Skip to main content

Why I'm Not Ashamed About "The Romanians Are Coming"


This week's big story in Romania is the first episode of a Channel 4 Documentary entitled "The Romanians Are Coming." There's a lot to be said when a controversy-stirring documentary comes out of one of the world's most politically correct nanny states. For one, somebody at the British Censors Bureau realized that as long as Muslims wouldn't be offended, it was safe to air. But seriously, I'm glad it has come out because it says a number of things:

1. "The Romanians are coming!" (Though it's a sorry invasion, if ever there was one)
2. "The Romanians are working the jobs no Brit would do"
3. "The Romanians are claiming sensible benefits in light of their living situation"
4. "The Romanians are leaving"

The documentary as it stands on its own doesn't really say much more than that. I mean sure, there's the whole bit about "America's trying to send people to Mars, Romanian Gypsies ride horses," right at the beginning, and then the images of Craica, the Baia Mare ghetto (though maybe Pata Rat in Cluj would've been a better example of gypsy squalor). 

And of course, there's the title.

I suppose it says enough to stir up UKIP's immigration paranoia and to further perpetuate the stereotypes about the kind of Romanian who goes to Britain, but this is where my thesis comes in.  

I really don't care about what the Brits think when they watch a show like The Romanians Are Coming.  I used to care because it was annoying to see and hear reports about what 'Romanians' in London were up to. The thieves make for better news than the tech entrepreneurs and scholarship students (no mention there, but Alina Serban has been featured in the Romanian press on her experiences as a scholarship student at RADA in London). But I no longer give a damn that they can't tell the difference between Gypsies and Romanians because it just doesn't matter.

What I saw were a few 'amărâţi' (a Romanian word that basically sums up the expression 'poor wretch') whose lives in Romania, as the show rightfully asserts, won't get any better. It doesn't matter whether they're Gypsies or not because without solid education and strong family support, anyone in Romania can fall by the wayside. In fact, many are borderline, but, as with petty thieves, the gypsy stories tend to make for much more interesting television. Think about it, what would be the point of filming a Romanian family living on a combined income of $500/month where the parents both work minimum wage jobs (that might include being a teacher or a doctor) and the two kids go to school? Although the parents are overworked and it's a struggle to pay the bills, at least there is food on the table, the house is clean, and you don't have a random rabbit hopping around the room. Isn't it much more enthralling to watch school-age kids go round picking up scrap metal in junkyards and their illiterate parents squeezing into a studio apartment with another six kids and their pets? Squalor and chaos make for great television. Poverty alone doesn't. 

At the end of the day, this show discusses only one of the realities of Romania. One that's much more narrow than the overall reality, but nonetheless a reality that makes the council-estate-dwelling, benefit-collecting, UKIP-voting Brits feel better about themselves. I'm not ashamed. Those people don't have the power to shame me -or any Romanian for that matter. I could point to Alex and Stefan in the show and say "at least they're hustling for those benefits, what are you doing?"  But again, if any Brits think that all Romanians live like Sandu, work jobs like Alex, and that all of Romania is like Craica, why should I care about anything else they might 'think'? 

This doesn't excuse Romanians though. Of them, I am ashamed. Or rather, for them.   

Almost every top comment on YouTube goes on a hateful rant about the difference between Romanians and Gypsies, how the Brits don't get it and, as a result, how Gypsies are denigrating Romania's good name and ruining this country. It's bullshit. Obviously.

The people ruining Romania's reputation more than anyone else are ordinary Romanians. Ordinary Romanians who don't give a crap about anyone else around them and park their cars, smoke, and litter wherever they feel like. Those Romanians who are afraid of using the words excuse me, please, or thank you when addressing strangers. Romanians who can't tell you who represents them in parliament or whose life philosophy revolves around two phrases: "don't worry, it's fine like that, too" or, (shrugging) "that's Romania." 

That's why I'm ashamed. Because whether a foreigner can tell who's a gypsy and who's Romanian is irrelevant when the first thing he notices about most Romanians is that they don't put any effort into trying to make their country better. Every foreigner will tell you, and I'll put my foreigner hat on, too, when I say this: All we see is a whole lot of bitching and disrespect towards your own country. You disrespect your country when you litter, when you provide shitty service, when you don't keep your end of the deal, when you keep voting for the same idiots, when you don't stand up to corruption, when you cut corners instead of doing a good job, when you fly dirty and tattered flags, when you don't clean the snow and ice in front of your house, and on, and on, and on.  

Then, when you see people who are much more limited than you - more limited in just about every capacity - you blame them for Romania's problems. Like I said in the video comment that's likely already buried in there, the whining disgusts me. Instead of insulting people who aren't doing anything that you wouldn't do given their situation, get off your ass and do something, or at least stop doing the stupid shit you're doing.

You're embarrassing me.





