Well apparently my dozens of articles on the subject, written in straightforward prose, were not enough so therefore I’ve decided to spell things out once and for all.
I assure you that everything I am saying here is quite serious and not some kind of ironic joke or attempt to be “politically correct”. Please remember that I not only know and interact with gypsies on a regular basis but that some of them are my friends.
While I’ve never had any interaction with gypsies in America, they do exist there, but all over Europe from France to Spain to Italy and including Romania, I’ve dealt with beggars. Sometimes they can be annoying, sometimes they can be persistent and sometimes seeing a scruffy, wretched-looking child looking for a handout can tug on the heartstrings.
But over the years I’ve realized that begging gypsies serve an important purpose. For one thing, they function as a tax on the rich. I’ve seen gypsies begging many times (in fact, I’ve filmed them doing it) and in every case, they are receiving money from someone who has money to spare. That might be a wealthy Briton or an elderly parishioner in Romania but it’s never a hungry, destitute person.
It’s an ecologically healthy system. Those who want to give and can give, do. Those who can’t or won’t, don’t. Think of it as a kind of “wealth redistribution”, where those who have a little too much money are giving some of that extra back to society. However, it’s all voluntary and therefore naturally balances itself out.
Meanwhile elsewhere in the world, far more insidious forms of begging take place in the forms of commercial banks getting bailouts, “Quantitative Easing” where central banks buy up bonds and treasury notes and large automotive manufacturers and other “too big to fail” industries rely upon a gussied-up form of begging in order to survive.
The difference, of course, between a gypsy and a bank’s begging is that the bank effectively has put a gun to the government’s head and demanded the money. Gypsies might be persistent but they never use force to extort money from their victims (if they do, it’s a crime and they risk jail so it’s not their standard method of operation). Gypsies never take a dime from a person who can’t afford it but banks and other institutional beggars have extorted billions from the citizens, poor and wealthy alike.
Likewise most taxes are, in effect, the government using force to “beg” from its own citizens, taking the fruits of their labor in order to survive. The problem of course is that taxes (and fees, duties, etc) are not voluntary and I can either lose my property or my liberty if I don’t pay them. If I refuse to give money to a begging gypsy, there are no such consequences.
Furthermore, gypsy begging (or “panhandling” to use the American term) is a pure exercise in capitalism. If a person can make more money by begging than by sitting in an office and generating Excel spreadsheets, why wouldn’t they beg? In fact, they’d be foolish not to. Take away the moral opprobrium against begging and then you’d see that gypsies are actually acting quite rationally. After all, if they weren’t making any money by begging then they’d immediately stop doing it.
Gypsies are certainly involved with “standard” recycling, which is what most people think about when they hear the word. By that I mean collecting metal, cardboard, plastic bottles and other items that can be sold by weight to a firm that then melts them down and “recycles” them into something else.
But gypsies recycle just about everything, whether that’s old clothes, mobile phones, electronics, furniture or anything else. Modern life generates an enormous amount of “trash” or things that are either too outmoded or outdated to continue using. Instead of just dumping them in a landfill, it’s far better to give them to gypsies, who find a way to repair, re-use or re-sell those items.
Even if it’s as something as simple as leftovers (excess food from a previous day’s cooking), I always know that it won’t go to waste as I can give it to a gypsy. Over the years of living here I’ve needed to discard old clothing, shoes, a broken microwave, outdated mobile phones, old SIM cards, an antique computer and dozens of other items and I’ve been thankful that not one of these items went (directly) into a landfill because I was able to give them to gypsies, who found some use for them.
Hell, I once had a couple of Hungarian forint coins that no bank or schimb valutar would take and yet a gypsy was happy to take them off my hands for a few lei.
Gypsies perform an invaluable service to society by collecting and recycling hundreds of thousands of kilograms of items in this city alone. Multiply that by all the cities in Europe that they live in, and it’s irrefutable that they are making a significant contribution to society and the planet by reducing pollution and waste.
Just about everyone believes that it is axiomatic that going to school (i.e. a formal education) is unequivocally good for people and for society at large.
I, on the other hand, would strongly disagree. The older I get, the more strongly I am convinced that the stupidest people who cause the most harm to society are all educated. Likewise, whether it’s historical examples such as Albert Einstein or Andrew Carnegie, or contemporaneous people I’ve known in my life, the smartest and most capable people tend to be poorly or completely uneducated.
I realize I can’t just make a statement like that which is so contrary to what most people believe is true without backing it up by facts, but that would take an entire, separate article to do so (which I may do in the future). Nonetheless, I am utterly convinced that the number one source of Romania’s problems, including mismanagement, poor governance, corruption, crumbling infrastructure and failure to capitalize on this country’s abundant natural resources is precisely the nationalized, uniform (same everywhere) compulsory system of education.
