Brats Redux

Hopa! I am going through a transition and yesterday I felt in the position to cork off a good one. Even though I haven’t played the game in years, that’s a baseball metaphor. Metaphorically a ball came in low and away and I felt the thud in my bones as that last post connected. Bam!

Obviously many of you too felt it too as I got a lot of feedback. Some of it was done publicly but per my usual policy, no names will be used. Some minor editing in terms of formatting (but not deletion/insertion of words) was done by me.

From a reader:

I’m sure you’ll get some angry e-mails because of this post. It is one of those things about you can be both right and wrong at the same time.

Actually, no. I got some passionate responses that disagreed with me but none of them were “angry”. Everyone who wrote to me was quite respectful.

This is not an excuse, because i feel the general idea you’re trying to say, but do you think it’s easy surviving in basically the biggest crossroads in the world?

Almost every great civilization and empire wanted either to cross this land or to take a piece of it: about 300 years of screwing around with the romans, germanic tribes, hittites, scythians, greeks, persians, nomadic tribes, avars, goths, pecenegs, etc., then came the byzantine empire, then the huns and those eternally parasitic hungarians who have been salivating with greed about Transilvania for more than 1000 years, at the same time with tatars, slavs, bulgarian empire, then about 700 years of being harassed by the hungarians, austro-hungarians, and ottoman empire simultaneously, then the russians, germans, then russians and germans again in ww2, then 47 years of hardcore dictatorship and probably the most brutal prison and torture system in the socialist world (“Fenomenul Pitesti”, Virgil Ierunca) . Again, it’s not an excuse, but this kind of crap makes you want to be an alcoholic perpetual teenager.

Certainly history plays a part and I am aware of Romania’s history. As an American speaker of English with ancestral ties to (what is now) Britain, yes of course the Viking invasions and later the Norman invasion of 1066 had an effect on my long-ago grandfathers and grandmothers. But that’s kind of stretching it, don’t you think? I mean yes those long ago events had an effect on all of us but I don’t think it’s necessarily that influential today.

I think the Hungarian aspect might be a little more relevant since it was far more than just “harassment” and a heck of a lot more recent. I know Romanians who grew up in Transylvania when it was a part of Hungary. Obviously there was a very feudal system going on here for many centuries and Romanians were by and large playing the role of serfs.

If nothing else, this means that any “uppity” or freethinking Romanian would’ve been ruthlessly weeded out over the years. It also means that a lot of other cultural lessons were taught, including a heavy dose of “you’re all inferior to us”, the Edit of Turda (Torda) being a rather illustrative example of the mentality being inculcated at the time. And clearly the brief re-taking of Transylvania by Hungary during World War 2 had a strong influence as well on many people living today.

That being said – and it all being true, including the Germans and Russian influence of WW2 – the 1989 revolution did not happen yesterday. I lived in Spain roughly 20 years after their revolution, when they went from a brutal dictatorship to a democracy overnight as well. No two country’s histories are equal but I talked to enough old Spaniards to know that they suffered about equally to anything Romanians suffered.

Spain certainly had its problems and still does today but this overall sense of spoiled brattiness is largely missing there. Yes, 500 years ago they were a mighty Empire when Romania was depending on Vlad Tepes to spear a few German burghers, but their “glory days” have been over for centuries. They got pushed around plenty, especially by Napoleon, and their civil war in the 1930s was horrifically brutal. They too suffered Nazi German attacks, albeit in a different way, so again, while no two histories are identical, it seems to me rather weak tea to continually blame a long ago past.

In continuation from the same author:

And i forgot to mention the huns and mongolian empire, you know, some of the largest empires in history. And all we’ve ever wanted was some peace and quiet, we’ve never wanted to disturb anyone, but we’ve playing defense forever.

Likewise, India, as I wrote about in my original post, has faced many of those same situations and was ruled by all kinds of foreign invaders throughout the years, including the selfsame Mongolians. And while British cruelty and German/Russian cruelty is of a different “flavor”, don’t kid yourself that it was any less awful.

There’s a few people living near the River Prut who would disagree with you on the “playing defense” stuff, and some of them speak Romanian. I’d say that Soviet influence on Romania since 1980 was virtually nil and as already mentioned, an entire generation has come into existence since December 1989. There are Romanians who can drive a car, drink alcohol and are married who grew up in an era since anyone had to “play defense” against all these ancestral enemies.

From another reader:

It’s funny, I do agree that many of Romanians are spoiled and like to bitch and moan instead of changing their attitudes, communities, and rampant inefficiency that chokes the country…but foreigners like the people, I’ve heard it first hand. Moreover, I’m here because of the people who are hospitable, kind, and who are actually asking a question when they say “how are you” (ce faci) unlike the majority of ppl in North America who don’t want to hear a real answer.

Of course I like the people. I’ve written several hundred posts about all my wonderful adventures here with the people. I count many Romanians as my closest friends. My point in the original post however was the “overall” behavior of this society at large.