Original image source: Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert


Comments

  1. I live in USA for four years now and I read your blog regularly. I agree with your opinion but I would like to add something. It seems that whole region aka eastern Europe suffer from the same thing wich is communist legacy. I said that

    ReplyDelete
  2. Not as an excuse but as personal view over this situation. And yes I am a romanian And I know in time things are going to change. So I became a optimist!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the comment and optimism, hope it carries you all the way through when you're ready to come back home ;)

      Delete
  3. I totally agree with your point of view and your arguments. This was a very enjoyable read, and so true! (and yes, I live in Romania)

    ReplyDelete
  4. @Matt Sampalean
    You named Alina Serban and linked to a 2011 article featuring her on the Open Society website. I am a Bucharest correspondent for the foreign media and a Romanian. Alina is a Gypsy and was a high-school student when I met her, in 2005, and I became her mentor. I supported Alina's dream to become an actress and pushed and groveled to get the 35,000 USD that financed her one-semester study at TSOA at NYU, in 2009. I lined up all my friends in the media [AP, AFP], who further pushed and groveled to get the funds for her studies at RADA in London, this time [2011/2012]. I also pushed Alina to not only recognize her ethnicity - which she denied, when I first met her - but also embrace it. It would have been a success, a tremendous one, provided she wouldn't have told me that I was "eating shit by the shovel", when I confronted her and asked her to give back the money she illegally received as social benefits. For, you see, over a period of two years [2009/2011] Alina got a 200 Euro monthly stipend, from the local administration in the Bucharest 2nd District, to pay for rent. But she did not rent. She lived at her mother's. For a similar deed, granted, on a larger scale and conducted in the UK, not in Romania, a very prominent Gypsy originating from Romania did time in jail. See Lavinia Olmazu's case http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-11347134 and http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/immigration/9591699/Defiant-judges-ignore-new-human-rights-guidelines.html
    So, I leave you to your own conclusions.

    ReplyDelete
  5. As a fellow Canadian living in Cluj I couldn't agree more with your third and second to last paragraphs. I was blown away this winter at how little care was given to snow removal, a simple act of civic and self respect goes a long way but people just can't be bothered.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thanks for the info! I am from central africa,married to a romanian,living in Brasov.hoping to start a blog about my experiences here.ive been here one month only.
    Thanks!

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Is Cluj The Best City On Earth?

It's a question I ask myself at times.

Let's put it this way; I've been around. Maybe not all around the world, but halway-ish maybe. Sailed the canals of Amsterdam, biked from one end of Paris to the other, took the train from Budapest to Berlin, drove the 405 in LA, and yeah, I even rode a hay cart back in the day. But other than enjoying all these forms of transportation, I got to enjoy the places I visited. I don't know about you, but when I visit a place I always ask myself,  'would I live here?' While the answer is often 'yes, why not', the only place I moved to was Cluj.

Cluj, how do I love thee, let me count the ways:

1. I love your smell. It's like earth, and air, and city. I will never forget my first day here, when I  walked out of the arrivals building at the airport and breathed in your smell. Spring. You're the city of eternal Spring. On a balmy day, it's what you smell like, even if it's December, or August.

2. I love your…

10 Reasons Why Romania is Better Than America

Really? Yes, really. Let me count the ways.

In America you can get everything you've ever dreamed of: GameBoy, Sega Genesis, plants that look like faces, and more.  Maybe if you work really hard long hours at the job you hate (but that you tell everybody you love lest you appear to be a miserable person), you can even get a flat panel home theater TV that takes up half your basement (on credit, of course). Awesomeness!!
In America you can always be sure to be on top of the latest fad, such as devil sticks or Tamagochi and you will be first to read bestsellers like The DaVinci Code and Fifty Shades of Crap literature. Basically there are thousands of ways of feeling accomplished -or pretending that you are - you just need to be there to catch all these wonderful trends on time!

I know what you're thinking, how can Romania possibly top all that considering America is also the land of Root beer floats and Antoine Dodson?

Everything's been done in America, that's why peopl…

Are Romanian Women The Most Beautiful In The World?

More than once, I was asked to write about the beauty of Romanian women, but...

I have no words. Besides, I may be biased, but clearly it's a rhetorical question.

However, there is no shortage of Facebook pages and Tumblr blogs dedicated to the subject.






Image: Geanina Olaru @ weheartit

10 More Reasons Romania is Better Than America

I get it. The US is special. I hate to say it, especially as a Canadian, but it is.

But it's mostly special because of the America that it used to be. The idea of America is special.

There was, once, an American Dream within the reach of any hard working man. It was a country that offered unprecedented freedoms and opportunities unmatched by any other. The great melting pot was about inclusion towards one common goal, it was not divisive, individualistic and driven by a Bergeron-esque vision of 'equality'. Assets were not based on decades-long lines of credit, and salaries kept up with cost of living increases. I could go on about 'the way things used to be' but you can look it all up if you're interested. If you live there, you should be.

The reality in America is different now.