I wrote about this two years ago in the Ballad of Pangur Ban and am even more convinced today that this is true. It perfectly explains why it is that so many foreigners (including those who are most definitely not wealthy) love Romania and move here for a better life and then come to the same conclusion as most Romanians, which is that there’s something about the country is wonderful but “the people” are the source of all the problems.
They’re right. If you meet and get to know Romanians, as individuals, they’re quite warm and lovely people. But when you get bogged down and tied up by the frustrating “system” in place, it seems to be a confusing paradox. Why are the individual Romanians you know good people but the “system” so shitty and toxic? The answer, in short, is the education system. It’s not the subjects at school (chemistry, maths, etc) being taught but the mindset that’s being inculcated which is ultimately the source of the vast majority of misery being inflicted on citizens and residents in this country.
Furthermore, here in Romania and also in America and elsewhere I’ve met people who were not just uneducated but also illiterate. And I am completely convinced that what the Ancient Greeks such as Socrates and Aristotle themselves noted is true, that illiterate people have far superior memories and sharper mental faculties than do people who can read.
I’ve written about this before in The Ghost of Simonides and discussed debating Suetonius with my homeless and quite poorly-educated friend (he was withdrawn from school by his mother at age 12) and yet I know most people will consider these only as “interesting anecdotes” or “curious exceptions” instead of further proof that I am right, that education and literacy is the greatest impediment to mental acuity and intelligence.
In other words, whether they can articulate it as such or not, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that gypsies are universally resistant to formal education (school). I actually think they’re making the rational, advantageous decision to pull their children from school after a few years, even if they can’t explain it to the outside world in eloquent, convincing terms.
It’s given relatively short shrift in modern thinking but I am utterly convinced that being outdoors is critically necessary for human happiness.
Actually I think being outdoors is critical for the happiness of all animals, not just people, but we’re speaking of humans here. Over the years when I’ve met someone who is clinically depressed, the first question I always ask them is “how much time do you spend outdoors on a given day?” I’ve yet to meet someone who was suffering from depression who wasn’t also spending 23+ hours indoors.
Mind you, I’m not suggesting here that an hour of sunshine is going to magically cure depression, only that there’s a direct link between a lot of mental suffering and anguish and how much time people spend indoors. Being stuck in an office (or school) all day tends to stress out and wear down even the most cheerful people and it can be crushingly burdensome to someone who already has plenty of other things to be worried about.
Likewise, people who work outdoors, whether that’s farming or construction work or even something as menial as picking up trash, tend to find their jobs a lot less opprobrious. Although it’s just a fictional movie, the classic film Office Space ends on just such a conclusion and I’ve seen dozens of examples in my own personal life as well.
I’ve written about it before in a joking manner but I noticed a long time ago that gypsies are universally always engaged in outdoor activities. Whether they’re farmers or street beggars, flower sellers, craftsmen, musicians or simple laborers, gypsies are always outdoors. Even wealthy gypsies with large mansions spend most of the day outdoors. The richest gypsy on planet Earth is still spending most of his (or her) day outdoors while most non-gypsies (even rich ones) are stuck indoors all day.
In fact I’d say that the number one obstacle to “integrating” gypsies by forcibly sending their children to schools or employing them in office or other “good” jobs is precisely because these entail spending most of the day indoors.
It might be cold, it might be raining, but I always make sure that I am out of the house for at least an hour every day. If I neglect to do so, I find myself feeling lethargic, disheartened or even depressed and yet if I go outside and “get some fresh air”, I always find my spirits lifting, no matter the weather. Human beings are meant to be outdoors and I am firmly convinced that the resilient mental health amongst gypsies is directly related to their insistence on being outdoors most of the day.
A lot of modern people have highly fragmented families, with parents and grandparents, uncles and aunts all spread out in different cities, countries or even continents. I certainly understand how this comes about but there’s definitely a price to pay when your extended family is far away.
It is also unbelievable difficult and lonely when people feel as if they have no family at all, people who are estranged from their family, people who are orphans, people who have lost their family to untimely deaths or insurmountably large geographic separation. People need a family, whether it’s your closest living biological relatives or a network of friends that act like a family. Feeling alone and unloved is probably the most difficult psychological burden any one human being can ever undergo.
Gypsies have extensive networks of tribal clans and large families and take these relationships very seriously. The worst punishment any gypsy can receive is ostracism from their tribe and family. And it is precisely this complicated, extensive network of family and tribal relationships that they value more than anything, more than money or material objects, because it gives them their place in the world and the comfort of being loved and accepted.
There really is no such thing as a gypsy who is alone in this world, who has no family, no place in a larger group. That seems like a mundane thing until you find yourself in a situation where you have no family, when you have no group of people who know you, who accept you and who love you, and then you realize just how valuable it really is.
There are plenty of monetary theorists and economists who will tell you just how smart and rational it is to rely on gold rather than fiat currencies.
