Sooner or later in Romania, someone is going to mention the concept of PCR (pay-chay-ray). But what is it? And what do those initials stand for?
Actually they can stand for a lot of things, including Partidul Communist Roman or the Communist Party of Romania (of which I am the sole remaining official member).
In the current sense however, what PCR stands for is Pile, Cunostinte, Relatii.
Cunostinte means literally “the people you know”.
Relatii means “relations” as in your family.
But what in the world does Pile (pee-lay) mean?
It’s kind of a slang word in Romanian, borrowed from the (regular) French word for “batteries”. I think in USA English today it would be something like “juice”.
Pile are the people you know who have “juice”, who are connected, who can get things done, who can “pull strings” and “call in favors” and make things happen.
PCR isn’t just a concept that existed in the Communist era in Romania, it is alive and well today. In fact, just about every single activity in your daily life here is on the basis of PCR.
One of the reasons Romania is so self-reliant and doing far better than, say, Hungary or Poland (or god forbid, Ukraine) at the moment, is precisely because of PCR. A lot of outsiders look at it and call it “corruption” but as I said the other day, there are two forms of corruption.
One is the big kind, the stealing millions of euros from road projects kind of corruption, the newspaper censoring and judge bribing and court case corruption that while awful, is, I believe, protecting Romania from a greater harm.
But the “other kind” of corruption, the “little corruption”, the daily PCR and ciubuc going on is exactly how everything is done in Romania.
Both my blog and my book are, in essence, forms of PCR. Because as I get to “know” you, some of you with (online) “juice” post links and comments, which then brings more visitors here, and so on and so forth.
PCR is also about relationships. It’s rarely a one-way street. While all (or most) of you are linking to me and writing nice comments and Facebook-ing, I’ll be giving away some shirts and copies of my book. I’ll also be appearing quite soon in some Romanian media saying nice things about all of you and this country.
Sometimes Romanians get really bitter when they’re on the “losing” end of all that PCR. A friend of mine passed the test to get into an exclusive university but was bumped when someone with better “juice” got their kid’s name on the list.
But from my perspective, I literally came into Romania at the bottom of the PCR ladder. Even a raggedy gypsy on the street had far more relatii than I did. None of my (blood) family live in Europe, I knew almost nobody in Romania and definitely not anyone with “juice”.
Yet now I do have some juice even myself, not to mention knowing a few people (and literally more every day) who do as well. I’ve got lots of cunostinte and I doubt there’s a service or skill here in Romania that I don’t know someone personally who could help you out with that.
It’s really kind of unbelievable, if you think about it. In America, nine times out of 10 if you want to engage in some kind of commercial transaction, aka “get something done”, you look online or in the yellow pages or in some kind of non-personal way. Very rarely do you know anyone personally that you pay (or exchange something) for some service or “goods”.
And now I’ve also got relatii. Some of the stories on this website which you’ve read involve Romanians I’ve known for years, and who have outright told me I am a member of their family. When I say Romanians are generous, it’s more than words can ever express.
I like PCR. If it came to a vote and I could vote, I’d vote for it. Europe is far too bureaucratic and PCR is how you can get around some absurd requirements.
A famous example from 2008 after Romania joined the European Union was EU bureaucrats up in the hills of Romania, using digital thermometers to measure how the shepherds were making that branza de burduf cheese that gets “packaged” in pine tree bark and left to sit on the side of a mountain until it’s aged.
As nice as regulations and standards are, some things have been done in Romania for so many centuries that clearly it’s fine so por favor just leave it alone. If cheese in a pine bark container was deadly, Romanians would’ve found out about it a long time ago.
In fact, just about every senior citizen as in elderly person in Romania that I know drinks (sometimes quite a lot of) homemade alcohol, whether wine or tuica or visinata or something else. Clearly not a danger ;)
And so on and so forth. I saw an entire four-storey building get constructed by a team of Romanians who wore no hard hats, barely any other safety gear, and drank beer all day long while on the job. Is that the safest thing in the world? Not exactly :P But it is what it is. Heck, I brought a case of beer for those guys one time myself.
In case you’re wondering, the building is in excellent condition and is in the mountains and has withstood years of sometimes brutal winter storms.
As tragic and brutal as a lot of Romania’s history was, especially for the ethnic Romanians, the cold hard truth is that it made Romanians extremely tough people. Anyone who couldn’t fight off a horde of screaming Turks or survive under the lash of a Hungarian noble got weeded out centuries ago.
If (ignorant) Westerners want to jump on the “Woe is Romania” bandwagon, that’s their own choice. But any time I hear Romanians start to complain too much I start praying that Mattias Corvinus will come to life and jump down off his pedestal in Cluj and start showing these whiners a little taste of how it used to be.
Which reminds me, if you haven’t been to Cluj in the last two weeks, they finally finished restoring Corvinus, including giving him a shiny gold crown. He and his horse are incredibly massive and now that he’s cleaned up he truly does look like he’s one Gepetto breath away from beating the apple out of this town. I’m starting to understand why Funar had nightmares about him :P
But back to PCR. What can I say? If you put yourself out there and meet people, life gets a lot sweeter here in Romania. I wish I could say it was the same in America but it only sometimes is.
AND NOW YOU KNOW!