Understanding Romanians: 7 paradoxes to handle with care (part 2)

4. We are earned hedonists but devoted to Christian values. Romanians are fond of a lavish comfortable living. This often turns into the sort of consumerism multinationals only dare to dream about. We don’t want to save electricity to fight against climate change. We do not walk instead of drive if we have a car. We don’t want to do sports because it is healthy if we don’t feel like it. We are not so sensitive to arguments related to fair trade, animal suffering, and benefits of vegetarianism. We will not eat less sugar/salt, more vegetables in our meals because it is said to support a longer and happier life, although we may feel guilt at some point. For example during a meeting for European environmental students, my team and I were constantly complaining about the food and I think we were the only ones. That is why I find awareness campaigns aiming to reduce the comfort of our lifestyle even trickier than in other countries and I am a bit worried about our upcoming carbon footprint. Last summer I asked a French colleague how it worked in France to convince people to recycle, for example. I could not help thinking that none of the mentioned methods would work in my country because we long for comfort and discipline triggers in us some sort of bizarre allergic reaction. Another example: I lived in a building where during the night the heat was turned off (as it is sometimes recommended) and I was thinking that in Romania this kind of attitude would insure the lucky Hausmeister/concierge a similar destiny to Marie Antoinette’s. Somehow all this saving electricity and heating brings bad (communist) memories to life.

Another good example to illustrate paradox number 4 is the memorial meal (“parastas”) we prepare for our loved ones who passed away. It is a real feast. We soon forget that it is supposed to be a time of recollection and celebration of the past and we focus more on the food (indeed excellent). The same goes for weddings. Also the biggest social cohesion I usually experience in Bucharest is during the night of the Easter Saturday, when almost anyone goes near a church and we sing the same religious song together. But that’s it. Afterwards we go back to our families and celebrate according to our own kernels of wisdom: “Thank you Lord, for I have eaten, but I am hungry again”; “Ate well, drank well, in the morning woke up dead”.

Good to know: Bucharest ranks second among Europe’s coolest cities, our supermarkets are opened every day (that is including Sundays) until 11 pm with late night shopping hours as a bonus just before holy days cleverly avoiding heart breaking situations when we ran out of essential ingredients such as porc chops in the middle of the Christmas celebration. I guess we also generously increased the European average with our posh clubs and innumerable street casinos. We are not as heavy drinkers as believed (we can definitely have fun without) but we are heavy smokers (at least in urban environment). We don’t have in our vocabulary expressions such as sexual harassment, both genders equally (and only sometimes secretly) enjoying  the nonchálant teasing and whistling practiced in the street or at the office. We are very aware of our self-image as individuals and we tend to judge a person book by its cover. We probably missed some style classes on the “less is more” philosophy. That’s why errors like this one could seriously affect the authority of institutions supposed to keep an eye on us.

The life of Romanians still flows around christening services, weddings (which is still supposed to be the most beautiful day in the life of a girl), Easter and Christmas holidays, New Year’s Eve celebration. We always like to have days off during these times of year. It only seems fare to me to have Christmas and New Year’s Eve off because they are truly important to us. I am especially referring to chief doctors: if you read this, please let them go.

5. We don’t respect common rules, we respect certain persons. We are not so fond of rules and our first instinct is to avoid them in an “elegant” and innovative manner and to question them in the rest of time. For example it is common sense for the drivers on the opposite direction of the road to flash me twice quickly to warn me there is a speed radar on the road, hypothesizing that anyway all of us are driving over the speed limit. We have respect for a certain person (who usually pays us) to whom we affectionately address with “Boss” and to which we assign a certain degree of power and financial status.

We are born fatalists (mandatory reading: the pastoral ballad Miorita, our founding myth). Meritocracy is missing and relations are tribal. That is the reason why many young educated people are leaving the country. We don’t have a President, we had a Ceausescu, an Iliescu, a Constantinescu. We don’t go to the doctor. We go to doctor X because the aunt of our husband recommended him/her to us. We don’t go to the mechanic. We go to a certain Gigi. We don’t get a certificate from the town hall, we get it from mayor “Z”. We don’t go to an Institution. We go to a person. We go to Mrs. Y because usually she is in a good mood and she will take us faster. Anyway she has to because our cousin helped her last time when she needed a school “intervention” for her glass breaking son. We generally don’t trust State institutions, nor people whom we don’t know.

Elisabeta Rizea and her husband. She is a symbol of Romania’s anti-communist resistance. Photo credits: http://eroinenucsoara.ro/index.php?page=elisabeta-rizea-ro.php

To be continued.

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3 thoughts on “Understanding Romanians: 7 paradoxes to handle with care (part 2)

  1. But how did you find out? I am scared that you are once again pretty correct (I am a good romanian and suspicious and critical;-)

  2. Dear Andra, I liked part 1 quite a lot, but after living outside of Romania for quite some time, I think the paradox you stated here in part 2 will fade away. Most of the points mentioned here are quite typical for developing countries (where people are financially quite restricted) and countries with our kind of history – opressive regime. People don’t have time to save the planet if they need 2 jobs to put food on the table. Yet, the recent (quite massive, I must say) protests in Romania against gold mining and fracking have proved that mentalities are changing. People do care about long term effects, about nature and the environment and they were not hiding in comfort, but took action. Most of the distrust towards institutions is based on the fact, that most institutions are still run but ex-communist people, who, unfortunately, still apply mostly the same pratices.

    With many students going abroad for studies and (unfortunately only a handfull) returning, with a new generation that never saw communism getting in charge this things will change. I trust in the fact that proper politics and well-run institutions can lay the needed tracks for a nation that, as you mentioned in part I, has quite some outstanding individuals.

    • I totally agree with you Rob and thank you very much for your comment. I also feel some of these paradoxes will not be validated by the future anymore. I wrote this blog entry exactly 1 year ago to see that reality (e.g. the Rosia Montana protests) is moving faster than we thought and I am very grateful for this. I am looking forward to the day when our collective intelligence will outcompete the individual ones. It’s a long way to go, but today it does not seem impossible. I think the same goes for nations when they will really work together.

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