Hey, it’s a fair question and I certainly get asked it a lot. I met a couple of nice young women at Sunday’s book party who clearly were thinking it even if they were too polite to say it.
I have a few people I’ve known for years who still think this way and one of them told me so today to my face. It’s quite all right as I’m used to this attitude. One of the reasons why I said in my interview that everyone is “waiting for Vlad Tepes to come back and he isn’t coming back” is precisely because it’s true.
As I’ve told my story many times, you know I came here more or less serendipitously and then had the most wonderful vacation of my life. I ate a ton of good food, met a ton of good people, danced and had fun night after night and went home happy and five pounds (2 kg) thinner.
So one good experience leads one to be predisposed to another. I came here several times and had many wonderful experiences. Then I moved here and certainly had some rough times but still nonetheless I still kept a (mostly) positive attitude.
I still do. My face and name are “out there” and I’m in public for the first time but I’m still exactly the same person as I was before. And that’s a positive person.
I was also a positive person in many rough and sometimes quite terrible experiences even before I ever set foot in Romania. I’ve worked jobs so stressful that people’s hair turned white and yet I still kept on smiling (most of the time). We used to have a saying at work that it’s not the first 40 hours a week you work that are difficult but the last 40. And that’s definitely true ;)
And yet no matter where I go, whether here in Romania or in America or England or you name the place, there’s always people who tell me nu se poate, it can’t be done, or else I’m “foolish” for being positive or it’s “not practical” or “not realistic” or a thousand other versions.
I’m sure you’ve heard that message too from someone, about something, and if not, well you will hear it. There’s always going to be resistance when you try to change anything. And some people are deeply entrenched in a bitterly negative perspective.
Nothing I will say can change that. Those of you who think like this are just going to have to make up your own minds. But what I will say is what I have said a million times before and will continue to say – it is what it is. You make of it what you will and if you want to be cynically pessimistic, that’s your choice.
It’s also quite funny that if I do something beyond what’s expected, there’s suddenly an “obvious” explanation. Oh it’s because I’m American. Or oh it’s because I’m “rich”. Oh it’s because I’m tall or it’s because I’m short or always something else, without giving me any credit whatsoever. That one always makes me laugh, as if everything good in my life fell out of the sky due to sheer luck alone :P
From my perspective, my positivity is entirely practical. It’s an honest emotion that stems from genuine feelings but it is also entirely practical as well. All I can do is give you a couple of examples:
1) Waiting in Line at UPC
One day I went down to the local UPC (internet/TV provider) office to pay my bill and there were about 100 people all jammed in there and the lines were extremely slow moving. It was hot, stuffy and crowded and we’re all burning away the hours of our lives just to stand in line and pay a bill.
Now what in the world is there to be positive about that, right?
One quite elderly lady was holding up our line as she was involved in a lengthy discussion over some kind of refund she was expecting (and not getting). And because this is Romania, she (the elderly lady) was having to fill out all kinds of forms and it was just taking forever.
So someone in line starts grumbling and asking what the delay is all about. And I turned to them and said, “Can’t you see she’s an elderly lady? It takes time to write your entire autobiography”.
And guess what? A couple of people laughed and several more snickered and then people were smiling. And then we got to chatting in a friendly and relaxed way and the line moved along and we all went about our business. And it went from a tense, frustrating experience to one where we’re smiling and jabbering. Sounds like a win to me!
2) Bank Says No
Couple years ago a friend of mine was in another city and ran out of money and asked me to deposit 20 lei in her account so she could get back home. Easy enough especially as there’s a branch of her bank right near my house.
I walked over there and went in and said I’d like to deposit money in my friend’s account. So far so good. But apparently there’s a law or rule or regulation or some kind of thing that says you have to show identification even to deposit money, not just withdraw it. And I had absolutely no ID on me of any kind.
What to do?
Well I could’ve been “practical” and cynical and pessimistic and complained and been angry or frustrated and gone home, gotten my ID and then returned. But instead I literally said to the bank lady “Well great, now you can help me resolve this issue” and sure enough, we did. Didn’t even break the law either ;) And we all went away happy instead of one person frustrated (me) and the other tense because they had to deal with an unhappy customer (her).
So yeah these “solutions” seem easy after the fact when I sit here and tell you them as an anecdote and they’ve already happened in the past. But what I’m trying to get through to you here is that it works. Those weren’t just “lucky flukes” or statistical aberrations or something. It really works.
I’m sure you’ve heard by now that France and Germany vetoed Romania’s accession to the Schengen Zone. There was a lot of nice diplomatic talk about “corruption” and other stuff but we all know it was simply due to Romania’s poor image.
It’s more of the same of Romania having a poor, poor image and whether that’s (ethnic) Romanians mistreating gypsies or (Romanian citizen) gypsies being equated with (other) Romanians, the end result is an image of poverty, squalor and lawlessness and no way are France or Germany (or UK) going to open the door to a floodgate of Romanians.
But you want to know a secret? In 10 years it’s going to be the complete opposite. I know that’s hard to believe but yet it’s true.
I don’t know how much you know about cool hunting but it’s obvious Romania has a lot of elements that are going to make it trendy and cool in a very short order.
I realize some of you won’t take two seconds to pause to think about what’s cool about Romania but if you have some mental self-discipline, stop for a moment and think and you’ll realize I’m right.
A super short list of what’s cool about Romania:
- Vampires – Twilight, True Blood and on and on and on
- Beautiful women, millions of whom are spreading around the entire globe and marrying/dating foreigners
- One of the coolest videos in Youtube history is in Romanian language (“numa numa”)
- A young and vibrant population (in Romania)
- Seen as “exotic” and a “mysterious” land, plus quite a romantic one as well
- Real life bears and wolves
- Some of the best clubs in all of Europe
- Tons of hackers, computer programmers and software designers
- A metric ton of young, talented painters, photographers and other artists
And on and on and on…
“All” I have ever said, although it’s quite substantive, but all I have ever said is that while sure an image of Romania as a filthy gypsy squatter camp is “real” and “authentic” and definitely does exist, it is only one tiny aspect of a much larger picture.
It’s a little bit like me constantly fixating on the fact that there’s a spot on the ceiling when the rest of my house is gorgeous. Romania is a jewel and I say that with no stars in my eyes whatsoever. I spent a couple of hours last night talking to two foreigners who moved here precisely because we all know exactly how awesome it is here.
If the rest of the world could see Romania through my eyes, they’d feel the same way I do. I’ve staked my entire “career” upon it now. So now it’s time to roll the dice and see who was right, me and the “Romania is awesome” crowd or else the nay-sayers and the lemon faces and the la noi ca la nimeni crowd.
BOOK UPDATE: Just wanted to say thanks to all of you who have been buying the book (online). Wow! Those early sales (remember it’s been just three weeks since the book was published!) have really done wonders and Amazon is still listing it at $7.99. This is the improved, perfect version too, btw.
I have absolutely no idea how long that price will last so get it now and you can still read it before Christmas!
Note: All the electronic versions are updated and working now as well, for those of you who prefer the digital experience.
Nu dau un pas inapoi
Si nu cad pe locul doi!