(Originally broadcast on Nov. 6, 2009, on The Frank Show, here.)
I’m in a good mood, despite the government here and unemployment in the US. It was a lovely day today so I’m not in the mood to complain.
This is a great place to live.
When I worked at a newspaper in Baltimore, we had a clerk who was a wonderfully strange man. Tony was his name. Not well-schooled but intelligent, he was a large, gentle guy, about middle-aged who lived with his mother and loved ships.
One day, when I was training a new reporter, Tony was drinking a cup of hot chocolate when suddenly, for no apparent reason — he spewed an entire mouthful of the drink out across three desks. It seemed like it went in every direction. He later said he did it because he remembered a funny joke.
But that’s not the interesting thing. What has stayed with me is what that reporter told me later. She said the most remarkable thing to her was not that Tony had sprayed a mouthful of hot chocolate across the newsroom – which indeed was strange enough. But no, what she noticed most was that none of the twenty-or-so reporters sitting nearby reacted. No one. They didn’t even look up. Why? Because that was, well, Tony. Nothing he did surprised us.
What has this got to do with anything? Well, living in Romania is a bit like sitting next to Tony. And that’s why I like it here.
I could ask you if you realize people park on the sidewalks here, or grow grapes in their driveways, or sell vegetables out of their car trunks, or cross themselves as they drive by churches. I could ask you if you realize people smile a lot here. They do, and in a genuine way. Or do you know that more people here than I’ve ever seen anywhere stop and will share a covrigi – it’s sort of like a pretzel – or other food with an old man or woman looking hungry in the streets. I could ask you if you’ve noticed that people are respectful while they wait in line. The line might not look like a line, but most people know and respect who was next. I could point out that every block there’s another window where you can buy a fresh pastry. I could tell you the women are beautiful and the men are friendly. I could tell you that corruption, if not legal then ethical, is prevalent and that there seems to be a grey market for everything. I could point out that there are horse-drawn carts everywhere outside the city. I could tell you all this and you would say, well, yes. So? So what?
But folks, I lived in the US near an Amish community. People would drive a thousand miles to see them in their horse-drawn cars. We have so many rules that are followed that people stop even thinking about breaking them – or creatively bending them day to day. We have so many parking spots that people get upset if you park too close to the white lines, nevermind on the sidewalk. We don’t sell vegetables out of trunks. Just guns, drugs, and fake scarves and watches. Our pastries come from factories and are bought in boxes.
I know none of this is surprising. It’s just the typical expat kind of thinking. Too many people have told me that someday I’ll stop liking all this and just start complaining. I don’t think so. That only happens when you start forgetting what life is like elsewhere and how much there is here to enjoy and marvel at. And if I ever start forgetting, I hope someone will remind me. Because I think it’s good to have someone point out, every once in a while, that there’s a Tony in the office.