From another reader:

Corruption is a big problem, agreed. Surely, not bigger in my opinion than in countries that were always spoiled and pampered by the West (look at Greece, at least from the WW2 to the present day). It started in my opinion from the day the rulers of the medieval Romanian states began to literally “buy” the crown from the Turks, even though they weren’t exactly our masters.

And then came the Greeks and the Russians with some very civilized influences (and we quickly embraced the bad things, like we always do, damn it!), and let’s not forget the 18th century with its odyssey to corruption brought by the Fanariots. And the story can go on like this forever and ever and ever. No, we shouldn’t look for excuses and damn right every Romanian should do something about it.

I like to think that I do everything in my power to help this country in every way that I can and in the same time to influence positively others around me. I just like to think you were a little upset when you wrote the last post on the blog. As Daniel said above you’re about 50% right. But that’s only half. History was a bitch around here. It has left bad bruises on the mentality, the one thing that changes slower than anything else. Just think that when our ancestors tried to resist to all the hoards mentioned by Daniel, the good old West was minding its own business, undisturbed by anything but their greed for power and conquering. Let’s not forget the looting and the damages, both material and human, all over the world.

All in all, Romanians have to return to what they once were: green Romanians, strong willed people that walked tall. I’m proud to be Romanian because I know what it means and nobody can take that away from me.

Again with the ancient history made us like this. I’m going to skip going off topic here with Greek history since it’s distracting but they certainly had their own brand of suffering under tyrants in recent times as well.

Yes, I know Romanians had a tough past but what I am seeing here is people alive today are being taught that they had this historical ghinion (bad luck) and it’s clearly inculcated in a number of my readers. I never went to primary school in Romania but I’d wager good money that this is how history is taught in classrooms even today – poor little us, we were the plucky survivors. Well look around you, folks. There are “poor little us” people on every side of Romania, including the Ukrainians where millions starved to death to the Serbians who are still climbing out of the rubble pit after being bombed by combined NATO forces.

History and historical perspectives are relative but I smell the whiny victimhood of Ceausescu peeping through here. I’ve heard his version of Burebista and I can tell you that he made a lot of political profit from twisting history to cast Romanians in whatever role suited his purpose. I think I prefer the media campaign focusing on the inventions (jet plane, insulin, etc) and creativity and accomplishments of Romanians to all this bitching and moaning about centuries-old events. In other words, while Ceausescu might’ve done well selling this story of poor widdle Romanians I don’t think it’s doing any of us a favor to be thinking like this today.

From another reader:

Seriously, this is how you think of me?

Yes, that’s why I wrote it. Again, for the billionth time, of course I know wonderful people in Romania and so do you (presumably) and so do we all. I know intelligent, kind and knowledgeable Americans but this doesn’t change the fact that America is a nation of illiterate retards. I know some amazing people here but likewise it does not change the fact that Romania is a nation of spoiled brats.

I will also say here that many Romanians whom I count as my friends sometimes indulge in this kind of bratty behavior almost as though it’s instinctual. We’ll be going along just fine and then suddenly they’ll throw a little tantrum, act spoiled and bratty and then the next day be back to “normal”. What always strikes me as a little presumptuous is that instead of accepting that I call them on it (after all, we all have bad days, including Yours Truly), the general attitude here is that I’m just supposed to take it in stride and say nothing.

A good case in point involves a friend of mine who regularly is online in “available” mode on an instant messaging service. When I see she’s online, I initiate a chat and sometimes we talk normally. Other times I initiate a chat and there’s no response. When I chastised her for being online in “available” mode but not responding, she angrily told me that “everyone else” was used to her doing it and so I should just get used to it too. Now what is that if not bratty behavior?

Hmm… maybe I should make a more specific list of some bratty behavior I’ve seen over the years from people I know so you can really see what I’m talking about.

From another reader:

When we moved out the village I was under the impression that I was going to live amongst “tough old bastards” … and though there are a few, for the most part, it seems that I am surrounded by spoiled lazy people. It can be hard to miss in the village because by western standards a lot of the people here live poor-lives and work all day in the field, so it can be hard to think of them as spoiled. However there is always excellent fresh food (plenty of land and water) on the table and their houses are warm in winter (fire-wood is pretty abundant here and mostly harvested greedily, illegally and unsustainably).

People are content doing boring and unchallenging work (sitting in the field watching cows graze and grass grow) and suckling on the tit of yearly EU funds (we recently learned that growing tobacco is highly rewarded by the EU!). They show no signs of motivation to improve their lives – unless it is handed to them on a silver platter. There is a lot of superficial behavior of keeping appearances and very little appreciation of the natural abundance inherent in the setting of their lives.

Click on the link to read the whole thing. Yes I live in the city now but I once lived in a village not too different from the one you saw on the ProTV episode. It has been a while since I did that though.

Very interesting to see that the rural folk this reader is living amongst exhibit a lot of the same kind of behaviors and mentality I was enumerating in my original post.

From another reader:

Prietene cred ca am inteles ideea articolului tau, insa precum toti concetatenii tai (americani) pe care i-am intalnit aveti impresia ca stati intr-un turn de fildes si vedeti exact ce si cum se intampla. In primul rand te rog sa-ti revizuiesti parerile istorice referitor la Romania, intrucat sunt cum nu se poate mai eronate, plecand de la “primirea” Transilvaniei pana la “gentilitatea” cu care am fost tratati de regimul comunist.

