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Europe is Stupid

There's this article I read a few days ago, and I just can't seem to shake it off. It weighs heavily on my mind because it's true and affects a large part of my life -work. Then I read this other article and thought, maybe all those bad things from the first article are actually good things in the long run.

In truth, both of them make very valid points. In the first, the author dissects the ways in which Europe is bad for (new) business with almost surgical precision. I recommend it, it's a fine piece of analysis that also goes a long way towards explaining the mess in which Europe now finds herself. In the second article, we find a review about two books that basically say, 'Capitalism is bad, mmkay.' Well, not exactly, but it does discuss the negative impact on society by some of the by-products of capitalism, namely 'a love of money, markets and material things.' 

If I may simplify the situation though, I'd put it like this: A love of money and material things is rather the by-product of human nature. The markets just got thrown in at some point to make sure that extreme wealth disparity can be explained by non-human factors in 'free and democratic' societies. That article, and the books, are surely worth the read, but I'd be hard pressed to say it's a pressing issue. What's described in the first article though, is. I live it every day, here in Europe, and I know there are solutions because new business (entrepreneurship) is about the only thing keeping America running these days. If only it was that example Europeans had chosen to take from America.

Somebody I know very well here was recently turned down a job with a large company after a long and intense recruitment process. It's the company's business who they pick and who they turn down, but I didn't like how they operated from the very beginning. Each step of the recruitment process was arduously slow, bogged down by things like forgetting to call the candidate with an update, cancelling an interview at the last minute for personal reasons, waiting nearly a month after the final (third) interview to send a standard "thanks for trying out" email, and just basically a horrible lack of real human interaction.

In America, this person would be a shoe-in for the job. She's well qualified, has some solid real-world work experience in a similar environment, and it's easy to tell she's highly adaptable just by looking at the extra-curriculars on her CV. Granted, her degree is in Economics while the job is more tailored to International Business, but come on, really? I come from a place where my last CEO hired somebody, "because he had the balls to walk into my office to tell me he's heard some good things and wants to work here." He was so taken by this guy's attitude that even though he wasn't a good fit, he hired him on the spot. Here, they actually make a person jump through all kinds of hoops before deciding. It makes no sense, where are those leadership and decision making managerial skills?

It was then explained to me that in Europe it's very important to get a job in your original field of study and that it's nearly impossible to find something new after working in a separate field. If you ever want to change careers, let's say when you're forty, you can just forget about it; nobody will look at you twice unless you're a former CEO with tons of connections. At least in the Romanian part of Europe that's how it is, but I'm sure it's pretty much the same for the rest of the continent. That Europe only managed to grow only 12 'big firms' between 1950 and 2007 to America's 52 serves to corroborate that point. Apple, Intel, and Microsoft are all companies that wouldn't've gone anywhere if the founders all insisted on hiring specialized college graduates - in fact, most of the founders themselves weren't college graduates! I know, Europe, I too am shocked and appalled.

It's just sickening how there is a pervasive sense of propriety and manners about every little thing in Europe. As messed up as America is with all those laws, one thing they do well in Congress is not to mess with business. In Europe on the other hand, it's as if the business laws were created to make any type of business activity more difficult, costly, and annoying than a royal wedding.
(forever running low)
A couple of weeks ago I sent an email to the Public Relations department of CFR (Romanian Railways), my complaint about the defective plugs in the compartment was warranted but I didn't actually expect a reply. Then I see a response in the inbox today, believe it or not, this is how it started:
Dear Sir,
CFR responds to concerns in accordance with Government Ordonance nr. 27/2002 regarding regulation for customer resolution activities
, approved with modifications by Law nr. 233/2002.

WTF, right? Then it goes on to say, in the same robo-speak, that when the financial resources become available to replace the malfunctioning plugs appropriate measures will be taken. They also wanted to mention that in the type of train I took plugs are an added feature (ie. hit and miss, you know..) They added that they regret the incident and thanked me for my interest in CFR with assurances that CFR does everything in its power to assure every passenger has a pleasant trip.

