Wow! The comments keep pouring in, one after another, some of them extremely long and definitely worth reading in their entirety. I am simply flabbergasted at the overwhelmingly positive responses from all of you and I thank each and every one of you for taking the time to write, including those of you with corrections and criticisms.
I think it’s time to whip out a story I haven’t spoken of yet (online), although if it weren’t for all the odd coincidences in our lives, none of us would be where we are.
I remember quite well the very first Romanian I ever met in my life – actually it was two Romanians, two brothers, perhaps in their mid 40’s. In the early 1990’s, I was working as a cashier in a large hardware store. These two Romanian brothers were some kind of contractors and came into the store regularly.
With large carts filled with large items, like pieces of wood, there’s a lot of talking between the cashier and the customers – you especially have to count things, 20 boards of this, 10 boards of that. For some reason, these two Romanian brothers didn’t speak very much English and (apparently) didn’t know their numbers very well in English.
Somehow I was vaguely aware that Romanian and Italian were similar so every time these two brothers came through my line, we’d do all the counting in Italian. I realize now that there’s a huge difference between doua zeci and venti but our ad hoc measures worked. The brothers identified me as the one person who wasn’t a monolingual English speaker (I’m presuming) and thus came through my line deliberately.
Now I told you that story to tell you this one: somehow that experience of speaking a few Italian numbers with some Romanians made me feel “comfortable with Romanians”. Years later when I was working a totally different job, my boss called me into her office and told me we’d be getting a new coworker – a Romanian young woman who “wasn’t up to speed” on her English. Could I help? Well sure! I am now “comfortable with Romanians”.
I’m laughing now just at the memory because my co-worker ended up being an extremely good friend of mine but never in her entire life did she ever get “up to speed” with her English. Her English was so strange, so mixed up, twisted, borrowed and onomatopoeic that it was actually an entirely different subset of English onto itself – like a platypus, so unique it has its own category.
Nor did she speak Italian. And so quite rapidly I was facing the situation of a coworker who couldn’t be well understood and I for sure did not speak Romanian. My “comfort” disappeared immediately as I realized how foolish I had been for even thinking that.
Therefore what happened was she talked to me in a mishmash of Romanian and her own English. And I, surely but slowly, started to respond in a similar mishmash, even before I understood what I was talking about. I remember one time our boss overheard an exchange that, to him, went something like this:
Romanian: Sam, blah blah, blah, blah, blah, blah
Me: Okay. I’m on it.
Boss: How did you understand that? *slack jawed* Do you speak Romanian?
Actually no I didn’t. Or maybe subconsciously part of me did. I couldn’t write a word of it but just listening to it non-stop every day, maybe somehow like reverse osmosis, it came into my brain. Or maybe it was because she and I were quite close.
It’s impossible to say. But one of the strangest experiences in my adult life was coming across an audio recording I made back in those days. She and I were talking (in “English”) and the phone rang and she began talking in Romanian. At the time I could not understand it but my “future” self could – it was like suddenly looking at Chinese characters and bam they make total sense – it’s a surreal experience, let me tell you.
I’m probably the world’s worst traveler, even though I’ve lived in many countries and visited far more. I say I’m the “worst” because I almost never take photos, I almost never visit museums and heck, I often barely glance at souvenirs and major monuments. Now do I insist on sampling the local cuisine, listen to the local ethnic music nor go check out the theater scene.
Instead, I mostly travel based on relationships with people. Just about everywhere I have been in Romania, from Botosani to Constanta to Timisoara and Oradea has been related to people – either the people I’m traveling with or (more often) people I am coming to visit.
I haven’t just visited Copou Park in Iasi or Piata Operei in Timisoara or Piata Universitatii in Bucharest but actually been in people’s homes, sat down at their tables, made coffees with an ibrik on their stovetops, eaten many indescribably delicious meals and yes, clinked a few glasses. That, to me, has always been by far the most enjoyable part of living here in Romania, sharing in the “ordinary” daily routine of things.
Therefore while having a close relationship with a Romanian is certainly a big part of what led me to visit here, it was all of the Romanians I have (also) since met that led me to live here. After all, I can walk right out of the door tomorrow. I can pack my bags, buy a ticket and I’m out. No visas, no questions, no nothing. So long and thanks for all the fish.
Unfortunately for some, they’re going to have to carry me out kicking and screaming if they want to get rid of me, as I’m here to stay :) My point however is that I live here voluntarily and it’s for the simplest but best reason of all – life is good here. And a huge part of what makes life is good is all the people.
In this case, I mean Romanians. I’ve had the privilege to meet many, many people here “in carne si oase” but this recent online outpouring has simply been the first time I guess I’ve encountered such a “mass response”. I am touched beyond measure, that is for sure.
As a result, I am working on a little Christmas present for you guys. If you’re an atheist or hold to other beliefs, we’ll call it a Winter present :D Either way, I think it’s something that you’ll like and it makes me feel good so it’s a win-win. But you’ll have to be good and hold your fire for a couple more weeks!
From the bottom of my heart, thank you all.
AND NOW YOU KNOW!