Out of all of my appearances on Romanian television, the most popular by far is the one where Mircea Badea is belittling me. The number of views for that video is about 10 times bigger than anything else I’ve done, which has always disheartened me that such a needlessly negative piece would be the one that people have shared the most with their friends.
But I think I’m starting to understand why. As you know, I don’t just watch a lot of television news but I also read a lot of Romanian news sites as well, including especially the comments that people leave.
Quite often when the subject of an article is yet another failure in Romanian leadership, someone will throw in the comment Traim in Romania si asta ne ocupa tot timpul. It’s an old saying of Mircea Badea’s, one that literally means “We live in Romania and this keeps us busy all of the time” but perhaps more succinctly as “living in Romania is a full-time job”.
Is it though? I’ve read dozens of blog posts that included this phrase and it surely seems like it’s a pervasive view. And yet ironically, although I am here in this country on a full-time basis in the flesh, I am only living “in Romania” on a part-time basis.
I’ve been here so many years that I no longer wear any of the clothes or shoes that I brought with me from America. I am dressed head to toe, including my glasses, with products I purchased here in Romania. I eat nothing but foods that I buy here in Romania. I walk down the street every single day in Romania and speak Romanian to shopkeepers, government clerks and people that I know. I pay bills to the same utility companies that Romanians do.
Furthermore, while my own personal paperwork is sometimes different because I’m a foreigner, I still regularly deal with the Romanian government, partly to help my often illiterate or semi-literate homeless friends. I’ve filled out police reports, I’ve stood in endless lines (UK: queues) to buy ridiculously stupid stamps (timbru) so that I can then stand in another line and have the stamp affixed to a different piece of paper at another government office across town.
In fact, over the years I’ve helped a few non-homeless Romanians deal with the local bureaucracy because I have more experience than they do with it and know where to go and what the correct procedure is. Except for school-related paperwork, I’ve probably been involved with just about every daily facet of a Romanian’s life, including how to apply for unemployment and how to get reduced cost meals for senior citizens.
So why is it that I don’t “live” in Romania full-time? Or perhaps better said, why is living here not a full-time job for me? It’s certainly a frustrating hassle and sometimes mind-blowingly stupid and obtuse, giving rise to homicidal impulses that can only barely be restrained.
The simple answer is that the “job” of living here is only a part-time position. There’s literally nothing you can do about the paperwork that you need for some things. But all of the rest of the “job”, the part that makes Romanians so frustrated and depressed, is voluntary. And I never volunteer to do it.
For one thing, I never listen to advice from a Romanian when I disagree with it. Whenever someone tells me I “cannot” do something, I always respond by saying “yes I can.” Sometimes that “advice” is from a bank employee or a government official or sometimes from a friend but whenever I hear the words “nu se poate” I always respond, “da, se poate”. It doesn’t always work for me, but about 90% of the time it does. Yep.
I also never pay any attention whatsoever to what older Romanians tell me when it comes to general wisdom, if I don’t agree with it. By “older” I mean the ones that grew up predominately in the Communist era. The mentality and skills they learned in that time period were applicable and useful then but have almost no bearing on today’s world of visa-free travel, European Union membership and freewheeling capitalism.
If they tell me to value and cherish the people whom I care about and to savor the good things in life then that’s great advice and I will gladly heed it. But when they want to harp on about how negative everything is and how I should be more fearful and anxious, I politely tell them to shut the fuck up. That kind of negativity serves no purpose. It’s completely useless and it just adds to my stress level. So why should I be more like you?
A couple of weeks ago I was crossing the street at a zebra. An inexperienced driver saw me in the roadway and forcefully applied the brakes, making the car squeal loudly. But there was never any danger of me being hit as the driver had badly overestimated how close we were to colliding and her car stopped safely more than 10 meters from the crosswalk.
A friend of mine’s mother was working in a nearby building and ran outside when she heard the squealing of the car tires, fearing that a pedestrian had been struck or that there had been a car crash. When she saw me, I explained to her what happened and how nobody was hurt (or had even been close to being hurt). She immediately began fussing at me, telling me to be more careful and how dangerous pedestrian crosswalks are, etc, essentially chastising me for laughing the whole thing off.
I was indeed laughing because nothing bad had happened. I’ve crossed streets on foot a few thousand times in my life here and will continue to keep on crossing them. The lady driving the car will improve her motoring skills and learn with time how to better judge distances. She panicked thinking I was closer than I was, but other than that, no harm, no foul. But my friend’s mother wanted me to be stressed and fretful about the whole thing.
No. If being anxious and nervous about crossing the street had some useful benefit to it, I might consider it. But it doesn’t. Being relaxed and aware and in a good mood is just as safe as being nervous and worried so why would I choose the latter?
I’ve been broke in this country, cold, locked out of my house, had my wallet stolen, been beaten up, had my mobile phone pickpocketed, gotten lost when I didn’t speak the Romanian language and many other genuine calamities, minor and major, and I still don’t understand how being negative and anxious would’ve helped me in any of those cases. In fact, as I’ve written about dozens (hundreds?) of times on this here website, the opposite is true. Being positive has definitively helped me even in very bad situations.
Likewise any time someone gives me a typical Romanian attitude about something, I never “listen” to it if I disagree with it. I’ve been a vegetarian for years and have met countless number of people who thought it was odd, or strange, or somehow “unmanly” to not want to guzzle down dead animal flesh.
But I never let it get me down. Either I’ll ask them if they think a bull (taur) is unmanly, which of course they never will, and then remind them that all bulls on planet Earth are strict vegetarians or else I’ll just challenge them to a drinking contest. Somehow not eating meat makes me “weak” but my liver being able to purify a great volume of ethyl alcohol makes me “tough”. It’s completely illogical but hey, I never let it stress me out too much.
