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Build Morale With Little Wins

The price was too good to be true. Organic Bresaola for 10 lei/100grams (about $3). It was imported from Italy and based on the number of ingredients (beef, salt) the claim seemed legit. The best by date was listed as the day after, but we planned on eating it that evening, so that would take care of that.

When I opened the package I immediately recognized the smell of ammonia. Maybe it was something else too, but in any case, it wasn't the smell of meat gone bad and that was somewhat more disturbing. Because I had to work and do other things the next couple of days, I wasn't able to return it. I wondered whether they were still selling it or if they were using the packages as chloroform rags now.

On the third day I went after work and looked around until I found somebody. I stumbled upon a middle aged lady at the dairy section, updating prices.
"Excuse me, I'm looking for the deli department manager."
"We don't have any managers working in the evening.&…

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…

How To Do Business In Romania In 4 Simple Steps

I was walking through the piata today when this amazing business plan came to mind. Here's what happened.

As I stood at one of the fruit stalls, picking through a mound of plums, the lady in charge interrupted me.
"Sir, I can't sell just a few plums."
"Why not? I'll pay."
"I'm prohibited" I loved this. It's not a business reason, it's simply a whim. That one sentence sums up a lot of the local business mentality. I imagined a boss who gave her the serving scoop and who told her, 'make sure you don't sell 'just a few plums, now, hear?'
"How many do I need to get?" I asked.
"Half a kilo."
"Sorry, I really don't want half a kilo." Disappointed, I put the ones I'd picked up back on the display.
"You can get some from the neighbour," she offered, motioning to the stand behind, "she'll sell them piecemeal"
"Okay, will do, thanks."

So, while the first vendo…

The Diaspora - An Interview With G. Yird

G (who asked that I don't use his real name) and I met this past summer when he was visiting Romania. We talked over drinks and I was struck by his keen sense of observation about the way things are going in Romania.When I sent him the following list questions, he didn't shy away from formulating very pointed answers, and I'm grateful for that.


1. You moved away to Australia as a 6 year old. Do you remember what you first liked about the new continent, and what you missed about Europe?

I moved to Australia when I was 7.5 – left Romania when I was 5. I spent a year in other European countries where my parents both worked as Engineers before we eventually received permission to migrate to Australia. Before leaving, we had been living in Germany for almost two years, where I had finished kindergarten and first grade in primary school. I had friends there, I …

Reason I Love Living in Romania #58 - The 'Piata'

This is a topic I've discussed enthusiastically in my social life but I've yet to write about it. Most likely because it sits deceptively under that part of life we classify as "mundane". For hundreds of years farmers have brought in their fresh produce to various markets in nearby cities and towns. Most cities in Romania have one, or more, Piata agro-alimentare. They were there before supermarkets ever existed. Years ago, they were out in the open, but nowadays they are mostly found in large warehouse-type buildings with zero amenities other than the stalls on which the produce is displayed.

Four things you will notice at the Piata:
1. The produce is not usually shiny, but that's because it's not been waxed.
2. It's not picture-perfect, but that's because mother-nature isn't a photographer.
3. Prices are low because you're not paying any third parties for shipping.
4. The seasons are relevant (ie. no cherries in Fall/Winter/Spring).

It's r…

Agri-Culture: Romanian Haystacks

I came up on this post today and rather than attempt to regurgitate its contents, I'm going to go ahead and link it here. The only comment I want to add is that, as a Romanian, I couldn't imagine this country without haystacks peppering the countryside. They are a testament to Romania's rich agricultural traditions. Somehow, whenever I see them I can't help but think that no matter how crazy the world gets, it can't be all that bad as long as we still got people making haystacks.

Here is everything you wanted to know about The Art of the Romanian Haystack


Why Is Toronto Such A Poor Tourist Destination?

Last night I came up on a marketing blog post. The author argues, correctly, that Toronto is badly in need of a consistent and powerful marketing message that can put the city on the travel map and attract more tourists. Since moving to Europe I've gotten a better feel for this Toronto-as-a-tourist-attraction conundrum, which is why I think that even if the city had that message out tomorrow, there would be little substance to back it up.

1. History - Toronto is badly lacking in anything of historical significance. Black Creek Pioneer village, the old firehouse on Lombard, and the first post office on Adelaide are pretty much laughable as historical artifacts to any European tourist. They're not particularly special by North American standards either. Unless the tourism board wants to rewrite it, that's about it for history.

