us in the media, that see what our Government has did to us over the last two decades… I’m talking about smart, educated people that are angry and frustrated about the things I’ve mentioned and about many others too. You want to know why I think all these people aren’t rising up in any way? Because they feel alone, they feel isolated. They think that should they go out and protest no one would join them, that they wouldn’t make a difference. That there aren’t enough of us to make a difference. There’s no catalyst and nothing to bind these people together. At least that’s how I see it.

      As for the immobile, indifferent and I’d say servile masses that probably make up the bulk of the Romanian population… you have to look into our history and see how it has shaped us as a nation. Despite what the history books that we study might lead one to believe, the truth is Romanians have seldom been truly free and they’ve never actually had an opportunity to rule themselves. There have always been strong foreign influences over the way the country (or the Principalities before 1859) was being run: always some Empire looming around (Habsburgs, Ottomans, Soviets), many foreign rulers (some benevolent, but most of them interested only in personal gain), there were dictatorships, policies imposed from abroad… someone around us always holding a bigger stick than us.

      But still Romanians have endured and I’m convinced they will endure for a while longer… Romanians are survivors. The unfortunate side effect is that living for centuries like that has “thought” Romanians, as a nation, that if you want to survive long term you have to keep your head down and avoid confrontation. There are no living heroes, not if you’re Romanian. I think this explains why Romanians, as a whole, tend to keep quiet… while perpetually brooding deep down inside. Again, this is my theory for the state of the people and I don’t pretend it to be a bulletproof explanation.

  2. I love your blog, I admire you for having the guts to completely change your life, I admit that sometimes you are more romanian than me but…. There is a “but”. Sometimes, certain blog posts or certain things you write, make me feel that no matter how well you speak the language ( btw, awesome accent), no matter how many things you know about Romania, and no matter how many places you’ve seen, there are things you will never really understand. We are not as unhappy as you think we are. We might seem very unhappy compared to the over enthusiastic americans. We like to complain a lot, we exaggerate our complains but we are not unhappy. Romania is extraordinarily beautiful, sometimes beauty is not enough.
    Theoretically the healthcare is totally free. Only theoretically. This is a very sensitive subject. I had the chance to observe both romanian and american healthcare systems. Neither is perfect and neither is free.

    • I have to agree with you… I don’t think a foreigner can understand a Romanian and the Romanian way of life no matter how long he will live here. I sometimes had the feeling that some of his articles have some uber-American opinions that have nothing to do with reality but more with the fact that the guy is trying to understand Romanian stuff with an American brain (it’s hard to explain it).
      What Sam can’t understand is that Romanian’s act sad and in fact… are not sad. I don’t know a single person that’s genuinely sad here in Romania.
      Oh… and when a Romanian complains about something… he’s not complaining… he’s looking for someone with a different opinion… I often say that something sucks even though I don’t believe it… just to argue about it and then demonstrate that it doesn’t suck.

    • Oh… and regarding that “free healthcare” the guy pays no taxes in this country… he has no idea that any Romanian worker pays almost 20% of his monthly paycheck in health taxes (CAS)

  3. Stii ce cred eu? Eu cred ca tu ai o obsesie in a demonstra ca tu esti mai roman decat toti romanii. Well guess what ! Daca ai fi intradevar roman ai intelege de unde vine tristetea romanilor ai intelege cat suntem de fericiti cand suntem fericiti si ai intelege si de ce suntem fericiti sau suparati.
    Let me tell you who you are, because you seem to be a bit confused. Esti un american care traieste in romania post comunista ! O romanie in proces de vindecare, o romanie care dupa patruzeci de ani de comunism incearca sa se adapteze la capitalism.Cetatenii acestei tari, romanii, in anii optzeci cand tu ascultai la w huston si vizionai the simpsons, noi romanii, ascultam la Partidul,Ceausescu,Romania.
    Deaceea noi stim versurile cantecului si suntem romani ,am suferit pe versurile astea dureri si tristeti pe care tu nu le-ai suferit sau trait.Deaceea noi suntem romani si tu nu esti ,by the look of will never be a trully romanian.

