Romania is not as bad as Romanians think it is

This is a commentary I wrote on Vice to a guy who complained about how bad life was for him, being gay and living in the suburbs of Bucuresti:

I'm Norwegian and lived in Bucharest for three years between 2006 and 2009.

It's true that it's tougher now than before, because of the reduced wages, the increased VAT, the inflating prices and the raw and naked capitalism that is allowed to rule, especially due to the continuing corruption.

BUT – I live in Bali now, and man, Romanians are lucky, compared to the average Indonesian. The salaries are very low in Southeast Asia, there are almost no rights for workers (and certainly few labour laws), and the lack of opportunities seems to make most people powerless and take away their ambitions.

Remember that Romania is in the EU, and you can get an education that will give you a decent salary and opportunities, even if those are not in Romania. Bucharest is a pretty cultural city, with tons of festivals (many of them free), enough nice clubs to give variety, and generally enough happening most of the time.

Also, your English is so good that you can read literature and Internet articles written about developing yourself and your skills, which will in turn give you ideas and strategies on how to improve your quality of life.

If you are Romanian and are not satisfied with the development in your country (and I can completely understand that), at least make a decision to either become a positive and proactive person (and thus do something about that development), or decide to move to another country. And then make actual steps toward that goal.

I would actually say that one of Romania's main problems is the inherent negative attitude of its inhabitants – so many Romanians I know always talk about how other Romanians can't be trusted, how they are stupid etc. And by doing so they actually get what they expect.

In other words – they expect other Romanians to be bad people, so their behaviour towards other people reflects this. Then the people they meet feel this attitude, they behave coldly back, and not much warmth and positivity is exchanged. And people will always maintain the same belief that "Romanians are bad", because their own attitude and behaviour is actually creating this situation. And when you have a whole country of people doing it...

If you want to do something about all of this, I can recommend reading most of the articles on Steve Pavlina's site, and by Brian Tracy I would recommend especially the ebook "Eat That Frog" and his audio book "The New Psychology of Achievement". Also read this summary of Stephen Covey's "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People". These are all very good starting points.

Good luck!


You know you're Romanian when...

I found these in this Facebook group and thought it was funny. I'm sure a lot of Romanians will recognize a lot of this stuff!

And please add more in the comments if you have some...

You know you're Romanian when:

You grew up on liver sandwiches.... and thought that was normal.

You are standing next to the two largest suitcases at the airport.

It's "normal" if your wedding has 600 people.

You don't know half the people at your wedding because your parents invited them.

You make your own noodles.

Everything you eat is savored in garlic and onions.

You try and reuse gift wrappers, gift boxes, and of course aluminum foil.

You arrive one or two hours late to a party - and think its normal.

All your children have nick names, which sound nowhere close to their real names.

You talk for an hour at the front door when leaving someone's house.

You can fit 10 people into a Dacia.

Your parents never throw anything away and if you by some chance manage to get something to make it to the garbage can... it mysteriously appears back where it was again.

You have lace curtains.

You have lace tablecloths.

You have rugs covering every inch of your house.

You have or had rugs on your walls.

Your mom tells you you're too skinny even though your 30 pounds overweight.

You ever heard of ciorba de burta'.

You have curtains hanging across every doorway.

You know someone that married his girlfriend of 2 months.

Your mom is a doctor and force feeds you medicine for anything ranging from a headache, stomach ache to a stubbed toe.

Your house is full of Romanian medicine that is probably illegal here.

You and your friends have ever been kicked out of a restaurant or recreational park for being too loud or rowdy.

Your mom recycles plastic cups and paper plates, and sandwich bags by washing them.

You don't know how to use a dishwasher.

You have a vinyl tablecloth on your kitchen table.

Your dad ever butchered a pig or lamb.

You keep leftover food in your fridge in as many numbers of bowls as possible.

Your kitchen shelf is full of jam jars, varieties of bowls and plastic utensils (Got free with some household items).

Your mom ever chased you with a rolling pin or a broom telling you to stop so that she could hit you.

Your dad ever told you to smack yourself over the mouth for being disrespectful.

Your mom washes your clothing at 40.

Asking if you can get a discount at a discount store on clearance items is normal and not embarrassing for your parents.

You don't use measuring cups when cooking.

You feel like you've gotten a good deal if you didn't pay tax.

