The discussion then segues into Romania’s “image”, as in what people know about Romania who know nothing about Romania.
This entire topic makes me sigh with exasperation precisely because several different interests are conflicting here, resulting in a stalemate and unchanging condition, which is exactly where we are (in Romania) year after year.
Obviously the Dracula thing is well-entrenched. I used to have a roommate years ago. His girlfriend ended up moving in with us and she was a vampire fanatic. In those days (hey I’m old), she literally had over 60 VHS cassettes, every single one of them a vampire/dracula movie (some of them were pornos). She even went to filing down her incisors to look more like a vampire.
That part is what it is and nothing can be done to change it anyway.
No. What I’m here to talk about is the rest of Romania’s image.
A tiny bit of is (female) gymnastics, both because of Nadia Comaneci as well as the Olympic gymnastic programs. Since approximately 0% of all visitors to Romania ever see any gymnastics in Romania, this is largely irrelevant.
The rest is dirty, run-down, grim, grey, miserable, a “shit hole”, poor peasants or urban slum dwellers. Cold, grey, very “far away” from anything else, harsh brown bread, hideous apartment buildings or animals wandering around trashpits while sad-eyed slum children stare up woefully at you.
And that’s not even counting the gypsies, which let’s be honest, most foreigners can’t tell the difference between a gypsy and anyone else.
That’s it. The link Grumps provided was talking about Romanian cinema and how all the Romanian films foreigners ever get to see are dour and depressing and portray Romania as a horrible place to live.
Why many people in the comments argue over WHY this is so, the answer is clear.
Of course! Ceausescu has been dead for more than 20 years and yet I’d wager a majority of English-speaking foreigners equate Romania with hideously overcrowded orphanages.
What Romanians don’t seem to ever understand is that being a poor place with lots of inhabitants to feel sorry for IS Romania’s image. That’s its “brand” if you want to use corporate-speak. Romania = Overcrowded Gypsy Orphanage Land.
That’s why when you read the blog/tweets from foreign backpackers in Romania, they always act as if they’re in a wild west safari, barely escaping with their lives from gangs of thieves who pour poison gas into train cars and god only knows what else.
Changing Romania’s exterior image is going to require a heck of a change in mindset. A lot of (especially young) Romanians get angry when they constantly see this “negative” image of their country portrayed to foreigners but what they rarely realize is a lot of people are profiting from the “Romania is so poor and miserable” route.
There are literally hundreds of charities, especially religious ones, operating in Romania. A lot of these organizations get funding from western sources PRECISELY because when they say “it’s to help those poor Romanians” everyone knows that yes, those poor widdle Romanians are suffering in their hideous Eastern Europe existence so let’s eat some pancakes and chip in a few bucks.
This image also helps the Romanian government, especially in relation to the European Union, NATO and the United States. This country gets millions and billions of euros worth of military aid, grants, matching funds and all kinds of help. With so much sympathy for the poor and downtrodden here, it’s easy to get lots of good funding and even easier to siphon some of that off.
If Romania all of a sudden seemed like a really cool, modern, easily accessible and affordable place to visit, that would deal a major blow to those vested interests. All that funding for dour movies, starving orphans and trash picking gypsies might dry up.
Instead, tourism brings actual work. Go to any popular tourist city around the world and you’ll see how much effort it is. Signs and information for foreigners has to be increased. Police and other public officials need to start learning foreign languages. Hotels need to be built and staffed by friendly, accommodating people. All kinds of new restaurants and cafes need to be built, also staffed by friendly, knowledgeable people.
Souvenirs need to be created, distributed and sold. All kinds of specialty needs of the tourists need to be accommodated as well, from the kinds of foods they like to eat to the kinds of things they’ll gladly pay money to do. Organized tours need to be organized.
And so on and so forth. A tremendous percentage of the workforce in Romania works for the government on some level. All they want is a steady paycheck and they’re fine. I’ve never once seen a Ministry of Tourism official in Otopeni Airport, the busiest international airport in the country, so god only knows what they’re doing besides filming weird commercials.
The rest of the private workforce doesn’t even know how to understand modern commerce, much less a high-level of interaction with foreign tourists. Business here is conducted as if the gods themselves dictated who will walk in the store and the concept of pleasing the customer so s/he will return a thousand more times is almost unknown here.
This isn’t my call to massively modernize and hyper-commercialize Romania or even Romanians, not at all. I like the way things are done here, but then again I understand how things work here, and foreigners don’t. That’s because all they see and hear is about the misery and the urban decay and gap-toothed peasants in horses and carts.
I actually have several concrete ideas about how to bridge this gap – between Romania as Europe’s “poor widdle cousin” and Romania as the sparkling, Disneyworld National Vampire Amusement Park, which seems to be the only idea the government can grasp. God knows, if you know someone to talk to about getting some real progress accomplished in shaping Romania’s foreign image, let me know.
Thirty-second flashes of green hills and waterfalls or castles and all is not gonna cut it. It’s nice but it isn’t having any impact. People still think Dracula and Nadia and orphans and it’s going to require some serious effort to update that image.