20 Million Snowdrops

I can’t say that I’m much of a botanist or all that familiar with plants, but there is one that I know quite well in Romanian – ghiocel (ghee-oh-chell). Its Latin name is Galanthus but it is more commonly known in English as a “snowdrop”.

If you ever see a picture of this flower you’ll know right away why I know the name of it in Romanian. Many, many, many people over the years have told me that the correct attitude is to adopt the pose of the snowdrop – head down in submission.

That’s not just older people telling me that either. Yesterday someone counseled me to do the same after I told them the story of my recent interaction with some census takers. Right now there’s a nationwide census going on (link to English version) which I knew very little about other than some notice on the front of my bloc that I conveniently ignored.

While I was peacefully taking a nap, two census ladies rang my doorbell and entered my apartment, chattering rapidly about how I suddenly was required to answer all of their questions. Me being the ornery cuss that I am, I caused quite a considerable bit of consternation as I began to ask them questions instead. They were clearly unprepared for this and actually told me some lies just to cover up their own ignorance on the topics I was addressing.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I know what a census is for and it certainly has many practical applications. It’s certainly a lawful act for the government to perform here in Romania (as well as back in America) and in no way do I dispute any of that. And yes, looking at the website, I realize that even foreign non-citizens such as myself are included amongst those who are required to be “enumerated”. All understood and not a problem.

Quite frankly however, I wonder what this country would be like if more people were like me and actually asked some questions. Why exactly do non-citizens need to be counted? (The census takers didn’t know). What happens if I refuse? (They lied and said I’d have to pay a 5000 lei fine – I was half tempted to say, “Ok bring it on”). Why exactly do they need to know my father‘s name and not my mother’s? (We just do). And why does my religion matter whatsoever?

They also lied and said they had no English-language forms, which the government does have, just not my particular two census ladies, including one who I almost felt sorry for, clearly from a more rural area and wearing a headscarf, completely flummoxed by my obstinacy. I know she was “only doing her job” and every Romanian reading this will probably just be frustrated at me for even questioning anything but hey, this is how I am.

And in the end, yes I completed the census. I am now officially included in the statistics somewhere in a file, one more tiny number in a sea of data. Alas, they failed to ask me what ethnicity my cats are (Romanian) or their religion (Buddhism), although I supplied both census ladies with this information :) And by the time they left, we all got along just fine.

But still, I wonder, I really do. On one hand every Romanian always encourages me to “go along to get along”, to not make a fuss and to “be like the snowdrop”, head down in submission just to avoid any “trouble”. And yet at the same time I wonder what this country would be like if ordinary people (and not just troublesome foreigners) quit complaining about their helplessness all the time and actually did something. I mean if everything is wonderful and great, okay yes, I understand, don’t rock the boat. But if you’re going to complain to me bitterly (as one taxi driver did) about all the roadwork in the area, my eternal question to you is going to be, “Yes, you’re right but what are you going to do about it?” Let me tell you, it’s a conversation stopper every time.

A few months ago I was walking home in the wee hours of the morning. A police car pulled up beside me with two officers inside and the one closest to me started shouting Buletin, buletin (ID card). Nonplussed, I looked at them and said, Buletin, buletin right back at them and continued on my way.

A short while later after they jumped out of the car and were ready to take down the criminal of the century, I did end up showing them my ID and everything was fine. But I told them (in Romanian, mind you) that this was no way to talk to people, to just start shouting out the window for an ID when I was clearly on foot and not going anywhere (and more so, that I hadn’t even done anything). I gave them a good, old-fashioned Scolding of Righteousness. I realize, just like the census takers, they are government agents “just doing their job”. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t do it better, eh?

I’m proud of my stubbornness and not just when I am resisting the heavy hand of the state. I’ve told stories on here before how my refusal to just take what I’m given has ended up making a positive difference, not just for myself but for others as well.

It’s certainly understandable to those living in a dictatorship that resistance is (seemingly) futile and that there is a heavy price to pay for questioning authority. But those days are long gone. They’re gone in Romania and they’re gone in more and more countries around the world. Clearly I’m not advocating for an armed revolution or anything of that caliber but only to stand up for yourself, to ask questions and to make sure that your government serves you, not the other way around.

I won’t belabor the point since I’ve written about this topic many times in the past but all I can do is encourage each and every one of you to take the hard road, to think for yourself and then decide what is right. The snowdrop is a lovely flower but all of us are people and it’s better to be cut down with our heads high than to live on your knees.

I realize that’s not a very “Romanian” attitude but my dream is that one day it will be.