Thursday, February 7, 2008

Good perfume comes in small bottles

Why is it that every time I try to write about a certain place, I end up focusing on why Romania is, well, nothing like that certain place?
I recently saw Sex, Drugs and Democracy. Just like good perfumes, Dutch values are as subtle as they are pleasant. Not violent. Not loud. They don't shout to be heard.
I've been meaning to write about my admiration for this country for quite some time, but I was waiting for the right time and the right pretext. I have yet to find the right words.

It's really quite difficult to explain how living in such a liberal, yet extremely organized environment changes your perception. I have never been a homophobe, I've always stood against discrimination and all of it mainly in theory. See, in Romania it's easy to say you abide by all those politically correct statements like "We should all have the same opportunities". But you are not really doing that. This is not to say you are doing the opposite, but the specific culture and the standard of fixed normality forces unconscious acceptance of double standards, hypocrisy, discrimination, evading the truth and postponing action. It might sound a bit harsh, but I reserve the right to criticize the country dearest to me.

When I went back on winter break I found myself in a bit of a puzzle. Should I laugh at jokes about women? They've never offended me before. I knew I could learn how to change a tire and drive a car sensibly. Should I go on saying "it's their own damn fault" about gypsies? After all, it is the way in which everyone around me thought. What about prostitutes and women in short skirts relying on sugar daddies? What the fuck about blatant corruption?
All of a sudden, free from exams and intense "I miss my home!!" feelings, question started coming at me out of nowhere. I'd never asked them before. I couldn't believe that either.

Aah, but the beginning. I can still remember it crystal clear. January, Bucharest, snowy, warm and scented rooms. Soft music in the background, lounging on sofas, drinking cocktails and talking to newly introduced people. Very relaxing. Ultimately comfortable. And then he says "It's okay that you don't know much about cell phones. You're a girl."

Why was I shocked by something like that? It's a pretty acceptable remark for a chilled party in Bucharest, especially as it was meant as a joke.
A year ago that would have been borderline between normal and a challenge. You know, it's quite easy to be extraordinary in Romania, don't you think? You've so many stereotypes to defy. An intelligent and witty young woman in Bucharest finds a strong contrast pretty much everywhere, from bimbo secretaries in her office to gypsy flower girls to idle housewives. So why shouldn't there be a stereotype? It's that much more fun to break it.

But in that moment, holding a glass of Bailey's and hearing something of the likes of which I had not heard in months, it wasn't fun anymore. At all. It was actually very dry.

Funnily, I did not have such a culture shock coming here as I did going back. Holland just kind of sneaks up on you. You don't notice it because it's not brutal. You're not forced to do anything and nothing is forced on you. The actual freedom is what I found to be confusing. You are in most ways free to do whatever you want about your present and your future. If you want them, you can find opportunities. Black men, white men, colored, chinese, mexican, indian, moroccan. It's all good. Pot is not a tabu. As bullshit as that sounds, it actually, for the life of me, isn't. I could go on for a while. But the paradise isn't for free.
More is expected of you, very true. Much more. No more hiding behind stereotypes, no more falling back on general intellectual idleness, no more shrugging off a disagreement, no more lack of responsibility for opinions. It's the real deal. I do agree with those who say that an overly authoritarian state turns responsible citizens into children. A whole lot of Romanians are kids at heart. Sure, it's sounds cool and makes for good poetry and a spicy, absurd, sarcastic and absolutely delicious sense of humor, but... no. Just no.

Romania, I love you, baby, but this isn't working out. You need to stop being so needy. Get off your ass and stop being such a baby about it.

(For me all of this coincided with the end of my adolescence and starting school at a pretty awesome university. Interferences with that may be observed.)


fiction said...

