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The Change Romania Challenge: Part 1 - Common Courtesy

My wife recently returned from a trip to Copenhagen where she spent a week visiting a friend. Of all the countries in the world, very few are able, when I but hear the name, to induce in me the kind of glassy-eyed lassitude the parents of restless children can only dream about. Let's put it this way: if I had to choose between visiting a Scandinavian country or East Timor, I'd choose East Timor twice. I know it's not very open minded of me, and I certainly don't mean it as an insult to Scandinavians, but if I wanted to take a week to explore man-made perfection, then I'd just spend the entire time in the Sagrada Familia.

I just can't get past the cold and the overly expensive everything. And most of all, I can't get past the prejudice that it's not much more than a modern-day, Viking version of Canada. Unlike me, though, my wife is very drawn to Scandinavia.

As expected, she returned head over heels for the Nordic socialist haven of Danmark. Copenhagen …
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10 Things Romania Does (A Bit) Differently - Part 2

Most lists don't begin at number 6, so if you want to start at the beginning, head over to Part 1.

6.  The Clothes Dryer
The mighty clothes dryer, a staple appliance in just about every North American home, is essentially non-existent in Romania. While it isn't suspiciously regarded as a harbinger of death, as is the A/C unit, it takes up a lot of space and consumes plenty of energy, both of which come in short supply relative to Romanian preferences. Besides, if everyone had a dryer, then balconies, clothes lines, and drying racks would take up space for no good reason, and doing the laundry would be an all too efficient endeavour (generally considered bad taste in our neck of the woods).  Of course dryers do exist, usually on a steam-drying system, sometimes in a 2-in-1 washer/dryer combination (which requires no external vent or filters), but it's nonetheless a long-forgotten luxury for many a nostalgic expat.

7. Sidewalk Parking
I could write several blog posts about pa…

10 Things Romania Does (A Bit) Differently - Part 1

A few days ago, after walking into a grocery store, I couldn't help noticing I was in a state of trepidation. The reason? I'd walked in with my gym bag, purposely avoiding the security guy at the entrance. I felt his eyes must be following me and that a loud, "Hey, you!" would ring out the moment I turned into an aisle.

It turns out that the longer you live somewhere, the more you get used to it. A truism, of course. What is not immediately apparent is that this isn't necessarily a good thing, especially when you find that you've become used to something you may have found, at some point in the past, in another place, entirely unacceptable.

This is why, now that I've crossed over the honeymoon period of my move to Romania, I find my enthusiasm for life here wanes when, for the 286th time, I  am forced to walk into a supermarket through the designated entrance point, even if an empty checkout is much closer and no less accessible. Then, upon entry, a grump…

All Souls Day at The Jewish Cemetery in Cluj

Cemeteries have never bothered me. I think this applies to most Romanians who grew up celebrating October 31st with a visit to the final resting place of friends and family members. It's probably the same for Mexicans.

I've already written about All Souls' Day, and shared the requisite images of the event, so I won't go into it here, but I'm always impressed by the bustle of activity around cemeteries on this day. Small businesses pop-up as flower and candle sellers line the roads leading to the entrance, while the cars parked on either side inevitably take up the sidewalk. In spite of the bazaar-like character, it is still a solemn and subdued event by Romanian standards.

On my way from an unrelated errand today, I passed the Jewish cemetery, tucked off to the side of a small dead-end road. It's relatively easy to miss, though easy enough to identify once you're standing in front of the wrought iron gate.

I'd been curious about the place for years, ha…

"Dottore" - A Primer on Romania's Plagiarism Scandals

It is not enough that Romania's politicians are smug, incompetent, and generally reprehensible, but their pathetic lack of self-awareness also feeds a seemingly overpowering impulse for outrageous narcissism.

It's as if they were saying, "Step aside, Trump, let us show you how it's done."

The phenomenon can be summed up in the wisdom of an old Romanian proverb, 'Prostul nu e prost destul, daca nu e si fudul'. It basically means, "a fool is not enough a fool,  if he's not a blowhard too."

Which brings me to the matter at hand.

I've never directly addressed Romania's plagiarism scandals. In part, maybe, because if that was the worst thing our politicians were doing to this country, I wouldn't have other things to write about. But also because I always saw it as symptomatic of a more deeply rooted cultural issue.

For added context, for non-Romanian readers, think of the Asian parents stereotype. From an early age kids are pressured …

13 Creative Takes on Traditional Romanian Food

The guy on TV is saying, "you're doing something that nobody else is doing, and that's special!"

I'm watching Guy Fieri take another trip to flavour town with his iconic food porn series, Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives ('Triple D'). A guest on the show, speaking to the head chef as Fieri looms, is raving about the chef's creativity. He is telling the chef how important it is for customers to get something different while Guy, smiling benignly like a peroxide headed Buddha, is no doubt thinking about what a great job he's got, or maybe about how this show will be the death of him.

"Looks like nobody in this country got the memo." I tell my wife.

'Different', as a concept, is rarely revered in Romania. More often than not, it is vilified. On the other hand the 'me-too' culture is just out of this world. When I first moved here, every restaurant served pizza. If there had been a burger joint around at the time, it too would ha…

From Untold to (re)Told - Untold Festival 2017

The lineup looked as familiar as ever, but it was no less than expected when we signed up for tickets to the third edition of Romania's premier summer festival and Cluj-Napoca's major event of the year.

I could write about the artists, the massive crowds, surprises at the peripheral stages, Argatu's captivating performance, the unexpectedly heavy security presence, the street food, the #buckets, or the impressive logistics, but instead I'd rather highlight how a single event has become, for Cluj, a sort of beacon of the local culture. It's as though most Clujans -and every corporate entity in Cluj - becomes a part of Untold. On the street, at the mall, at work, Cluj is split between two types of wrists: those adorned with a festival bracelet and the rest.
In a sense, even those who escape town for the duration of the festival take part by way of their intentional non-participation.

I've written about the typical Romanian apathy when it comes to uniting for a co…