O România Frumoasa

Just about every single day I have some kind of face-to-face interaction with people who read this website. Clearly I am becoming more and more a public figure and some of the things I do (such as attend TEDX Cluj) are very public events. But you might notice that I rarely ever mention other people by name.

Why is that? Well because I respect people’s privacy. Sometimes the people I meet are apprehensive that I’m going to write about them, wanting to shun either the attention it would garner or else to avoid some kind of (perceived) embarrassment on their part. So then they get all twisted and nervous when they find out I’m a writer of books and a near-daily website.

Relax! If you peruse through the archives, you’ll see that I only mention other people by name in very limited circumstances – either elected politicians (who are very public figures) concerning public actions or else other people in a very public sphere, such as speaking on stage during a filmed event (TEDx) or writing to me openly on their blog, etc.

I also never mock anyone who isn’t a well-known public figure simply because I think that’s low class. There’s plenty of reasons to make fun of myself, so I hardly need to cast a wider net, do I? :P

I tell you all this because this week I’ve had some very interesting experiences. To begin with, I met another university student. He found me through some tweets about TEDx Cluj, and although he did not get a chance to attend, he badly wanted to. He had a lot of questions and curiosity not just about TEDx but about Romania in general, especially from my perspective. If I had known him before the TEDx conference and had an extra 170 lei, I definitely would’ve helped him to attend precisely because he is interested in making Romania a better place to live, which is the core of my mission.

Some of you know this by heart but for the newcomers amongst you, I will summarize my “mission” once more because it bears repeating. I live in Romania because I think it is an awesome place. I went to TEDx because I think it was an awesome conference based on some really wonderful concepts. I live in Cluj-Napoca specifically because it is a really great city filled with many talented and caring people. But I also know that what is good can always get even better.

After speaking to this young man for an hour or so, I know he has a similar passion about Romania becoming even better. But what makes us different is that I start from a different place – I believe Romania is already wonderful and I want to keep improving it whereas he (and most Romanians) start from the idea that Romania is terrible and it has an impossible journey towards the goal of being a good place to live.

I wrote an entire book about why this country is worth visiting and worth moving to and living here and starting a/sharing your family with, and I wrote it not for money but because I believe in it with all my heart. That’s why I continue to do interviews with Romanian journalists on the subject, because while to me it’s “old hat” (something predictably familiar), it always comes as a shock for the domestic audience. Romania is already a great place? That statement alone is revolutionary here. It’s not on par with December 1989 or March 1907 but nonetheless it is revolutionary.

While waiting for this young man to meet me, I was sitting at a beautiful outdoor cafe, enjoying the weather, when I heard some native speakers at a nearby table discussing something in English. I introduced myself and discovered that while one of them was a Canadian (since birth), the other was a Romanian who had moved to Canada twenty-two years ago and this was her first visit back home. Amazing! I can barely imagine what it must’ve been like to take off in 1989 for such a far-away and alien land and to put down new roots and learn a foreign language so well that years later you could easily pass for a native speaker. And to spend so many years unable to return home, and to finally get the chance to do so, coming at the exact right moment (in terms of weather).

It was a fascinating conversation. And it’s precisely because of people like her that my enthusiasm for this “mission” never wanes. I’m glad for all the Romanians abroad who are studying and working and marrying foreigners and living a good life. But what I love nothing better is to see them return home and smile and realize hey, it’s pretty good here too, that there’s a choice, that it doesn’t have to be either/or anymore, it doesn’t have to be starvation or estrangement, poverty or alienation, suffering economically or suffering culturally.

In other words, what I want for all Romanians is to be in the same situation I am in, to be able to go where you wish, to go where it suits you best, but you always still have the option of returning to your native country at will, and to share the best of both worlds.

I think that’s why it’s always so easy for me to convince foreigners here that this is such a great country. Since they are coming here voluntarily (and not to escape poverty or suffering at home) and can return at will, they aren’t trapped by desperation and can appreciate life here. And they do, they really do.

A (foreigner) friend of mine unfortunately developed a bad case of pink eye (Rom: conjunctiva) this week. He was hesitant to visit a doctor, thinking it would be a long wait and an expensive hassle and so for most of a day he was suffering needlessly. As soon as I realized what was going on, I walked with him over to a nearby pharmacy (UKEnglish: chemist) and I translated his situation to the very knowledgeable pharmacist and within 60 seconds we walked out with a bottle of medicine that cost 15 lei. He applied some drops in the affected eye and immediately felt some relief.

I am telling you this story because Romanians constantly complain about the state of healthcare here and yet foreigners always find it amazingly good. Yes, it’s true that advanced brain surgery might be inordinately expensive or unavailable in Romania but for daily illnesses and medical stuff that people deal with, Romania is amazing. He told me that a visit to the doctor in London would’ve cost him 100 pounds upfront and the medicine would’ve been another 10 pounds at least. To translate that into Romanian money, that’s 550 lei versus 15 lei, not to mention that we were in and out of the pharmacy in under a minute versus hours and hours waiting on a doctor.

There are pharmacies all over the place in Romania and the people working there are highly-trained experts who can do diagnoses for “minor” ailments on the spot, prescribing medicine that is extremely affordable. I say “minor” because it’s not cancer but when your eye is painfully inflamed and leaking liquids, it doesn’t feel very minor, does it? So he definitely appreciated both the low cost as well as the speedy relief. And yet Romanians constantly, constantly complain.

This post is already getting quite long so I’ll wrap this up by saying that if you’re a foreigner and are living in/visiting Romania, you don’t need me to convince you how wonderful this place is. It can be a little tricky to understand sometimes, which is why I wrote my book. But otherwise, life is pretty sweet here.

If you’re Romanian however, whether abroad or still at home, please join my revolution. You don’t need any guns or bombs and you don’t need to protest in the street. All you need to do is say to yourself and to your friends and neighbors that Romania is a great place. Yes, it has problems (what country doesn’t?) but together we will work to make it better. I know it’s scary to be even that cautiously optimistic but frankly there’s no other realistic choice.

World War 2 is over, the Nazis are gone, the Russians are gone, the fascists are gone, the Hungarian overlords are gone, the Turkish Empire is gone, the Securitate and Communist Party are all gone. There are no more valid excuses. Therefore I say to you what you must say to yourself and to every Romanian you know:



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