anectdota: acum o saptamana pe un forum apare un nou si minunat thread despre mersul pe bicicleta. Un individ care lucreaza de un an in Paris cere romanilor din Bucuresti sa mearga mai mult pe bicicleta pentru ca asa rezolva multe probleme. Individul se loveste de bucurestenii care ii spun de ce nu pot (cu toate ca ar vrea) merge pe bicicleta, asa ca individul le reproseaza lispa de initiativa, numindu-i pe cei care stau in masina si petrec ore bune in trafic snobi si propune ca cei care lucreaza sa mearga la serviciu cu bicicleta. Iarasi bucrestenii aduc in discutie dificultatea ca ei sa faca asta, ba chiar vin unii care au incercat si s-au lasat. Apoi se descopera ca individul plecase de un an din capitala, si ca atunci cand locuia aici mergea bine mersi cu masina, "dar nu era snob pentru ca atunci traficul era lejer si nu petrecea ore multe in trafic poluand", recunoaste ca el nu a mers niciodata cu bicicleta la serviciu si ca nici in Paris nu merge...dar totusi bucurestenii sunt snobi pentru ca accepta sa stea in trafic in masina atatea ore de frica spune el, ca daca ar merge pe biciclete ar spune vecinii ca nu au bani.

tragi ce concluzie vrei...uneori poate si olandezii au nevoie de un simt al umorului homofob, chiar daca ei nu sunt. Nu stiu daca iau apararea Romaniei aici, nu sunt genul stii bine, dar nu mi-a placut ce ai zis :D (mai ales sfatul dat "romaniei")

Julesie said...

Foarte bun exemplul bicicletei. Cand locuiam in Bucuresti nu m-as fi urcat pe bicicleta in traficul ala nici sa-mi dai bani. Multi. Imi amintesc prima data cand am vazut o reclama pe la Rosetti pentru piste de bicicleta si m-am gandit "fucking morons. de parca nu sunt destule probleme." Dar aici toata lumea merge in mare pe bicicleta, asa ca mi se pare normal sa o fac. Nu critic fiindca asta inseamna sa vin cu raspunsuri usoare. Ar fi fost mult mai simplu sa elogiez Olanda fara sa mentionez Romania, nimeni nu s-ar fi simtit ofensat de ceea ce e doar insituat si nu spus.

Nu mi se pare ca Romania e un haos nenorocit, iar vestul e paradis. Sa fim serioasi, viata din Bucuresti e departe de a fi plictisitoare sau deprimanta. Si nici nu adopt atitudinea de "ce ignoranta eram acum un an fata de adevarurile sociale si culturale, nu mai sunt acelasi om!". Oamenii adopta atitudini diferite in situatii diferite. O sa fiu sincera, e a dracului de usor sa fii 'civilizat' aici. Si asta imi place. Si o spun. Si mai spun ca nu este asa in Romania. Cauze si solutii - toti avem pareri. Nu sustin ca ale mele ar avea adevarul absolut in ele.

Julesie said...

Oh, one of the reasons I was so harsh in this post is that I was mainly criticizing myself. Nu poti avea alte valori decat cele care iti sunt aratate. E un fapt. Iar valorile nu pot fi judecate in termeni de bine si rau, e doar ignoranta sa faci asta. E vorba de preferinte, eu vorbeam despre ale mele. I'm sorry if you find this offensive in any way. It's just an opinion.

Theo said...

E bine ca ti-ai gasit mediul. In ultimul timp tind sa fiu perfect de acord cu tine. Esti foarte norocoasa, dar un cliseu sportiv spune ca norocul e de partea celor buni. In unele cazuri da. Si eu am de gand -de fapt sunt pus deja pe fapte- sa imi *muncesc* norocul si sa imi gasesc si eu un mediu din care voi putea spune cu sinceritate cat de mult iubesc Romania si cum in aceeasi masura nu-mi place. Eu inca mai am rabdare. Ii ziceam Oanei ca eu nu vreau sa-mi iau carnetul, si ca la vara ma urc pe bicicleta, iar ea de dincolo imi spune ca are nevoie cruciala de masina. Uneori, cei cu gandirea noastra se simt in Romania ca niste oameni zambitori si naivi care poarta printr-o mlastina, cu rahatul pana-n barbie, in mana ridicata sus de tot o floricica gasita pe undeva.
O intrebare: what do you mean by "this isn't working out"?

Julesie said...

Incepusem sa ma gandesc ca ar fi prea dur postul.
Ai descris perfect ce eu nu pot decat in limbaj formal si sec. E o senzatia de sufocare cand locuiesti acolo si o love-hate relationship. I love the hell out of Romania. It's my home country, will always be tied to my identity and close to heart. But for me to go back at this very moment in time... simply can't work out. La aia ma refeream. Si la faptul ca a trecut atata amar de vreme de cand nu mai are pretextul opresiunii pentru a nu-si asuma responsabilitatea pentru anumite atitudini si fapte.