Let’s Talk About The Flipping Witch Tax


I don’t talk about Twitter too much but the truth is that I use it quite a lot. Amongst watching Markovian chains unfold in real time and other fun with ngrams, it’s an extremely useful tool to see what people (worldwide) are saying about Romania at any given time.

Imagine one of those TV-style heart monitors in a hospital with the green background and the line that spikes and beeps. That’s exactly what happens on Twitter when a story (like the guy who jumped in the parliament) gets repeated, mentioned and commented upon by hundreds, if not thousands, of people.

Right around January 1 there were several such stories but the one that got repeated the most ended up in the New York Times on January 6. Therefore it is now officially a story millions of people heard about Romania and lots of people have messaged me personally to ask my take on it.

It’s full of all kinds of delightful jewels, such as:

Superstitions are no laughing matter in Romania — the land of the medieval ruler who inspired the “Dracula” tale — and have been part of its culture for centuries.

President Traian Basescu and his aides have been known to wear purple on certain days, supposedly to ward off evil. And the Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, had their own personal witch.

I seriously do not have the mental patience to deconstruct the entire article (including the “witch” hilariously named Bratara – hopa!) but let’s look at that paragraph.

The verb “inspired” is incorrectly used here. I know that sounds petty but if you’re going to call yourself a respected newspaper, get your words right, son!

There were actually two Dracula “tales”, one written by Germans shortly after Vlad massacred the merchants of Brasov (1400s) and one written by an Irishman (in 1897) who never set foot in Romania.

Therefore Stoker was inspired by Vlad Tepes, or the story of Vlad Tepes. Vlad Tepes didn’t inspire Stoker because they never met.

And the German residents of Brasov who wrote the first “tales” sure as heck were not doing it out of “inspiration” from Vlad either.

As for superstitions and personal witches, Ronald Reagan’s wife had her own personal witch too. So what? Get over it.

The rest of the article (as well as other ones I see regularly) are of the same mentality always – Those Wacky Primitive Romanians. Yes, don’t you know they wear bear skins and hang up garlic for good luck and dance around and shake tambourines and dig up the undead and cast spells and all the rest? Yeehaw.

Romania, how can I say this? The rest of the world laughs at you and considers you like that poor bear they keep leashed on a chain outside of Peles, fun to take photographs of and show your friends. The more savage you act, the more the tourists like it.

Now (hopefully) you understand why my summer video project of shooting and creating an actual “TV show” is of such importance. Millions of fat westerners were chuckling over their cornflakes, reading that witch article, snickering at the far away savage, primitive Romanians and their goofy ways. Then tomorrow they’ll read some article about the poor gypsies and the starving orphans.

It’s the narrative that needs changing. And let’s face it, people don’t really read that much anymore. My book could be #1 in all categories in the entire English-speaking world and be featured in the Oprah Book Club and still most people wouldn’t know anything about it.

People respond to video, that’s the sad but fun but true fact. So it’s time to pull a judo move on all these views of Romania, flipping them on their head, where Romania is an awesome and cool place and gypsies, bears, witches and all the rest are part of it. There won’t be any sad faces involved, it’s just going to be some pure, old-fashioned fun and absolutely no one has to be ridiculed, belittled or laughed at (except for maybe me cuz hey, I can barely speak English these days! :P).

So there you go – now I talked about the flipping witch tax!

14 Comments Add yours

  1. Stefan N says:

    This story first came to my attention when one of my friends posted it on my Facebook wall and thought it would be funny…..-_- lol.

    I just didn’t even know what to say haha, the article was just sooooo out there. I mean like, pretty much what you said.

    Like

  2. Sam R. says:

    BTW just in case it’s not clear, witches in America have been taxed for years.

    Like

  3. krossfire says:

    Maintaining an aura of mystery upon the ”witchcraft phenomenon” and stuffing it in some remote parts of Europe (i.e: Romania) has been a tabloid tehnique for years. What’s shocking is the name of the publication, not the article in itself.

    Like

  4. Katharine says:

    Usually I like reading this blog, but I think you went a bit off the rails on this one.

    As for superstitions and personal witches, Ronald Reagan’s wife had her own personal witch too. So what? Get over it.

    This is what we call a ‘tu quoque’. I am o americanca who is a member of the dinky Rational People minority in America, and we are swimming in superstitious morons, but you can’t deny that Romania’s political milieu is swimming in bull lately from that violet flame nonsense. My best friend the Bucharester has buckets full of complaints about the land and doing some reading into them I find he’s pretty well justified. Did you hear where the Romanian educational system pulled the wool on all of us by removing evolution from its teaching standards?