Sure, it's still the land of plenty. But the plenty is not all good. Plenty of debt, plenty of poverty, plenty of obesity, plenty of civil unrest coupled with plenty of heavy-hand…

What I Learned About Driving In Romania

I get it now. I understand Romanian drivers and their follies. It's something I thought would never happen. All it took to shape me into a Romanian road rage machine was one month of driving around Cluj and a 400 km round trip. I'm kidding about the rage part.

The idea of driving in Cluj was intimidating. Last time I'd driven manual shift was almost ten years ago when a co-worker asked me to drive her and her newly purchased, Pontiac Firefly home because she had no idea how to do it. So of course I stalled that little bastard all over the place. Little surprise that the idea of driving along busy and narrow European streets was unappealing - especially after years of driving automatic on wide, North American roads.

But I managed. Stalled an average of once per trip during the first week, and then a couple of times in the second week, and now, a little over a month later, I sometimes stall at stoplights when I forget I'm driving stick and leave it in gear when I release…

Here Is Why Romania's Future Is Bright

The festival is only in its second edition, but following last year's inaugural event, Electric Castle has stirred up enough buzz to attract visitors from beyond Romania's borders. Walking around the festival grounds I had the impression that every other group was comprised of foreigners speaking Hungarian, English, German, or French. And judging by the license plates in the parking lots, every county in Romania was well represented. While there's plenty to be said about the artists and the music, there's something else I want to discuss in this post.

When you think "music festival", the image that comes to mind is that of overly excited youth on a drug and alcohol infused rampage, laying waste to everything in their path. Maybe it has something to do with the way festivals like to promote themselves; these are basically the images that stand out on most 'Official Aftermovie' videos from major music festivals. But obviously the experience is defined b…

You Can't Plan a Romania Road Trip, But You Should Anyway

I started writing this post in September 2014, not long after coming back from vacation. I dropped it because I got sick of going through the hundreds of pictures we took just to pick the perfect ones for this post. But, like a seed once planted, it needs some water and the right conditions to flourish. In my case: an email from a reader, asking me about road-tripping through Romania, and the chance to lift this weight off my back. So here it is, a summary of one Romania road trip, from Cluj and back.



------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

2,656 Kilometers.
188 Liters of gas.
2,919 RON.

That's more or less the tally for the Romania road trip I took with my roomie/wife Roxana. We could have booked an all-inclusive vacation to Greece, Turkey, or Bulgaria at about the same cost, but how could we resist a road trip? A unique waterfall, the 'tunnel of love', the best driving road in the world, Summer …

The Cluj Guide to Dining Out

Note: This is a 2016 update to the post originally written in 2012. 

Back in 2012, Toulouse was the only place in town to serve a halfway decent hamburger. How things have changed. There's been a veritable burger revolution and you'll be hard pressed to find bistro-style restaurants that don't offer the king of sandwiches. There are also several new, and very good, additions to the city's fine dining roster. But maybe the most positive change is in the market itself. Patrons have become more discerning about their options, there is a deeper appreciation for consistency, and, as a result, restaurants have responded with an elevated level of service and quality overall.
But there's still no authentic Mexican...


So, with no particular order in mind, let's get into it, shall we?

Via- The simple name denotes understated excellence. At least that's how I look at it now. Over the past couple of years, Via has cemented itself as one of my favourite Cluj …

Rosia Montana - An Informed Reply

It's always a pleasure to see a new email message from somebody who's been reading this blog. In this case, the message came in from a reader who first contacted me last year. He moved to Canada quite a while ago and settled in the Northwest Territories. He wanted to respond to the previous post on Rosia Montana, but given the length of the reply, I've asked him to allow me to publish it as its own post. He asked me not to share his name, but outside of that, I'm copying it verbatim.

(Edit: In Romana mai jos)

Hello Matt,

Here we go again: Rosia Montana. I got involved in this project about four years ago. I had had phone interviews with radio stations in Bucharest; I published several articles in two or three magazines in Bucharest. I hosted, guided and loaded up with data and portable computer equipment one “Romanian explorer” as the Romanian media called her: Uca Marinescu. Perhaps the name rings a bell. Anyhow she never got back to me; there was no feedback, no follo…

Why Romanians Don't Like Romanians

To my knowledge, this national self-loathing is a uniquely Romanian experience. Maybe we share it with some of our neighbours, but I doubt it. I've never seen a people dislike their own as much as the Romanians.
This is going to be highly generalized, but as with most things I write here it's rooted in personal experience and observations. Don't hate the player, hate the game.

1. Romanians like the exotic, to be Romanian is the antithesis of what it means to be exotic.

2. Romanians are often prejudiced. The thought process goes something like this: If you're Romanian you're probably bereft of interesting experiences and financially limited. You're from 'the-worst-country-on-earth', after all. If  you're well off, then you're just a rich asshole (probably a thief, too). Either way, your Romanian-ness ensures you're seen as a person with limited horizons who likely can't offer anything new or different.

If you're Western European or Nort…