Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Real life isn't for postcards

In between studying Romanian - thanks to my wife I can now count to 10 and say all the days of the week ... that disappearing 'i' at the end still gets me - I've been catching up on all the non-touristy news online. Admittedly, it's pretty slim pickings in English: journalists being the negative animals that they are, only the bad news makes headlines.

On that last point, there's a blog post which reinforces it heavily at the cost of the AP's Alison Mutler: So, to my English eyes, Romania's news is heavily dominated by politics: a president who plagiarized his thesis and a prime minister who was installed by the US Government.

The comments sections of blogs are fascinating, because there you get some real insight into what Romanians and expats in Romania are feeling. Again, to my English eyes, not too good. Plenty of complaints about how Romanians (especially in Bucharest) are apparently cold-hearted, how there isn't enough money to fix the infrastructural problems in the country, and how most Romanians are eager to head to brighter shores.

Everything sounds very familiar to me, because it matches my experiences in South Africa. Here, our president is considered a national joke by the middleclasses who never voted for him, nobody is ever satisfied by the ageing infrastructure, and the residents of Johannesburg would happily mow you down in their cars on the N1 Highway if it meant getting home five minutes earlier.

There also appears to be a debate in Romania about 'What is Romanian?' and more specifically 'What is Romanian popular culture?' Again, judging by the comments Romania is caught in the South African Catch-22 situation: anything emulating the West too closely is seen to be a sellout, and anything not emulating the West closely is seen to lack refinement.

Some genuine concerns in Romania appear to be ruthless taxis fleecing tourists, prices on unscrupulous restaurant menus being by weight (and then a lot more being served), and Romanian doctors generally expecting a 'bribe' for services delivered (I wonder if that would work for me as a journalist?). Still, none of these are reasons to avoid the country as a destination to live: I don't expect to rely on taxis, I'd just avoid *those* restaurants and I'd add the doctors' bribe into the consultancy fee.

No, I don't expect all Romanians to be singing carefree songs while they skip down the streets of Bucharest. I don't expect all buildings to look as colourful or clean as they do on photoshopped postcards. I don't expect everybody to love their jobs and support the politicians in power.

For me, that's where real life differs from tourism. You stop drinking bottled water (although Romania apparently has 1/3 of Europe's mineral springs if you believe the Romanian Tourism Board) and start drinking what comes out of the tap. You stop expecting other people to entertain you, and set about entertaining yourself.

All I want from Romania is the following: decent safety, medical care and education services; a job I can feel proud doing; and new places to explore in my spare time. I think I'll get that there, and the rest I'll get from my wife and our family and friends. Thank you, Romania Tourism Board (which strangely provides prices for all example goods in dollars and not lei), but I'll find out what things cost exclusively in lei.

PS: Romania Tourism does provide one useful page on their website -

PPS: The problem with applying for a job on Christmas is you wait a *long* time for any response. Why can't this company's recruiter just happen to be a workaholic who answers e-mails from home the day after Christmas?

1 comment:

  1. If you manage to find a job and ignore the malices of Romanians, everything else is just fine in this country, even the infrastructure that is changing rapidly.

    You can find here a real wilderness to explore as in your South Africa, the air is fresh and strong (I'm talking about mountain areas especially) and the culture has something deep and genuine (well, with some minor ugly aspects, like ugly new buildings in some villages and in parts of cities).

    Is something like in Man vs Wild, a place were you can have real outdoor adventures, without the fear of criminals (the country is safe and Bucharest is the safest European capital), only the danger of natural accidents.

    Also touristic facilities are quite unexpensive. For example I will go to Danube Delta in two weeks and for a pension room you pay around 15, no more than 30 euro, in clean and decent conditions (cleaner than in many better known touristic countries).