Technically, it is shocking that I got the reply, I'd just been thinking about following up for the hell of it, but they beat me to it. Now, I don't want to sound ungrateful and overly pretentious, but it has a lot to do with my initial point: Interaction + Business + Europe = Disaster. First, why are they telling me that they're replying because the law forces them to? Second, the way that the entire message was written sounded like it was formulated by a machine, a suspicion confirmed by the absence of the name of a person in the signature. It just says, 'SNTFC CFR Travelers, Public Relations Compartment' (I think that's supposed to make it cute...kinda does). Some response is always better than no response, I appreciate that, but it makes me realize how much more they got to go before they really get it.

What's the point of an official reply devoid of all human touch? What's the point of allowing free enterprise when you have to pay a nice chunk of change to incorporate and it takes more than two weeks? (Doesn't sound that long but in Canada I could open 5 companies a day). What's the point of risking it all for a great idea when peers and institutions perceive it to be stupidity? Why apply for a job in a new field if potential employers mistake your ambition for ineptitude?

So nothing happens and everybody hates work, and they're moody, and can't live with less than five weeks of vacation a year. Unless you're German, this type of environment kills productivity and stifles innovation. I could say a lot more, but I'll let Saint-Exupery finish it off. It was 1939 and he got it, he saw the face of destiny, but it's been over seventy years and the rest of Europe still doesn't.

"Old bureaucrat, my comrade, it is not you who are to blame. No one ever helped you to escape. You, like a termite, built your peace by blocking up with cement every chink and cranny through which the light might pierce. You rolled yourself up into a ball in your genteel security, in routine, in the stifling conventions of provincial life, raising a modest rampart against the winds and the tides and the stars. You have chosen not to be perturbed by great problems, having trouble enough to forget your own fate as a man. You are not the dweller upon an errant planet and do not ask yourself questions to which there are no answers. Nobody grasped you by the shoulder while there was still time. Now the clay of which you were shaped has dried and hardened, and naught in you will ever awaken the sleeping musician, the poet, the astronomer that possibly inhabited you in the beginning." (From Wind, Sand, and Stars)


  1. north of 60August 08, 2012

    Hello Matt,

    You’ve an interesting blog. Got the link from the Economist – comments posted within the eastern approaches section article “Do Romanian Schools Produce Idiots?”

    The fact that you’ve been raised in Canada and decided to return to your native country Romania is absolutely remarkable. For the time being I won’t make any comments. Let me read your articles first, get a sense of what you do, what your ideas and plans are and then we’ll talk.

    I noticed you’re interested in “cultural differences” issues – I have to admit this is the main issue that got my attention. I was born in Romania, raised in Romania, partially educated in Romania (two more degrees in Canada – Edmonton & Calgary), got my entrepreneurial skills there shortly after 1990, being successful as an entrepreneur for few years until I decided to leave for good to Canada. It’s a long and interesting – I suppose – story I’ll save it for a better time.

    I felt in love with Arctic Canada 12 years ago: decided to settle down in Northwest Territories, Yellowknife and being here ever since.

    Okay so why am I so interested in “cultural differences”? Why your blog? (I didn’t even have the time to read it through). You see, I work with the Aboriginal communities and I’m specialized in information management systems. The impact between the western civilization and the aboriginal culture is the subject for my master thesis: being rejected by the university’s ethics committee twice. That’s a subject any “decent academic” will never touch.

    Eventually I was approved to develop my thesis on my own grounds and terms however they will make sure the “politically correctness” (it has nothing to do with the academic ethics) will be thoroughly checked and double checked.

    Needless to say that in my line of work the “cultural differences” comes first. Being raised and educated in Canada and currently living and working in Romania is the part of the equation that I do not know although I have plenty of data and knowledge about “being born, lived for many years in Romania and living for the last 15 years in Canada”. That must be VERY interesting. I think there are plenty of topics we can share and lots of thinks we can learn from each other.

    Please drop a line whenever you have a spare moment. Of course, if you’re interested.

    Keep in touch and wish you an enjoyable and “not so hot” week. I hear the weather is quite hot there.

    1. Hey North,
      pretty crazy move living in Yellowknife, but makes perfect sense given your thesis, if there's any western/aborignial crossroads, that's it.
      Feel free to email me (, I could go on and on about 'political correctness' and our own cultural differences.


  2. Great article...sad but true....


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