Gypsies aren’t stupid. They’ve spent centuries converting the fiat currencies of the day, whether that’s euros, dollars and lei or marks, ducats, franks and lire, into gold. Fiat currencies come and go, but gold remains, something tangible that has several unique physical properties. Whether in the form of jewelry, coins or bullion, gold is something that retains its value as a currency of exchange between human beings and has been used by people for thousands of years precisely because of this.
Trading in gold and using it as a store of value also circumvents a lot of modern bullshit (to put it politely), more specifically in the sense that you can completely bypass banks and government regulation. There are several hundred million people around the world (including specifically in Cyprus, a member of the EU) who suffered horribly when they found their fiat currency holdings were devalued or seized by banks and governments, something that will never happen to gypsies precisely because of their reliance on gold.
I’d also add here that if you had invested a thousand dollars in gold 10 years ago, your rate of return today (profit) would be far greater than if you had purchased an American government bond, invested that money in a mutual fund or relied on the stock market.
Society would quickly crumbly without obedience and adherence to rules, customs and laws. I understand that and I am certainly no anarchist.
Nonetheless, sometimes laws are oppressive, cultural norms are outdated and need to be changed, or authoritarian governments need to be toppled. Gypsies are almost universally disobedient, scofflaws, unruly and resistant to top-down management and control. They add that “spice” of chaos, wildness and refusal to submit that I find is salutatory to society at large.
Historically, gypsies resisted the evil and authoritarian governments of tyrants such as Hitler and Stalin, something which is applauded today but was curiously lacking amongst much of the non-gypsy populations at the time. I truly do wonder if more people had resisted the authoritarian yoke of Nazism, fascism (which let’s remember was much longer lasting in Spain and Italy) and Soviet-style communism, as did the gypsies, whether those political systems would’ve lasted as long as they did.
Gypsies, consciously or not, are collectively always engaged in civil disobedience. If it’s under the regimes of Ceausescu or Hitler, this is seen today as a good thing. If it’s under the laws and cultural norms of modern day France or Britain, it’s seen as a bad thing, something that needs fixing by the EU Commission vice president.
Certainly I don’t believe gypsies are always “in the right” for being civilly disobedient but I greatly value their contribution towards not always saying yes, not always obeying and for refusing to be meekly submissive snowdrops.
8) Lack of pretention
I said it in my famous post about how I learned the language, but it is clear that I never would’ve learned Romanian without gypsies. Romanians were always too pretentious to “stoop” to talking to me in Romanian before I achieved basic fluency. Gypsies, by contrast, were always happy to talk to me even when I was a very poor speaker of Romanian.
The world is full of pretentious, vain people who have inflated airs about their importance and yet none of those people are gypsies. Gypsies know who they are, are direct about it, and don’t care if you like them or not. They’ve got nothing to prove, and so never waste your time by pretending to be some kind of superior human beings. Gypsies never look down their noses, sneering at other human beings for being “inferior”. They’re just content to be themselves, which they understand is not for other people.
In fact, I’ve never once felt judged by a gypsy, not for my accent, not for my national origin, not for how I was dressed, not for which movies or music or television shows I liked (or had heard about), not for what material objects I owned (or didn’t own), not for what model of mobile phone I owned (or didn’t own), for what my weight was (or wasn’t) or for anything else. They always accepted me as I was, how I was, without any fuss whatsoever.
Frankly, gypsies are quite similar to cats. They respond to how you treat them but otherwise don’t give a shit about anything else.
It’s not just Romanian music but a whole host of European-based genres, including klezmer music, fado and flamenco that is clearly influenced by gypsy music. Gypsy musicians are famous all over the world, rightly so, for their talent and ability.
It’s hard to put a “price” on the contribution that music makes to the happiness and cultural enrichment of the human race but certainly gypsies have made enormous contributions. I really do believe it is their nomadic, untrammeled nature (see #7 above) that adds that unquantifiable measure of energetic, vivacious spirit to so much of their music.
The world would be a far poorer place without the contributions of gypsy musicians and singers.
In an age of mass production and industrial products, gypsies continue to preserve many countless forms of artesian crafts, including jewelry making, metalworking, leather work and woodworking.
Even today, there are entire gypsy villages which specialize in unique forms of craftsmanship, whether that’s making those enormous kettles used to cook mamaliga (or balmos) or the copper kettles that Romanians use to distill plums into tuica.
Many other forms of traditional crafts, from shoemaking to forging horseshoes from bar iron to intricately filigreed jewelry work is still preserved as a living heritage by gypsies. Obviously gypsies are not the only people who still know how to create artesian crafts but gypsies play an important role in retaining the memory of how to do these things.
Not everything that comes out of a factory, not everything imported from China, not everything that is cheap and mass produced is better than something made and shaped by the hands of a craftsman (or crafts-woman). The wider world is slowly coming to this realization and I for one thank the gypsies for the role they have played in keeping alive so many of these ancient skills and traditions.
AND NOW YOU KNOW