You can only travel if there are 5 persons at least to see you off or receive you whether you are traveling by bus, train or plane.

You only make long distance calls after 11 p.m.

If you don't live at home, when your parents call, they ask if you've eaten, even if it's midnight.

When your parents meet strangers and talk for a few minutes, you discover you're talking to a distant cousin.

Your parents don't realize phone connections to foreign countries have improved in the last two decades, and still scream at the top of their lungs when making foreign calls.

You have mastered the art of bargaining in grocery shopping.

You walk out of the grocery store with no less then two packed shopping carts weekly.

Your parents brew their own wine and ţuică.

Despite being in Canada, your parents answer the phone saying "allo?"

Your parents love to shop at "Weinners".

You say "La Mulţi Ani" for every holiday.

You sat down to watch Borat and realized it was actually filmed in a ghetto Romanian village and were too embarrassed to tell your friends it wasn't really Kazakhstan.

Your parents return 98% of their purchases (and most of the time the stuff is definitely used).

You get in a fight with your parents and they threaten to kick you out numerous times but they never really do.

You wear Puma clothing every other day.


I know a sex slave

I know a sex slave. I didn't think I ever would, but now I do. Please read the following text.

For two weeks, she was locked inside an apartment here in Bucuresti, and her kidnappers brought her 3-4 clients every day, all of whom she had to have sex with. With a condom, luckily. She didn't get any of the money, as far as I know.

Originally she's from a small town, and came to Bucuresti to try and study after high school. I met her here, and we kept in touch. After some time she started doing adult videochat, and that ended in her boss forcing her to have sex with a male colleague to make money she supposedly owed him, for renting a room in the apartment the webcam studio was in.

After a week of this, she managed to get away from the situation and got out of the city. Some time later she came back, and was determined never to do video chat again. However, not knowing anything else she could do, she started doing erotic massage. Not sex, just massage.

Then, after a few weeks of that, the bosses told her she would start doing the massage alone, in a room in an apartment. She agreed to this, and this is when they started locking her up in the apartment and told her she was going to have sex with the clients from now on, or else they would hurt her. If she tried to run, they would find her and do bad things to her.

She then was a sex slave for almost two weeks, until she got lucky and was saved by a client she had met. He liked her and brought her to another city in Romania. So she's out of the situation, but these people probably have more girls like her locked up in other apartments, and in the same situation.

How did she get herself into all of this? She's young and a very volatile person, and probably easy to threat or manipulate. She's not stupid, just a normal girl in a weak position. This is exactly the type of girl these kidnappers and trafickers look for, and this is a textbook example of how someone might become a sex slave.

Now she hopes to get a normal life, and if anything new happens with her I'll update this post.

*** UPDATE ***

I talked to her a while ago, and she said that after she moved to another city, the guy who "saved" her turned out to be not so nice, so she left him and started doing luxury prostitution by herself. That went on for a while until one of the clients fell in love with her, convinced her to stop, and now they are married.


NATO Summit 2008 an April Fools joke

The 2008 NATO summit in Bucuresti, first to fourth of April, now turns out to have been nothing more than an April Fools joke, put together by the Romanian authorities.

The official website, the road blocks, the extremely high level of security, all the conferences, Bush and Putin both being in Bucuresti at the same time -- it was all just a very expensive April Fools joke that in the end cost the tax payers more than 24 million euros.

When asked if the April Fools joke also had functioned as a 'proper' NATO summit, president Băsescu said, "Well, NATO might have seen this as a summit, but us, the romanian politicians, are very happy about pulling off the most expensive April Fools joke ever, which will also have secured itself an entry in the Guinness book of World Records."

A female reporter later asked Băsescu if there would be an official report as to where all the money went, and the president replied, "Little baby girl -- look at my houses, my cars, my wardrobe, my mistresses... Are you joking with me?"


Taxi Diamonds in the Rough

So, ever since we opened this blog, we've been threatening ourselves with the notion of writing long, cynical stories about taxi drivers in Bucharest. From our experience, this has been one of the worst things about the city. Everything from taxi drivers who slyly charge 7.90 ron/km (this is about 5 times the going rate), to getting blackmailed for a laptop we once forgot in a taxi, to consistent fights with taxi drivers over small arbitrary amounts of money they've added onto the final meter reading, to multiple physical confrontations (taxi drivers getting out of the cab for a possible fight), to drivers who circle the city just to add a few rons onto the bill, to taxi drivers claiming that they don't have appropriate change (in the hope you have to just give them a large bill) --- we've seen it all (we hope). And it's only accentuated when you're a foreigner (although stories like these also happen to Romanians). So, I thought I'd tell a good story, for once.