    The rest of the article (as well as other ones I see regularly) are of the same mentality always – Those Wacky Primitive Romanians. Yes, don’t you know they wear bear skins and hang up garlic for good luck and dance around and shake tambourines and dig up the undead and cast spells and all the rest? Yeehaw.

    Romania, how can I say this? The rest of the world laughs at you and considers you like that poor bear they keep leashed on a chain outside of Peles, fun to take photographs of and show your friends. The more savage you act, the more the tourists like it.

    Now (hopefully) you understand why my summer video project of shooting and creating an actual “TV show” is of such importance. Millions of fat westerners were chuckling over their cornflakes, reading that witch article, snickering at the far away savage, primitive Romanians and their goofy ways. Then tomorrow they’ll read some article about the poor gypsies and the starving orphans.

    I agree insofar that it drives me fucking nuts when people say ‘Romania? Is that where all the vampires are?’ or ‘Romania? You mean where the Gypsies live?’ or stupid crap such as that. Romania, from what I have learned, is a complex place with a history hammered out largely by it being at the crossroads of all the empires stampeding through the region and profoundly affected even to the present day by Communism, with a rich folk tradition (and even some good contemporary music – DO A POST ON PHOENIX!), and those Romanians I’ve met who have a head on their shoulders often have a dour, wry sense of humor that I always find funny and a quiet sort of dignity and elegance about them even if they’re fellow students living off a pittance.

    But Romania’s got its idiots, too (Becali, Tudor, the whole bloody PRM, Basescu, Geoana, pitipoancele, cocalarii, etc). It’s got its problems with trafficking. It’s got its issues with post-Ceausescu corruption. Iliescu, sod his old ass, still has some measure of power despite the fact that he’s responsible for the murders of students in the Golaniad. It’s a handful of short steps away from theocracy, considering how much the Romanian Orthodox morons-in-hats and the government seem to be intertwined.

    tl;dr: You might want to check to see if you’re wearing rose-colored glasses.

    Like

    1. Sam R. says:

      I don’t know who the “tl;dr” was directed to but I read everything, “too long” or not.

      My point was not that Basescu isn’t superstitious or that witches don’t exist but that it’s NOT NEWS. I’m sorry but it’s not. It’s as newsworthy as reporting that eggs went up 2% in price this month. They’re both verifiable events but not overly newsworthy. If Romania had enacted a tax on street sweepers it wouldn’t have made the international news at all.

      Like

      1. Katharine says:

        I see your point.

        Like

  5. Cristina says:

    Thank you Sam!! I couldn’t have said all this better.
    So when one of my american co-workers asked me what’s with the “personal witch” and the president wearing purple and what about Dracula?? Do we really have “Strigoi” in Romania?
    Yep, I actually met someone who thinks “Strigoi” roam around romanian forests ready to catch some innocent tourists. Watching the SciFi channel makes some people believe all sorts of things.
    I gave my co-worker your book. Hopefully, one more person will have a different perspective on those “wacky primitive romanians”!

    @Nea-caisa: You really deserve your nickname!!

    Like

  6. clau2002 says:

    nea_caisa:Nick name-ul tau te reprezinta cu adevarat!Daca taceai filosof ramaneai!

    Like

  7. nea_caisa says:

    Sorry but I can’t find anything wrong with their article. Ok, it’s not a sample of outstanding journalism but it’s pretty accurate.
    There are lots of ‘witches’ here (especially in the south). Most of us know that they’re in fact ripping off desperate and gullible people (women mostly) and have nothing to do with ‘magic’ but just open a paper and look at the classifieds. There are a lot of ‘witches’ there and they have a lot of customers. It’s frustrating to see that your peers are so dumb sometimes but it’s a fact. Oh, and her name really is ‘Brățara’, as in Bracelet.
    Even the organised religion around here is more superstition and less true belief. Just look at the endless queues to touch the dead saints.
    This is a gem, http://stirileprotv.ro/stiri/eveniment/au-dezgropat-mortul-si-i-au-infipt-un-tarus-in-inima-acum-au-dosare-penale.html .
    And come on, two of the most powerful men Romania right now, stole each other’s ‘magician’ and wore purple on election day. I wouldn’t have blamed the NYT if they did a front page article calling the presidential candidates ‘magic morons’ and Romania the land of witches.
    I understand and like you i’m not happy that my country doesn’t have the best press and would deserve more articles about the good stuff, but the facts are facts and sweeping them under the rug won’t solve anything.

    Like

    1. Sam R. says:

      Yesterday I bought some flour. Was that on the cover of the NYTimes? Oh yeah, that’s right, it wasn’t. Why not? I mean it’s a real, verifiable fact. I even have witnesses!

      BECAUSE IT’S NOT NEWS.

      Like

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