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.)