A question from a reader:
I was wondering, after staying this long in RO, does it still seems that great? I feel like leaving this country…
Well hell, if you read yesterday’s post, you know sometimes I get the urge to pack my bags and go as well. But hey, I’ve said that about a million times before and I’m still here, a source of shock not only to my friends and family in America but to me as well :P
The short answer is, yes, despite everything going on all the time, yes it does seem “that great”. Romania, to me, is a little like my cats. Sometimes those furry devils drive me absolutely nuts and make me want to beat them until I break my hand when they’re running around making noise and destroying my stuff. But then a moment later they are the cutest little monkeys you ever did see and they do something silly and it makes me laugh until my stomach hurts. And even though sometimes they’re under the wrong impression that I am their servile dupe, other times they curl up with me and purr and there just aren’t many things in life sweeter than that.
So yeah, I’m staying a while longer yet.
Romanians drive me nuts but they also do make me laugh. I think one of the greatest attributes of a Romanian that I’ve never seen elsewhere in Europe, not even amongst the Hungarians who grew up here, is that while a Romanian talks a lot of negativity with their mouths, in general their acts are that of extreme confidence and optimism.
A crew of workers digs a hole in the middle of a busy street and then breaks for lunch (or takes off for a week sometimes). Does that hole need any kind of signage or warning for drivers? Nah, just string up a tiny piece of tape! Good drivers are always attentive and they’ll notice. I’m confident of it.
Or take the case of some old ladies in a small town or village. They’re huddling together, probably complaining and bitching about their pensions or their kidneys or something else and yet, with supreme and optimistic confidence, they are holding this conversation smack dab in the middle of the street, a road that happens to also be a “national highway” with cars from all over the country zooming through. Relax, I am confident these drivers will see us and kindly warn us before creaming us into ketchup.
Over and over you see these acts of supreme confidence and I love it at the same time that it sometimes makes me cringe. Down the street from where I live there’s a large dog sitting on a tiny balcony two floors up in the air. No big deal right? Except for the fact that it’s a hotel. Will the dog leap to his death? Oh I’m confident he won’t. And confident was the hotel worker who let a man bring such a huge beast into his rented room because surely such a large animal left alone all day won’t cause any damage to the rooms or anything else.
I’ve seen women wearing miniskirts in the middle of winter, perfectly matched to their high heels. If that’s not optimistic confidence, I don’t know what is. But I think my favorite example of sartorial confidence was a middle aged man strolling down the street wearing a big, green sweatshirt that said “I’m A Proud Rutgers Mom”. Yep, right here in Cluj, where you’d think someone at some point would point out what “Mom” in English means. But do you think that guy cared? No sir, he did not.
I’ve already written about hordes of little kids happily traipsing down slippery stairs in the middle of a deep mine. Worry about kids falling to their untimely deaths? Nah, of course not, this is Romania and we’re confident they’ll be fine. A car pulling another car with nothing but a piece of rope, could that be a problem in big city traffic? Nah, don’t be ridiculous. I’m confident it’ll be fine. Travel around the country hitchhiking? Sure, go ahead! Handing up a case of beer to the “boys” who are building your house? Splendid idea! Letting your dog/horse/cow/sheep/goat wander around near highways and busy streets? Why worry about that? I’m confident they’ll be fine.
And the funny thing is, most of the time things really do work out all right. The ladies in the miniskirts make it to the club and don’t freeze to death. The house gets built just fine and lasts for years. The homemade tow job gets the disabled car where it needs to go. The potholes and other gaping chasms in the roadway get avoided by drivers. And thousands of people hitchhike on a daily basis with no unpleasant consequences beyond having to listen to the driver blast manele for a few kilometers.
Meanwhile everywhere else, from America to England to Germany and Sweden, is heading full speed into a world where confidence is extremely low, where everything is monitored, labeled, posted, warned of and regulated. There are a thousand rules and laws about what needs to be done in this situation and that situation and meanwhile back here in Romania people are swigging homemade wine and patting homeless dogs on the head and it seems to work out fine. New Zealand regulates the number of drinks a bartender can serve an adult per hour while here in Romania you can get drunk at the public pool and go swimming to your heart’s content.
Because, as odd as it may seem, Romania is one of the last places where general society is confident that you can take care of yourself. If you want to wander around at night, park your dog on your hotel balcony, tow your buddy’s car with a bungee cord, slaughter your own pig or fire up the barbecue on the side of the road, well then go ahead. If you find a little kid meandering around on her own (as I did recently) in the neighborhood, then everyone is confident that not only will she be fine but everyone else will take care of her as well (as obviously is exactly what happened). Hell I’ve had total strangers ask me to watch their toddlers before.
So yeah, not only am I glad to be treated as an adult (trusted not to fall into gaping holes in the sidewalk, etc) but these examples of extreme confidence despite all the odds is one of the reasons that Romanians make me laugh with delight. The next time a Romanian gets you down with their negativity or cynical talk, ask them to come skateboard with you down a steep hill while not wearing either a helmet or any kind of safety gear. I can almost guarantee you they’ll say, “Awesome idea! Let’s do it!”