Friday, April 03, 2009

Stark Contrasts

Romania fascinates me for many reasons, not the least of which is the drastic contrasts that are apparent everywhere I turn. Not unlike most cities, you can see this on one block: 

And in the very next see something like this: 

But the contrasts are somehow different here than other cities/countries, because here you have old world communism next to new world capitalism:

I can publish a blog using high speed internet, talk to my friends and family regularly on skype, and go to the mall to watch American movies that came out as recently as two months ago, yet the city trams are from 1960s Germany and electric bills are delivered by being wedged in a crack in your door. I can attend classes at the medical school on Genetics but people adamantly refuse to open multiple windows in houses, buses, or trains, for fear of breezes (Romanians are desperately wary of cold and breezes... but more on that another time). Women wear skirts and shorts in summertime but no wise woman would ever go barefoot, lest she go barren. Because they’re directly linked, you know- everyone knows.

Truly fascinating. And there is no overarching explanation I can point to other than the fact that Romania is caught somewhere in the middle of the transition from developing to developed country. On the surface a lot has changed, but scratch under the shiny exterior and you find deeply embedded myths, mentalities, and mindsets from yesteryear. After all, communism fell a mere 20 years ago. It’s not good or bad, and I’m in no way trying to criticize Romania (though I will adamantly argue against the belief about breezes anyday) or even say that everything about modernity is better (because it’s not). I say all this because I find myself jarred back and forth between casual comfort and complete confusion. I am lulled into thinking that this place isn’t so different from my own country, then I am slapped in the face with the reality that I am in fact in an entirely different culture that is in some ways vastly different than mine. But this is a good battle, a good fight, and so rather than whine about it, I am blogging about it. As I do.


Anonymous said...

Liked your post. One thing I wanted to comment on. I don't think the fact that Romania is a "developing" country is the right explanation for why Romanians adhere to strange superstitions that seem removed from reality. The people of America, for example, are quite steeped in superstitions of our own. From soft ones -- like avoiding walking under ladders (bad luck, of course) -- to the strictly adhered-to rites and superstitions of various religions, American society certainly hasn't advanced to some paragon of empiricism and reasonability. Not even close, unfortunately!

SecretAgentCale said...

Have you heard about Fan Death? In South Korea, they believe that if you leave a fan running at night in a closed room it can cause the death of anyone in the room. By suffocation, poisoning??, or hypothermia. Check out the wikipedia article ( Pretty much everyone truly belives this!

Liz Spangler said...

Thanks for your comment, Anon. I actually thought about that as I was writing this article and I have some mixed thoughts about it. To the point about the WHY behind the superstitions- I still struggle to put my finger on the reasons behind things like this, but this is the "best" I could come up with. As I have looked more broadly at developing vs developed countries, it seems (and this is by no means empirical, just my observation) that there are on the whole more deeply rooted genuinely-believed superstitions in developing countries than developed (and there is certainly a vast spectrum between those two extremes). From Cale's comment, to my experiences in Mexico, to comments made by my African friends, as compared to most anywhere I've been in Western Europe or the US, that is the best overarching thought I have come to. But I could be entirely wrong- I wonder if you have any ideas about the root of them, specifically in Romania?

To the point about American superstitions- I thought about this as well, but I don't think it's an "apples to apples" comparison- while most Americans "know" of superstitions like walking under ladders, most don't genuinely believe it will cause bad luck (let alone something like barrenness)... and I think religious rites/superstitions are found worldwide and not country specific. So for instance, there are plenty of things that many Americans happen to do/believe because of the Judeo Christian morals/values held by the majority of people, just as there are plenty of things that many Romanians do because the majority are Orthodox. So, I tried to take that kind of thing out of it. My goal is not to imply that because Romania is "X" and America is by extension not that specific "X" thing that America is better/more reasonable, my goal is to try to understand Romania and its culture and the "whys" behind it. Perhaps if you're Romania, or even if you're not and have thought about these things, you can help shed more light on them! I do certainly welcome your thoughts.


ClujStuff said...

The "cold and breezes" is a mystery to me too but I must say that this believes have little to do with communism since they are much older.

You said that US have Judeo Christian values and Romania has Orthodox values. The Orthodox church exists since 1054 same as the Catholic one(mine) as the original Christian church divided itself. I saw this type of involuntary arrogance cultivated in the west in many people.
I know its hard to come here open minded after a lifetime in the west bombarded with all sorts of negative news/information about us but still ...

I'm sorry if my comments are too often critic because I really enjoy your blog, it's interesting to "see" your country from a foreign perspective.

Liz Spangler said...

Cluj Stuff-

1) I'm not sure what "involuntary arrogance" you mean. But I'm not sure how you could argue that Romania DOESN'T have Orthodox values, as Orthodoxy has been around for 1000 years (as you noted) and most any Romanian I have asked says that to be Romanian is to be Orthodox- part of the national identity, in a sense. And I also don't know how you could argue that American isn't based on Judeo-Christian values. I think what I said on this matter is pretty straightforward, so I'm not sure about the arrogance... But perhaps I'm misunderstanding your point.

2) I actually knew almost nothing about Romania before coming here. Sorry to say, but American news is way too focused on itself to be writing much about places like Romania. :) And the news that I have read in American papers SINCE moving here is actually fairly accurate. So I would like to believe that I have a fairly open mind and just do my best to share what I'm observing and learning. With that I recognize that I only observe a small amount of the full picture, so I don't presume to be an authority or unquestionably "right" on all things. Thanks for adding your thoughts to the mix!

ClujStuff said...

Dear Liz,

I'm sorry if my previous comment was somewhat harsh but I read in your post a confusion most westerners make that is nothing but "arrogance" and "involuntary" because is not even perceived as such by yourself.
You can NOT classify the church as Judeo Christian one and Orthodox one because the Orthodox church IS Judeo Christian and the same goes for the values these churches share.
You don't have to know anything about Romania to know this info. This is the ABC of Christian Church history.