Este foarte adevarat ca majoritatea Romanilor nu apreciaza tara asta precum ar trebui, insa strainii care vin in Romania, printre care te numeri si tu, si se stabilesc aici pentru 5, 10, 20 de ani sau chiar mai mult vorbesc cu degajarea celui care stie ca are o plasa de salvare, nu merge treaba aici asta e ma mut inapoi acasa, oriunde ar fi acea casa.

Pe cand in cazul romanilor este mai dificil pentru ca sunt precum acrobatii de la circ fara plasa de protectie, de aici si stresul si atitudinea de copil rasfatat. Nu are rost sa caut scuze concetatenilor mei intrucat o buna parte din ei sunt asa cum i-ai caracterizat (la naiba poate si eu ma regasesc in lista respectiva), insa trebuie sa tii cont ca asa arata o societate indobitocita timp de 50 de ani. Poate o sa mai fim in viata peste 20 de ani sa vedem o societate mai aproape de ce ne dorim cu totii.

This is a far gentler disagreement but I will say this – who are you waiting for? Who are all of us waiting for? It’s really easy to say “in the future things will be better” but how exactly are they going to be better? Yes, I know it takes time for society to change, but it changes by individual people changing. There’s nothing magic about time itself – it’s what people do with that time.

As for the “plasa de salvare”, which I will translate as a “safety net”, yes I guess it’s technically possible I could return to America tomorrow. But to do what? I haven’t worked there in any kind of office in 8 years and my job paperwork would have a huge gaping hole in it. I don’t have a house of my own. There’s no one city where all of my family live that I would be returning “home” to.

Not all foreigners have such a “safety net”. Furthermore, it would seem to me that if your back was against the wall and you’re somehow stuck here, you’d be even more determined to make this a better place. I know prisoners in American jails who decorate their cells and make it as bright and cheerful and comfortable as possible. I mean if we’re going to consider Romania a “prison”, which I don’t as last I checked everyone with a simple buletin can go wherever they like in (Western) Europe.

From another reader:

Although, I don’t totally agree with the retrocession-of-Ardeal-for-nothing-thing ’cause personally i refuse to think my great-great-grandfathers who died on the front lines, didn’t “lift a finger” (but i’m not here to talk history) and even though i’m young i’ve met many people beautiful on the inside like you said, (my parents being from two different places thus having 2 pairs of grandparents in different regions and from my travelling&stuff i think maybe i can compare and come to some conclusions)but then again those folks were or from nice villages near a forest,or quiet towns near the mountains, small to medium populations, and not big cities.(my grandafther, who used to travel intensively around the country because of his job said that the people who lived near/in the mountains/ forests were a lot nicer than the people living in the plains.maybe it gives them a sense of inner tranquility. i dunno how much of that is true.:-? thinkingjust sayin’)

AHYHOW, back to my sheeps, the reason i’m writing is that i found the biggest part of your last post GREAT:)) laughing.yep,yep it was great:D big grin:D big grin:D big grina BIG CHUNK of the people are a bunch of whiners.And-yes you opened my eyes-very spoiled.I didn’t know what the problem was, but there it is.I always wondered why people at my school who had a very good financial situation(not filthy-rich) are as you said,”counting the thorns on a bouqute of roses”,complaining of the country and basically everything around them, when thay have everything that they need.

~X( at wits’ endIt makes me puke.But there is another category of people:those who lament.8-| rolling eyesI said it before:some people don’t exist if they do not lament, ’cause that’s the essence of their existence.They don’t do anything productive.They just lament.This spoilness and all is just like a plague.I dunno it’s just weird.Now i’m waiting for that major “old-fashioned kick in the ass” to set things straight;) winking;) winking;) winking;) winking.

Indeed this reader is correct – I have skipped over a more accurate and lengthy analysis of what led to the Treaty of Trianon. We’ll get to that in a future post I’m sure.

I think the experience that sticks in my mind of “counting the thorns” was one time when I was in Baia Mare at a friend’s house. I remember sitting on a chair and resting my arm on a brand-new (clothes) washing machine that was still wrapped in plastic. There was another (unwrapped) new washing machine on the other side of the room and yet my friend’s mother was going on and on and on about how poor she was. I interrupted her endless lamenting to ask her if she’d ever been over the border to Western Ukraine, seeing as how it was only a few kilometers down the road. Of course she hadn’t and waved her hand at me as though I was the biggest fool in the world and then she continued her complaining.

The reason she never crossed that border was that there was nothing in western Ukraine to go see. People there are far poorer and live a much harder life eking out their hardscrabble existence in western Ukraine and there are no McDonald’s across the border nor fancy shopping malls and precious few brand-new washing machines. Now if that’s not counting the thorns on a bouquet of roses, I don’t know what is.

Thanks for all the messages, folks and my apologies if I failed to include one of the replies I got. Definitely some interesting avenues of exploration were brought up and we’ll get to those in the coming days.