Joe a trăit doi ani şi jumătate în România. E din Denver. A predat engleza în Valea Jiului, dar a ţinut să vadă cât mai mult din ţară. Între timp, a învăţat şi limba română. “Bine, dar nu excepţional. Undeva între 8 şi 9”, zice el. E interesant să vezi ce schimbări au loc în mintea unui american în timpul şi mai ales după ce vizitează România. Dialogul e în engleză.
You say you’ve traveled extensively — where to, and what was your favorite sight?
I saw almost the entire country, excluding the Black Sea and Arad. Our office was based in Bucuresti, I dated a girl in Bacau, had good friends in Maramures & Targu Mures, and volunteered with an organization in Turda. So I saw all of those and everything in between. My favorite “sight,” was probably seeing the citadel in Deva from the train on my way to Cluj, or just the spectacular Autumns Romania has, in general.
Conversely, what did you like least about Romania?
My least favorite thing was the lack of infrastructure. I found it strange, as an American, that water quality varied so greatly from place to place, and that I could sometimes go days without any running water, even though I lived in a town of 20,000. I also didn’t like seeing trash in otherwise beautiful places.
Strangest/Most unusual thing about Romania?
Unusual but good is that Romanians value art so much– I found it so surprising that Eminescu, a poet, was on the 100 RON.
Did you notice any obvious differences between products here and the ones back in the States? For example, did CocaCola or Pepsi taste the same?
There is a definite difference between Romanian sodas and the ones in the US. Lots of the American volunteers thought the same thing. For instance, we like Coca Cola better in America, but we prefer Pepsi Twist and Coke Zero, in Romania. Coffee is so extraordinarily different, between the two countries. Americans like theirs a little smoother, and in large amounts, and Romanians clearly prefer short and strong.
Did you have any preconceptions coming here? For instance, an American I used to talk to years ago was surprised to find out that we TV stations.
I didn’t realize just how developed a lot of the country is. Romania has beautiful cities that rival any of the great cities in Europe– I wasn’t expecting that. I definitely assumed a lot of the country would be more rural, so the sheer amount of well-developed urban centers surprised me.
Which was the most awkward experience from your stay in Romania?
I got sucked into a lot of awkward conversations, especially in trains, where I had to smile politely as people revealed all sorts of fringe political views and conspiracy theories to me. It was also weird to meet someone once, give them my number, and then have them call me about 15 times the following day. I met a local priest in my community who did that repeatedly to me for weeks– he wanted me to collaborate on a project with him. I simply didn’t have time, and told him so, but he was so persistent that I eventually had to tell him to leave me alone. I saw him on the street afterwards and he deliberately crossed the street so he wouldn’t have to talk to me. Oops.
How are the costs of living here compared to an average city from US?
Mostly much cheaper. Food in Romania is cheap. Same with clothing. I bought a bunch of nice pairs of jeans in Romania before I left because I knew they’d be 2-3xs as expensive, in the US. Housing (rent and utilities) were also very cheap, in comparison, but I lived in a small mining town… Some strange things (like razors, or flash drives) are actually more expensive in Romania than in America, after the conversion, which I found really weird/unfair. I don’t have much experience with larger purchases.
If you could live any city in Romania which would it be?
Great question. At this point in my life, probably Sibiu or Iasi. They seem like good spots for someone in their late 20s.
What is the main difference between the American and Romanian cuisine? What did you like to eat here?
Romanians eat fresher produce than we do, in America. It was so fantastic to be in a culture that openly ridiculed over-processed crap and respected locally grown food. Romanians also eat some things that we never do in America– slanina and ficat come to mind, but I came to love both of them. Slanina prajita cu ceapa became one of my favorite “treats” whenever I went grilling in the woods, with friends. Romanians know how to barbecue.
I saw you mentioned you liked slanina , what were some other foods you liked that are not usually eaten in the us?
I liked chicken liver. I also destroyed some sarmale and mici, on a regular basis. I was just talking to the head chef in my restaurant last night about mamaliga, and how freaking good it is with some smantana si carnati.
Which is the most beautiful city you’ve visited when in Romania?
That’s a goood question. I loved Cluj because it wasn’t flat and the view from the hotel was nice. Sibiu is also beautiful, especially in the area around the piata. Brasov was one of my favorites (when it wasn’t raining). Craiova was unexpectedly pretty, but that may have been because I was with a gorgeous Romanian woman everytime I was there :)
Did you have any bad/shady experiences?
I once got punched in the face by a random drunk on the street, in Ploiesti. It was completely unprovoked. I never really liked Ploiesti, after that (even though my best Romanian friend, Adelina, lives there).
What did you think of the drivers there?
Romanian drivers drive fast, and aggressively, but they also drive well– they’re always aware of their surroundings. I wouldn’t say they’re better or worse drivers than Americans, but I would say that most Romanians that I rode with liked to drive “hard.”
If you could change just one thing in Romania, what would that be?
No more throwing trash out in public places. I remember I went mushroom hunting with a really good friend of mine, and afterwards we talked for about 25 minutes about what a shame it was that there was so much trash lying by the side of the road. Then, as we went to get in the car, he threw the trash from our lunch in the same pile. He saw the look I gave him and said “well– it’s already there.”
How well did you speak Romanian (if at all) when you decided to come over?
I didn’t speak any Romanian at all, but I grew up in a bilingual household (French and English), so I’m certain that helped.
What was the most difficult part of Romanian when learning this language?
I would say the dative gave me some definite trouble. I also still fuck up my verbs that end with “a” e.g., is it angaj or angajez? plang or plangez?
How did you find your students here?
The students were kind, enthusiastic, smart, but unfocused. They treated me so well, and adored me. Everyday that I came to school I felt so much love – that made my time in Romania really special. I taught grades 4-8, and some of the kids were so brilliant, but, for the most part, it was really difficult to get them to focus on tasks and to do homework. Maybe it was my failure as a teacher.
Mai multe întâmplări ale lui Joe în România puteţi citi pe blogul pe care l-a creat special pentru perioada în care a stat aici. Întrebările şi răspunsurile nu-mi aparţin, sunt preluate de aici. Mai sunt, deci feel free to dig.
A jucat fotbal 12 ani doar pentru a avea pe ce să dea vina ulterior pentru că s-a îngrășat. Acum joacă tenis la nivelul tălpii de șlap. Mare fan al tuturor echipelor defuncte din România, deci mizați pe el pentru o analiză obiectivă, pentru că practic nu are ce să mai piardă. În cealaltă viață e jurnalist auto și-i stresează pe toți obligându-i să-și lege centurile de siguranță.