Word of the Day: Dezvoltare

Whew, enough posts about me! Let’s talk about a word you’ve likely been hearing a lot in all of those clips and debates, and that is dezvoltare. The word is fairly easy for English speakers to master because it looks a lot like its translation – development. In most cases, it has a very identical meaning and if you look it up in a dictionary this is what you will find.

However, the etymology of this word in different languages is interesting.

In English, it is related to the word “envelope”, the “velop” part coming from an old root that means to wrap something up. So “develop” originally meant something like to “unwrap” or to “unfurl” and to spread out and come out into the open.

Sviluppo, which is the modern word in Italian for “development” means something like “become mature” or “ripen” .

Romanian dezvolta (the verb form) has a similar meaning to the Italian, referring to a later, transformative stage of a plant’s life cycle. However in the broader sense it always refers to either a “superior” or “better” state of being. Therefore dezvoltare in Romanian always carries a very heavy connotation that anything “developed” is better than that which is not developed.

Now what “developed” means to one person can be debated but you hear this discussion constantly in Romania – does it mean multilane, high-speed highways? Does it mean plumbing and running water in all homes? Does it mean internet access? Does it means glittery shopping malls? Does it mean microwave ovens and washing machines? Does it mean certain international fast food “restaurants” or brand-name clothing outlets?

Usually that’s what people are referring to here in Romania. And yes, it’s true there are fewer highways and Burger Kings and washing machines here in Romania than there are in Germany or England or America. So if that’s your definition of “development” then yes Romania is less “developed” and if you consider “developed” to be a better state of being then yes, you are right, Romania is not such a great place to live.

Hopefully by now you’ve seen all the (released) episodes of the documentary (right hand side bar, if not) or you’ve heard other foreigners (this week it was Prince Charles of England) remark upon the fact that Romania’s lack of “development” is one of its principle charms. Certainly all the most beautiful areas of this country are the “natural” ones, completely un-developed at all.

So then Romanians are left in what seems to be a conundrum. Okay, yes, unspoiled, wild, natural areas are amazing and beautiful and definitely worth appreciating. But what about all of the millions of city dwellers? Are we not going to have any “development”? And when we have less of it, doesn’t that make us inferior or less good than Germany or France or wherever else?

I do not live in a rural environment. I have in the past but I choose freely and voluntarily to live in Cluj-Napoca, one of the biggest cities in all of Romania. So why in the world do you never hear me complain about lack of “development”? I don’t live in a beautiful mountain meadow and I don’t amble through fields of flowers. I live in a paved, concrete urban environment with the honking of trains clearly audible through my apartment window. So why is “development” not something I ever worry about?

It’s because I’ve lived in many of the most “developed” places in the world, including both England and the United States. I’ve also lived in countries like Spain, which once were mostly rural backwaters run by a dictatorship and then rapidly moved towards full “development”, the same path Romania is trying to follow. And I’ve seen the results and they are never pretty.

In America we have tens of thousands of kilometers of modern highways. And you drive on them for hours and hours on end, each kilometer virtually the same as the last, your journey becoming one of mind-numbing boredom. The stores and the fast-food restaurants and the retail outlets along these highways are increasingly all the same, the same lighting, the same shapes, the same choices until you can’t tell even where you are anymore because it never changes.

In England every street is marked and paved and covered in signs and directions and warnings and cautions and above each intersection is a camera, and somewhere the government is always watching you and every step you make.

In “developed” countries you almost never use cash and yes it’s “convenient” to use a plastic card to pay for things but this means that every transaction is recorded and monitored and tracked and stored. And not only is the government, in all of its manifestations, watching and observing but a whole host of for-profit companies are as well, assembling huge databases of your choices and preferences and using this to predict your every move, to push more and more products on you that you don’t need.

In “developed” countries there are televisions everywhere, not just in your home (and bedroom) but inside of taxi cabs, inside of grocery stores, inside restaurants, inside large retail stores, even inside churches and on street corners and billboards and the sides of buildings. And all those screens are there for one purpose – to sell, sell, sell something to you, to get you in the mood to buy it, whether you like it or want it or need it or not.

In “developed” countries there are so many appliances and gadgets and gizmos and buttons and switches to make your life “easier” that there is an entire industry of people whose sole job is to help you with all of these complications. And no ordinary person can master even their own home because all of those gadgets and devices are so complicated and advanced that if they break or fail or don’t operate correctly then you can never fix or repair them on your own. And so you become a helpless operator of buttons and switches, entirely dependent on these to do everything from unlocking your front door to cooking your food to washing your clothes.

In “developed” countries, food is no longer an organic, living thing that grows in dirt and then is harvested and cooked to provide you nutrition. Instead it is a product, planted in large scale with robotic-assisted machines, dosed with chemicals, harvested with more machines, cut, spun, dried and dosed in enormous factories and sealed in plastic and sold in vending machines or under the harsh glare of fluorescent lights. It is mixed and colored and frozen, given to you to place in a microwave oven to be “zapped” before consuming. It is dispensed through windows to you in your car, to be eaten as you drive those long, lonely hours down the anonymous lengths of endless highways. It is stacked, packed and analyzed with numbers and symbols that you must decipher in order to determine whether or not it is even food at all, or just the simulation of food.

If you’re very resourceful, in your own home perhaps you have gained the skill to be able to open various bags, packages, cans and boxes and assemble the contents within to try to achieve some nutritional comfort and satisfaction. This then becomes the definition of “cooking”.

And then because it is so hard to even eat real food and deal with all of the stresses in your modern, “developed” life, you need a variety of pills and potions and notions and more chemicals to help you lose weight and manage all of your illnesses and sicknesses until nearly every single citizen has to consume some kind of “medicine” on a daily basis just to go on living.

In “developed” countries, there is no way to go anywhere or do anything without paying money. Either you must invest in a two-ton hunk of steel and rubber that consumes a non-renewable, polluting resource, paying your appropriate fees and taxes to a consortium of governmental agencies for the privilege, paying off the multinational petroleum giants for the fuel, and spend hours and hours of your life at red lights and choked highways, all for the convenience of going from one place to another or else you have to strip off your shoes, your belt, your belongings sorted into various piles, your body and possessions scanned for potential bombs and pass through a gauntlet of men with guns and dogs, all for the privilege of being able to wait for hours to be jammed into a crowded aluminum tube that will fly you from one place to another.

In “developed” countries, organic (without chemicals) food is hard to find and extraordinarily expensive, entering a public park costs money and your promise to adhere to a long list of rules, sidewalks are rare to non-existentent and walking in some places will bring you police harassment, paying with cash is suspect and sometimes not even permitted, and everywhere you go you are subject to the unsleeping eye of government vigilance, every move tagged, tracked, bagged and recorded, every phone call, every purchase, every email, every movement. And for the interlopers and disobedient there are the mobile police, each one equipped with computers and networks to make sure that virtually nothing escapes the vigilance of a “developed” society.

So yeah, you won’t hear me complain too much about lack of “development” in Romania, where I can still fix my own plumbing, wash my own clothes, walk around without being filmed, buy (or make) my own bread without chemicals, wash the dirt off of a carrot, hitchhike, walk in a public park for free at nighttime, drink in a bar after 2:00 am, make my own wine, kill my own pig, use a pre-paid telephone and pay cash anywhere I like. At one time in my country’s history this was called freedom and to me, well, it’s a lot more precious than “development”.