Likewise if I hear some bullshit, I’ll speak up and say as much instead of quietly letting it roll around in my brain. I’ve never written about it before but a few weeks ago I was at a meeting in a local government building where the city was working on a particular plan for a future project. The presentation was very professional and well thought out but as we went around the room, all the Romanian invitees were just kissing the leader’s ass and telling him what a wonderful job he was doing.
Quite frankly the strategy they were going to pursue (and without going into revealing detail here, involved the European Union) was a terrible one. So I spoke up and told them so. Plus the English was wrong on one of their documents. I told them I too wanted what’s best for this city and I was glad that they were trying to do some good things but their strategy sucked and would never work and that I could think of three better ones.
Did they want to hear that? No, of course not. But that was the truth as I saw it. And they can either handle it or they won’t, and it may or may not prevent any future collaboration or input from me, but I’m not going to be a “yes man” just because it’s the easier path. These people all know who I am and if they didn’t want to invite me, they didn’t have to.
Likewise I do good when I can. If I see a piece of trash near a garbage can, I’ll pick it up and put it in the garbage can. When a friend of mine tosses something on the ground, complaining that the garbage cans are “too far away”, I’ll stick it in my pocket until we do find a garbage can. These are little things but together they all add up.
A couple of weeks ago I was walking on a street near my house that is one way (sens unic) and it’s very narrow and even more narrow by all of the cars (often illegally) parked on both sides. But yet there’s always some jerk who wants to drive the wrong way because it’s a tiny shortcut to some other street.
So I saw a local guy (I recognized his license plates so I knew he wasn’t a lost tourist) heading the wrong way up the road so I stopped and stood in the middle of the street, forcing him to stop. I told him it was a one-way street and yelled at him for going the wrong direction. He wasn’t angry, only shocked, asking me de ce iti pasa? (why do you care?) and I told him because I live here. I do. And I do care.
Not a single one of my television or newspaper interviews have ever made me any money whatsoever. The ProTV one was shot over three days and even the shorter ones last an hour or two, sometimes more. And yet I do it because it’s fun and because I’m essentially the only person who speaks Romanian but doesn’t think like a Romanian. I do it just to get an opinion, a perspective, a viewpoint that’s “outside the box” out there in the public media.
My body is here in Romania but my mind only rarely is. Many years ago I watched a lot of Romanian “entertainment” shows to learn the language but I never do anymore. I found the humor to be crass, vacuous and largely negative, much like the eponymous Mircea Badea. I can’t say that I have ever felt uplifted, inspired or joyous after watching a Romanian television show, or even a comedy act in a club, only the opposite of those emotions.
I have long since stopped reading most Romanian literature, whether it’s the Capra cu Trei Iezi variety, beginning with a child witnessing his entire family get murdered and ending with a revenge killing or else the subservient and sycophantic hopelessness of poetry like Mioriţa. I’ve plowed through enough of Mircea Eliade (in its translated versions) to know there’s some solid weight there but again, I have yet to discover a single, solitary instance of feeling uplifted, inspired or joyous by any Romanian author in any genre whatsoever.
Likewise I usually ignore the superstitious backwardness of the Romanian Orthodox Church whenever possible but have to confront it head on when faced with its invasive and exceedingly arrogant attitude of superiority, where a man wearing a dress feels righteously justified in condemning someone else for being homosexual when it’s patently obvious that people are born (or to use their parlance, God created them) that way and pressuring (usually) elderly members of the community to fork over money that they truly cannot afford for inchoate blessings that can only be redeemed in a theoretical afterlife.
In other words, what people want to do in their own homes and houses of worship is none of my business, but over the years I’ve gotten in a few confrontation with priests and some zealous believers when they try to ram their unshakeable sense of superiority down my throat. I’m a very complacent and laid back guy but you’re making a bad fucking choice if you want to start casting that first stone in my direction.
But I guess what kills me the most is when I am sitting around in small groups with Romanian friends and colleagues and they confess to me that only in my presence are they comfortable with stating their true beliefs, and wanting a better life not just for themselves but for everyone in the country, and how most of the time they have to mask their true opinions to avoid ridicule.
And every time I say to them, “Look around you. Not everyone agrees with me either, and some people strongly oppose and dislike me. But when you avoid those people and choose to spend time with people who think like you do, who support you and encourage you, life is much better.”
That is exactly what I do. I take all of the good parts of life here in Romania, the friendship, the fellowship, the generosity, the abundance of fresh food and clean healthy water, the gorgeous and inspirational forests, beaches and mountains, the loving craftsmanship of heritage skills, the close connection to agriculture and plants and animals, the high-spirited music, the joy of traditional and modern dances, and I keep and cherish those things.
The bad parts that I must endure, the bureaucracy and paperwork, the stupidity of other people that I sometimes have to deal with, I get done with it as quickly and as cheerfully as I must.
But all the rest, the negative thinking, the worrying, the fretfulness, the superstitions, the pill swallowing and pulse checking, the unwavering submission to authorities, the dark “humor” based on belittling and insulting others, the archaic religious self-righteousness, the scoldings, the finger shaking, doom prophesying and portending of astrological bad luck and misfortune, I take all of that and ignore it and walk away from it and leave it for others to try that route, engage in that “strategy”, and not let it get me down.
So yes, living here in Romania can often be frustrating and depressing but it will never be a full-time “job” for me. If it ever gets that damn bad, I’ll just do what every smart employee does in those conditions.
And one day when I meet Mircea Badea in the flesh I’m going to tell him he can take this “job” and shove it.