October 25, 2012
A heated debate on twitter the other day spurred out an interesting idea, and in many ways this post is a response to that:
@hferchiu Kinda confirms my hunch that GR and much of East Europe would have been better suited to be part of the US than of EU! Ouch!”
This idea is not new. It has crossed my mind many times, and it had been a recurring joke around Romania for quite a long period during the 90’s. But it does hold a grain of truth, as all controversial ideas do.
I have to restrict my conclusions solely on the Romanian experience, although I know most of them apply to other eastern, ex-communist countries. But having lived only in Romania (when it comes to Eastern Europe) it seems fair to restrict myself and invite those that had similar experiences to express themselves.
I was almost 6 when the communist regime in Romania fell. I remember it vividly, mainly because it was the first thing I saw on a color TV. My dad had just brought home this Romanian poorly built copy of a 1980’s Phillips, and it was exhilarating. That day the revolution started, and in good spirit this revolution actually was televised.
Changing political regimes meant little to a 6 years old, as you can imagine. But what followed was unimaginable. Consider this – up to that day we had 5 minutes of cartoons per day, and 10 minutes on Saturdays. And to a 6 year old they meant the world. And then it all changed – soon enough we had cartoon network and private television channels. We had cartoons 24/7 and we had action movies.
Quite often I find myself in the curious situation where I can culturally relate to people who lived in Western Europe & US with an age span from 25 to 80 – because freedom brought on so much information, information we had been previously denied acces to. Movies, music, cartoons, cable shows, comedy – we had to catch up on 45 years of seclusion. And we did that. We devoured whatever was offered, we spent copious amounts of time in front of the tv. We needed to know, the thirst was quenchless.
Doubling or subtitles where sometimes available, sometimes they were not. Inherently we had to learn english, or italian, or german, spanish or french to understand what they were talking about.
I can still remember shows like the A Team, Macgyver, Dallas and so on. They were old in the West, they were pristine to us. Music was also a huge deal – everything was there for the taking, and what started with the tv continued with cassette tapes and video tapes (yes, cassette tapes – I’m that old).
And then everybody started considering leaving the country at some point – and diligent parents wanted their youngsters to learn foreign languages. English was a primary choice and I think most people within my generation had this as their first foreign language. Sure there was French and German, but English prevailed.
So combine these: a lot of mostly US originating media material, music from the US, thorough study of the English language ( I studied English institutionally for 18 years) and the huge contrast between our rather dull world and the glamour of American cities and culture.
I don’t know how many people out there can remember this, but to people in my generation our first hamburger, our first Coca Cola are memories we will cherish forever.
It’s quite easy to understand then why most Americans I know, that have visited Romania, are puzzled – we have a deep connection with US culture, our cultural references are similar and we get all the jokes. We know how it’s done in the US, although we’ve never been there. We have quite a reasonable knowledge of New York, of American history, we know streets in San Francisco by name.
Of course this is a consequence of young avid minds exposed to the wealth of culture exported by the US. And consider this – I took a year of my studies to France so that I could tune in to French culture – and France is a lot closer than USA.
Everyone I know in Romania dreams of USA. In larger or smaller quantities but there is a genuine desire for most people in my generation and all generations +/- 5 years, to experience the US. Add that to a sort of historical expectation – back in ’47 when the communists took over a large part of the population thought that this is not going to last and the Americans will come to the rescue – and you get quite a comprehensive view on the subject.
The US got a clean bill of unconditional support from most of the Romanian population and in many aspects that has not eroded over the years. Although things happened, information became evermore available, blunt optimism faded – things never actually changed. I live in a country where Russia is seen as a permanent danger (to many it’s built in, although unsupported in most cases) and the US is seen as the promise of freedom and happiness (and I don’t want to get started on how off-track that is).
Yes, most Romanians would have loved to be the 51st US State. And we all knew & know that it’s never gonna happen.
EU has a far less intimate connection with Romanians that the US. It has a high popularity index nonetheless, because the EU incorporates all the European states we were not allowed to go to, all the information we were banned from, all the experiences everybody else in Western Europe had unconditional acces to.
The love story between Romania and the US might fade, or go through ruff patches, but it will never disappear. It’s built in. Just like chocolate and mum’s hugs when you fell and hurt your knee when you were 6.