    Romanii nu stiu cat de frumoasa e Romania pentru ca foarte putini dintre ei ai avut ocazia sa vada si alte tari.Ei te cred pe tine cand le spui ca suntem un popor mizelabil si nefericit.Asta au facut romanii to timpul,au crezut ca tot ce li se spune este adevarat si au ajuns sa creada ca sunt un popor de nimic. Nimic mai departe de adevar, suntem un popor cu suflet mare si plin de pasiune, ne place viata, deaceea petrecem de cate ori avem ocazia,numai un roman poate intelege asta.Ne place sa cumparam jeans de marca buna pentru ca nu suntem obezi ca alte natii.Sistemul nostru de invatamant este mult mai bun decat de exemplu cel din UK, desi multi studenti romani nu stiu asta.Eu stiu pentru ca am terminat o facultate in romania si apoi am terminat una in Anglia.

    Oricum,ce vreau sa subliniez aici este faptul ca tu, daca vrei sa fii roman, trebiue sa incerci sa i-i intelegi pe romani si vei vedea ca romanii pot fi si fericiti.

    Suces la invatat romaneste ! From your blogs I can see that is a struggle, it is a rich language after all !

    • PS. Niciodata nu am crezut ca romanii sunt mai buni sau mai rai decat alte natii. Sunt ex-pat ca si tine si locuiesc de sase ani in Scotia. Sunt mandra ca sunt romanca si voi fi pentru tot restul vietii mele. Can vin acasa, o data pe an, gandurile mele sunt identice cu ale tale. Ma doare forte mult sa vad ca unii romani inca se vindeca de comunism, dar stii ce? Tot ii iubesc din toata inima, stiu ca intr-o zi se vor trezi si ca intr-o buna zi vor invata sa schimbe prioritatile vietii. Pentru moment a fi fericit este din pacate pe ultimul loc in agenda unora dintre romani.Niciodata nu generalizez , nu toti romanii sunt la fel, unii sunt mai tristi decat altii, depinde ce inseamna fericire pentru fiecare individ in parte. Aici in Scotia este la fel ,am intalnit oameni fericiti si tristi deopotriva. Cred ca asta se aplica la toata planeta.
      M-a durut foarte tare cand ai spus ca noi romanii stim toate versurile din Partidul,Ceausescu,Romania……….stii cantecul asta ,noi romanii i-l uram din toata inima. M-ai jignit foarte tare cu asta.Nu am avut alternative ca tine sa schimbam canalul TV. Noi am avut TV pe timpul ala numai trei ore pe zi si programul TV era numai cu cantece de acest gen. Te rog eu frumos ,daca vrei sa ne vezi fericiti, nu mai mentiona ceva de genul asta, nu vei reusi decat sa ne faci Nefericiti.

      Intoarcete la ganduri frumoase si pozitive ca inainte, cum mentiona co-patriotul tau din Ditroit . Asta ne face fericiti. Dupa cum ai observat ne place foarte tare sa glumim si sa facem haz de necaz.

      all my best ,

      Adriana D

    • Foarte tare DANUT MIRICA.Afost cel mai bun comcurent din seuzonl acesta pana acum.Sunt ferm convinsa ca el o sa castige marele premiu seuzonl acesta.

  4. Sam, you have turned into a romanian considering how much you complain in your posts lately. I used to turn in every day, but that was when you wrote about simple and funny things happening in Romania; now I do it less and less and only to hear you complain, ha, ha. Let me know when when you have something new about: cats, manele, tigani, mamaliga cu branza, răchie (where’s the word of the day?) etc. Peace out, no harm meant.

  5. Romania-Unhappy nation ? not necessary! is just this damn winter with big snowfall,that don’t want to end. TV Media ,ALL THE NEWS at tv bombarding us with this bloody cold-white, frozen winter and with people from the villages sleeping under snow,that’s upset us,is true!
    But wait to see when spring comes again and when everything is again so “green”,songs from the birds sitting on trees,flowers fluorishes on the hills and in the mountains, and then,my friend,everyone from Romania will be much more HAPPY.(the protests anti-Basescu will continue on the streets too…) we are a happy nation! :)

  6. Sam, please check out this link http://www.mintrubbing.org/wisdom.html. You’re going to feel better after.

  7. I actually think what you said is true for basically all of western society.
    We all have to agree that something must be done to change the whole paradigm and revolutionize our current social system and not just keep fixing it like until now.

  8. Bogdan,I read your blog because you’re a frined of mine and because you write interesting stuff related to the industry we both work in.I also like the fact that you’re writing in English, making this information available at global level.

  9. I know about them but never checked their site beacuse Amazon.de has tons of English books in stock and gets me those they don’t have in stock from the US or UK free of shipping, too. But I’m glad to hear you found a way to get English books in Romania without sacrificing your firstborn in shipping costs. Now, if Amazon.de only would stock some more French and Swedish books as well, or get them for me free of shipping. :)

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