2. Culture - A bright spot here as Toronto is coming along in many respects. But it doesn't stand above the citywide cultural events that take pla…

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…

Rosia Montana: The Disparities

I recently found an essay of mine on U.S foreign policy entitled "The Disparities on Vietnam". The 'disparities' referred to events leading up to intervention and the eventual withdrawal from Vietnam as presented by the US State Department on one hand, and the authors of Rise to Globalism on the other. As part of his comments, the professor wrote this at the end:

"There may be only One Truth out there somewhere, but humans being partial, having limited sensory arrays and all that, I suspect that the closest we'll get to sneaking up on said truth consists in comparing versions with a will to cancelling out the nonsense and synthesizing what remains, rather than a Best Version Takes All sort-of basis. But then, you do the cancellation thing, you do it with logic and do it beautifully...If it's a tad grim, so is the reality it depicts."

I can't promise it won't be grim, but this is my take on the truth about Rosia Montana. My only goal is to fo…

Your Google Ranking Through The Roof In 6 Simple Steps

Not something I do very often, but I'm going to momentarily stray from the things I typically write about.

In case you haven't heard, the tech blogosphere is clamoring to report on the public firing of an AOL employee by CEO Tim Armstrong during a company-wide conference call aimed to boost morale following layoffs. This article contains some background, a transcript, the audio recording, and all the gritty details about what should be a non-story.

Here's why I believe it to be one of the most brilliant inbound marketing scams we've all come across.

1. Tim can't stop talking about Patch. "You should be using Patch...Patch is amazing...Patch feeds and clothes you....bow down to the great Patch!"

The whole time he was going on about it I was thinking, "WTF is Patch?" You already know I was all over Google searching for 'Patch' the moment the recording ended. I only got results when I refined the search to 'Patch AOL' though. This i…

Visiting The Neighbours: Serbia

This happened in May. It was long time coming and now I feel as though I've crossed a major item off the 'places to see' list. I mean, here I am, writing about living in a former communist state, trying to dispel many of the typical Western/North American stereotypes about this part of the world, while I'm still sitting in my comfort zone hesitant to visit our similarly afflicted neighbours.

Long story short, an old friend from Toronto wanted to combine his Serbia trip with a Cluj visit. That done, we left Cluj in a rented Dacia Logan for the brutally long drive to Jagodina, Serbia, where he grew up.

My first impression of Serbia was that things pretty much looked like they do in Romania; rough around the edges. The people, too, reminded me of my fellow Romanians; worried about life. It was only the language that I wasn't getting, but after a couple of days, I'd picked up some useful words: dobre den, hvala, and most importantly, zhivili! Hello, thank you, and …

Starting Up: Brain Gain Romania

There's this tumblr blog making a buzz in startup circles. It's written by the co-founder of an unnamed startup that's about to meet its demise. It was started a a month ago, so we're somewhere at the conclusion of this dramatic affair. It's actually not any more dramatic than what hundreds of other startups are going through right now, but the real talking point is over the honesty with which the blog's author is describing his plight. To juxtapose a bit, one commentator said, "when CEOs talk about their startups, the future is always so bright that we have to wear shades." This is why getting a live feed of the sinking ship is viral worthy.

Why do I bring it up? Simple, I'm starting something too. It's modest but the dream is big. I want to help create a country we're all proud to be living in. If we had a country full of people who faced challenges head on with a positive attitude,  a country of people willing to take big risks for what…

5 Reasons Romania Needs To Move Away From a Minimum Salary Economy

No matter how much I try, I can't stay away from Politics and Economics. The basics have remained unchanged since time immemorial; amass personal wealth and trade it for influence, or vice-versa. We're still living that same old rat race, and to some extent humanity always will be. I'm not going to say that there's a utopian solution that will change things, but I do think that there are certain man-made mechanisms that level the playing field, even if only slightly.

One such mechanism, alien to Romanian employees and employers alike, is remuneration in the form of an hourly wage.  I've looked through the Romanian Labour Code and as far as I was able to find, there is nothing stopping employers from offering salaries based on an hourly wage. What does make things complicated is that, in Romania, the minimum wage is defined in terms of a monthly salary. Whereas the minimum wage in Ontario is $10.25/hr, the Romanian 'minimum salary according to the economy' i…

Romania's Rarest Commodity

In the West trust is taken for granted. The supermarket trusts that its customers are not there to shoplift (even if some do), the bank trusts that the customer is not there to conduct a fraudulent transaction, government institutions trust that the information they are provided by the citizens is accurate. If all these entities worked on the assumption that none of their patrons are trustworthy, the result would be an arduously slow bureaucracy and a society of people who are unable to trust others and who approach all situations expecting the worst. Basically, it would be like Romania.

Here are questions I'd like some really good rational answers to:

1. Why do I have to show my ID every time I go to the bank? Why does it need to be the same ID I originally opened the account with?

2. Why can I only enter a supermarket at the designated entrance (in a mall)? What's wrong with going in through a cash register if nobody's in line and the entrance is far away?

3. Why do I hav…