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The Best of European Stereotypes

Our compartment was full –it shouldn't have been since we had two of the seats. But two kids were sleeping on four of the eight seats. The family shuffled around to make some space for us. After putting our luggage away and playing musical chairs with other people in the compartment, one of the ladies said, “It’s hard travelling with kids.”
“Harder for us than for them” I said, remembering when I rode the train as a kid it was always a bit of an adventure.
Then the guy, who I assumed was the dad, said to the still sleeping boy, “It’s only going to get harder from here, sonny, only going to get harder”

I doubt that the kid heard, or registered it, he was still sleeping. But it got me thinking. This is a far cry from the way people talk to kids in Canada. Where, ‘everything is going to be okay’ all the time. This is a harsh place to grow up; you’re not one of the lucky few to be born into a relatively well-to-do family, it is always going to get harder. Nobody here has reservations about telling it like it is. Doesn't matter if you’re five, fifteen, or fifty, life’s a bitch and you know it. If, for some reason you didn't know it, there’s always somebody to remind you –directly or indirectly, it doesn't matter, no free passes.

This kid is lucky though. It’s unlikely he’ll ever have to live through war, famine, or other any other calamities that many other kids in this world endure. He’ll go to school, have friends, grow up, learn about life his own way, and hopefully he’ll be a decent human being. In the end, his path might not be much different from a Canadian’s. But his dad was right, it’ll be harder.

I remember a friend of mine referring to Eastern Europeans in the UK as ‘moody’. “They’re such moody people,” she’d say, annoyed at her memories of working at a restaurant with some Polish girls, “I don’t think I saw them smile even once!” That is very moody. But let’s take a step back. What about the French? They’re pretty crabby too. The Brits are either snooty or loutish. Spaniards are unapologetic racists with terrorist tendencies. Italians are bragging loudmouths. Germans are some sort of emotionless robots. Eastern Europeans are moody. And so on. 

The French, English, Spanish, Italians, and Germans would all be extremely offended by the negative generalizations I just made about them, but Eastern Europeans wouldn't. They’d say, “YES! That’s how we are!” And they would like, share, and thumbs up the story. We’re like the Grumpy Cat of the world. We raise our kids to be just as grumpy, we hope none of us get too far ahead of the other and we take everything, especially good news, with a fistful of salt. The food in this part of the world is often over salted, in fact…

Generalizations and stereotypes aside, I’m more interested in the truth.

The truth is that life is hard. Maybe shielding kids from the reality of life and ‘the way of the world’ is actually a mistake. I look at the differences between friends from Canada and those in Romania and what I see are two types of people. The people I know in Canada aspire for a carefree lifestyle with minimal commitments, and lots of entertainment and variety, while those here are much more grounded in reality; work, family, and the rest of it –all that grown up stuff. In Canada, thirty is the new twenty, in Romania, thirty is old.

On one hand, it’s sad to think that a five year old already knows all about how tough life can be. I find that it’s just as sad that over-privileged thirty-year-olds in another part of the world don’t know it. I have a feeling that if they did, the future wouldn't be as hard for the kid on the train. Then again, it seems much easier to be fulfilled in life when you have a positive attitude than when you're being moody all day.

It's a matter of choice, isn't it?


  1. Suffering is all relative, Matt. No matter how rich you are, there is always somebody who can make you seem dirt poor. Also, it's the human condition to always divide all experiences into 'positive' and 'negative' camps: amputees might realistically end up worrying more about catching a cold than their missing arm, while a spoiled kid freaks out if her teacher gives her a bad mark. I think we need to seriously question the stereotypes we use, because we depress ourselves by imagining that somewhere out there people are having an awesome time, whereas in reality I think everybody in the world is worrying about something. Here's an example of that: is it better to be an employee worried about being fired, or being an employer worried about having to pay all those salaries? Both sides have reasons to worry. While you say it's a matter of choice, I think happiness is really a combination of experience, opportunities to exploit and hope for something better. You can 'choose' to be happy, but without those latter three you're going to still feel like you're lying to yourself. You can actually set yourself up for a catastrophic emotional failure when you inevitably have to face up to that lie, and could end up aggressively lashing out against your surroundings. This is where 'experience' comes in ... especially for that kid in your story.

  2. Always eloquent, Leon. Point well taken, I would still add that the choice is actually a choice in attitude. That that's something that ought never be dictated by anyone but ourselves, in good times and in bad.

  3. Calling Spaniards "racist with terrorist tendencies" is pretty ugly, ignorant and bigoted.


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