Well I’ve spent a good deal of time here in this past week talking to foreigners, including people from France, Britain, Portugal and Sweden. As always, they are having a really good experience visiting or living here and can’t stop raving about how much they love this country. And of course during this exact same week the majority of Romanians I know spent their time bitching and whining.
You know, when I first wrote my book I was very unsure how it would be received. Since then of course I’ve heard from dozens of people and found to my complete surprise just how much there was a need for it. But what’s always been weird is the conversation I continue to have with Romanians whom I meet and don’t know my entire personal history, which goes a little something like this:
Me: Yep, I wrote a book about Romania.
Romanian: Good lord, why would you do such a thing like that?
Me: Well I like this country, the culture, the food, blah, blah, blah (for 10 more minutes)
Romanian: Sorry, I wasn’t listening. Do you even sell any of these books? Seems like a waste of time.
Me: Yeah I do. In fact, they pretty much pay the rent.
Romanian: Oh well if you make money then it’s fine.
Really, that’s it. If I weren’t making money then every Romanian I know would think I was wasting my time because there’s no intrinsic value to things. You already saw the alcoholics anonymous party the other week. Now where would such a mentality come from? It comes from a feeling that there’s nothing of intrinsic value. That’s exactly where it comes from. I promise you (although I didn’t go) that the attitude of the people at that party was “hey, such an ironic theme so therefore it’s funny!”.
All week (despite a lot of unfortunate cold and rain) the city has done a magnificent job during their “Cluj Days” festival. I think for something like 5 or 6 nights in a row there were concerts in the main square with everything from folkloric to classical (philharmonic) music to big name acts like Voltaj and Directia 5. Remember, all of this is free to anyone in attendance. And yet I heard several Romanians bitching about various things. Foreigners I met this week were ecstatic and loved it. Romanians bitching. And the big TIFF film festival kicks off later today (Friday) with a movie being shown in the same big square. And yes, I’m sure there will be some bitching about that as well.
Of course I’ve written about this dichotomy many times before. But Romanians always “explain” it away by noting that foreigners don’t have to deal with the same problems and are treated better by Romanians (both true) but there’s a lot more to it than that. The real difference between foreigners and Romanians that I see is that the foreigners are equally passionate about positive things as negative things.
There are plenty of things foreigners don’t like here in Romania, including and especially the taxi drivers in Bucharest, to give a single example. When you get ripped off, it sucks and it makes you angry. So yeah I’ve heard foreigners complain plenty and be negative and dislike things here in Romania when it is warranted. But as “strongly” as they get angry about a scheming taxi driver, they just as “strongly” praise Romania for what is good and right here. If it helps, think of emotions as a kind of “meter” from 1 to 10. And so if a foreigner gets up to 9 on the scale when they’re angry about being tricked they also get up to 9 when they tell me how much they love the free concerts!
Romanians on the other hand get up to 9 sometimes on the negative side of the mark but when in the hell do they ever get up to 9 on the positive side? How many people here in Cluj are on my Facebook feed? A few hundred? And yet literally the only positive comments I heard about the Cluj Days festival were from foreigners.
Is there some law that you can’t be positive about something that cost you zero money??? I mean how can anyone even begin to understand it? The city just renovated the main park at the cost of several million euros, a lot of the expense being picked up by the European Union, meaning the residents of this city just got a super duper nice fucking park at no cost to anyone! Not your taxes, not out of your pocket, everything paid for by some people living in a far off land whom you’ll never even have to thank. And does anyone here spend five minutes to say one positive word about this park?
Of course not. That’s breaking the “rules” here. Being a cynical, jaded bastard who laughs at alcoholics, people whose lives are being destroyed by alcohol, and using it as a theme for your party and brazenly advertising that you’re giving away alcoholic drinks, yes that’s fine. That’s fucking permitted. That’s considered the height of wit around these parts. But saying something spontaneously positive about free music, free entertainment and free park facilities, well no now you’re asking for TOO MUCH, sir.
Many, many years ago when I first moved here I used to play what I called the “coffee game”. In those days it seems like I was always drinking coffee in people with the various people I knew or was meeting. The game is really simple and you can play it yourself, if you like. Without prompting the Romanian or asking leading questions, you drink a coffee with them and wait to see if they will comment on the coffee. Doesn’t matter whether it’s coffee at your house or at a cafe or a restaurant or what. Just wait and see if the Romanian (or Romanians) at your table have anything whatsoever to say about the coffee, spontaneously on their own.
The “game” is you get 10 points if the Romanian says anything positive about the coffee like “yum it tastes good” or the like. You lose 1 point if the Romanian says anything negative about the coffee.
Can you guess why I don’t play that game anymore? Obviously it’s because I never once, never ONCE heard a spontaneous positive comment about the coffee, no matter how delicious it was. Sometimes I would ask just because I had to know and if I asked, yes they’d say something positive. But spontaneously without me prompting? NEVER. As in NEVER, EVER, NEVER NEVER. Whereas a foreigner, if you play that game with them, they’ll tell you the same whether they like the coffee or they don’t.
I obviously continue to spend time with foreigners and I’m always open to hearing their perspectives. But I live here in Romania and that means I am surrounded by Romanians and they are a part of my life. Some parts of that culture I really like and have openly embraced. But this excessive stinginess (Rom: zgarcie) with expressing gratitude, appreciation and thanks for the genuinely good things in your life while being generous with the cynical, bitter hipster jaded crap is bankrupting Romanians morally.
The answer then, as to why foreigners love Romania so much is because they have the capability to love it openly and honestly, whereas Romanians are too constipated emotionally to even say that they’re enjoying a fucking cup of coffee. With a complete failure of leadership in the government, the (deliberately) shattered economy, the legality of selling land to foreigners and the falling birth rate, it won’t be long until Romanians return to being marginalized serfs in their own country.
So yeah, enjoy the party while it lasts and good luck with that “let’s bitch and moan about everything” strategy because it’s really working for you, eh?