It all started at 4:45AM near Piata Romana. I was accompanying my French friend to the train station. The appropriate rate from Piata Romana to the train station is about 8 or 9 Ron (after tip). After being rejected by the first taxi driver (yes taxi drivers decide whether the distance is long enough or it is in their interest to take you), we then approached another taxi driver who said he'd take us for 20 Ron. I laughed and said no. Then he said he'd do it for 15. I laughed again and said we'd only pay 10 Ron but my French friend was very nervous about being late, so he quickly caved in and decided the 15 Ron rate was fair enough.

As I often try to do during the ride, I started to speak with the driver in my shitty Romanian. This is usually my tactic to demonstrate that I'm not a tourist here, hopefully limiting my risk of getting screwed. So, if you can imagine talking with a Romanian 4 year old, this is about how it sounds talking to me in Romanian.

After a bit of chat, the taxi driver learned I was coming back to Piata Romana after dropping my friend at the train station, so he offered to wait for me while I bought my friend's train ticket and escorted him to the train platform. I agreed, because I don't particularly like the train station, or the taxi freaks that target clients there.

After taking care of my friend, I returned to the taxi for the 10 minute ride back to my house. During the short ride, we touched on some nice subjects -- NATO, life, culture, other languages, respecting the culture that you visit, etc. As we pulled into my neighborhood, he made sure to take me as close to my house as he could (not all taxi drivers like to do this) ... and then assuming the previous rate of 15 Ron, I handed him my money, smiled and started to leave. He then returned the smile and gave me 5 Ron back. He told me to have a nice day, we shook hands and I got out.

As insignificant as this sounds, I really appreciated this fair gesture by the taxi driver. It's the kind of thing that leaves you with a good taste in your mouth about people and humanity and taxi drivers. So, thank you, to the taxi driver who has changed my outlook on taxi drivers in Bucharest.


Really just hanging out

One of the things I find really strange about Bucuresti is the big number of people who are just "hanging out" on the streets. Every time I'm walking around I see at least a few people around on the streets who are just there, doing nothing. And they don't look like they are waiting for someone in particular either...

The ones I am thinking about look a little "shady", but I don't think they are actually:
* working with anything
* beggars
* robbers (at least they can't all be :p)
* prostitutes
* drugdealers

So who are they then? What are they doing? What's their story? Any ideas? Feel free to post in the comments...


Why the "why?"

If you ask them a simple question, a LOT of Romanians have a tendency to add a "why?" to the end of their answers.

Like this:
- Hey Cristina, long time no see! How have you been?
- I've been OK. Why?

- So is that your friend?
- Yes. Why?

- Did you walk all the way here?
- No, I took a taxi. Why?

My friend Sinziana has this theory:
* Romanians ask "Why?" to find out the true meaning of the question - that there might be something more to the question than what was asked. Or that conversations often start with questions that are very general or open, and the "Why?" after an answer is a reflex, a normal way to continue the conversation.

This could imply that Romanians are actually not used to simple questions which are just that, they might be more used to all questions having a hidden meaning behind them. On the other hand it can also just mean that it's a normal way to converse, and the "Why?" is merely a vehicle.

Iulia, another friend, said this:
* This is just how Romanians are. Germans have a way of being (cold), and Romanians just have this way of speaking, it's in the culture. In Romania, most of the time, a question is more than just a question. "Why?" is both a way to find out the real intention of the question, and also it can be a way to talk out more about the subject.

Myself, I have a small theory that these verbal mechanisms (questions with hidden meanings and "Why?") might be an effect of communism, where the lack of free speech probably had people wanting to find out the true intentions of questions. And before 1989 you had to be a bit careful about what you said, because in Ceauşescu's Romania the country was full of informants that would turn you in if you said something "dangerous".

So this must have had a huge psychological effect on people then. And those people are the parents of today's young people, so even young people now have been influenced by their parents and are probably carrying around fragments of a pre-1989 mindset. And thus "Why?" is still being used.

Just a thought. :)