The Picayune Rule Enforcer


Following in the footsteps of Trouble at the Tropeycabana I present yet another common trope you will find here in Romania

Back in the days of Soviet Russia, visitors never failed to comment on the ubiquitous дежурная, what Romanians would call femeia de serviciu, the middle-aged or older woman who worked on every floor of a hotel or apartment bloc, whose job it was to make tea and sweep the floor and do all the other miscellaneous cleaning jobs but whose most important function was to maintain order by keeping a vigil on all the comings and goings and activities of the people and then reporting anything suspicious to the authorities.

I haven’t been to Russia since the end of the Soviet era but here in Romania there is a strong legacy still in place, a remnant of that mentality where some people, regardless of what their position is or their actual ability to dictate the rules and laws, feel that it is their job to enforce complete compliance in the most picayune or smallest matters.

I’ve always found it interesting that whether it’s a government official or a property owner dealing with a renter or the proprietor of a business that here in Romania it’s nearly always women who are Picayune Rule Enforcers. Don’t misunderstand me – I’ve met a few males of this type but usually it’s a woman who is incredibly insistent that a certain rule or procedure must be followed no matter how illogical or unnecessary it is.

And logic and rational explanations on your part won’t work. You can wax at length about how a bank really doesn’t need to know your political party affiliation when you’re not even a citizen or how there’s nothing in the rental contract specifying anything about cleaning the outside of windows, which get dirty purely through the actions of the weather alone, because she will insist that the rules are the rules and it is her mission in life to enforce them. And no amount of arguing or lawyerly grandstanding will help your cause.

Most people give up and comply in the face of such redoubtable enforcement but occasionally you really do need to find a way around this. And so what I’m here to tell you today is that underneath this rigid inflexibility is always a kind of a sadness, a kind of melancholic desperation that only unswerving dedication to maintaining order can assuage.

And if you know this, and you tell her that you know this, that life can indeed be difficult and heartbreaking and that you truly and honestly do sympathize and understand, it just might thaw her heart enough so that she will cut you a break, just this one time and one time only, because you respected her enough to acknowledge where this eternal vigilance is coming from and that you are not so foolishly arrogant that you disdain the encroaching forces of chaos.

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3 Responses »

  1. New to me the role the cleaning womans play to observe and report working like a secret police.
    Such procedure it is a standard in countryes under a ditatororial system so means estrange in a democratic country like Romania. What is wrong?

  2. Transitions take several generations. Good luck.

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