The Arrow

There are no answers; only choices.

Romania and Bulgaria

Posted by thearrow on December 3, 2009

This post is dedicated to my Bulgarian friend and former roommate, Denitsa, who left the States  for her sweet homeland this September. I thought it was fitting to post it after the big NYT hit in my previous post, which includes Bulgaria as well.

A while ago I said that here you can tell what influences Romanian cuisine has by the ethnic-food stores where you can find the stuff we eat. Such as feta cheese and fish roe in Greek and Middle Eastern stores, and meat specialties in Russian stores.

The most intriguing discovery for me was that national differences are a lot less distinct than we like to think they are back home. In Europe, with so many different countries and ethnicities squished together, differences are paramount and we like to look at those a lot more than at similarities. Not only we are different, we are unique, mind you.

Far away from home though, all these differences melt away and the similarities surface like a hidden essence. The first time I thought about this was when I took classes with two Middle Eastern professors. There was an incredible air of familiarity about them. The funniest part was when one of them brought various objects to class to demonstrate how, even when we see the same thing, we call it different ways and focus on different details. Among those objects was her Turkish coffee pot. We only saw them for a few seconds and then she covered them quickly with a scarf. No one else in the classroom guesses what that was except for me. And I have no personal merit in this, of course. I recognized it because Romanians brew their coffee in this kind of pot, thanks to the several hundred years of tango with the Turks in trying to keep them at bay. The Lebanese store behind my building (where I am known as the crazy feta cheese woman)  sells the same kind of coffee pots you can buy in Romania.

The funnier revelation about these similarities came when I had a Bulgarian roommate. She overheard my phone conversations in Romanian and once in a while would tell me, “oh, we have that word, too!” That kept happening a number of times until we thought we should start a list with these words. We had a blast doing that.  In about three months, she could figure out what I was talking about.

The frosting on the cake was when I was trying to explain her how we are out of hot water for two-three weeks in the summer in Bucharest for something stupid called “revizie” (which would be “overhaul” in English). For my two American readers, heating and hot water are, for the most part, centralized in Romania. A lot of people installed their own apartment heating systems, but the big system is still in place. Huge swaths of the city are connected to the same heating plant (or several of them in big cities), which closes down for this annual overhaul, although we all think the management and staff are just lazy and prefer to have no work to do for two weeks. No one believes this overhaul involves as much as tightening one screw. Well, turns out Bulgarians have their “revizie,” too 😀 That totally cracked me up. I thought OK, it makes sense we share a lot of words since a good part of the Romanian vocabulary is of Slavic origin (60% if my memory is correct); the language’s structure is Latin, though. But I didn’t expect them to have the dreaded “revizie.” But, since both countries were communist it makes sense that we share the same stupid legacy of that regime, too.

So anyway, many conversations later, we came to the conclusion that we were actually from the same country. We just happened to speak two different languages.


23 Responses to “Romania and Bulgaria”

  1. v said

    “In Europe, with so many different countries and ethnicities squished together, differences are paramount and we like to look at those a lot more than at similarities. (…) Far away from home though, all these differences melt away”

    i think it’s just the obvious zoom effect. look from far away and you’ll only see the mass. come closer and closer and all the details will come to life one by one. 🙂

  2. thearrow said

    Yes, that’s right. But I also think we do tend to focus on the differences more. It’s human nature to do so; happens everywhere. Local patriotism, too 🙂 Likewise, there are a lot of regional differences in the US but it’s hard, if not impossible to see them from, say, Europe.

    At any rate, when Denitsa told me they, too, had the dreaded “revizie” I almost fell off the chair with laughter. I sent a mass email to all my friends to tell them about it.

  3. v said

    ‘we do tend to focus on the differences more’

    …i think you’re right.

    ‘I sent a mass email to all my friends to tell them about it.’

    i didn’t get it. :p

  4. thearrow said

    Oh, that was five or six years ago, when I thought you had fallen off the face of the earth:)

    I also find it funny how we, Romanians, think that various dishes are so unique to us, while they are just regional variations. Like the famous “sarmale” (pickled cabbage leaves stuffed with minced meat), of which we have both the Russian/Slavic version (with cabbage leaves) and the Greek/Turkish version (with grape leaves). Our pastries and pies are also of Greek influence, which has been with us for hundreds of years.

    • we said

      hehe, cate as avea de povestit de 2 amici bulgari, de aici:) in peisaj apare si dispare una piesa bulgaroaica, just for spicing up things:)

      bravo ca ai votat!

      • thearrow said

        Is she wearing animal print? That’s what I’d like to know 🙂 Dar serios acum, nu ti se pare ca sintem aceeasi natie? Mie mi se pare asa cu toti astia din Europa de Est, cu turcii, grecii. Avem un anumit way of carrying ourselves care e la fel la toti. Putin (mai mult?) provincial, to be honest. Sau cel putin de la mine asa se vede.

  5. v said

    ‘when I thought you had fallen off the face of the earth’
    kind of ‘stop the frakin’ earth and let me out!!’

  6. we said

    Is she wearing animal print? That’s what I’d like to know 🙂
    –she may have one:D

    Dar serios acum, nu ti se pare ca sintem aceeasi natie?
    –nu, nu suntem. sunt dobrogean, asa ca as trage imediat inspre regatul lui Dobrotici si as zice “da”. pana la urma, Levantul incepe din Cta. dar nu, nu suntem identici. suntem natii diferite.
    cel mai recent am fost in Bulgaria anul trecut si am vazut clar diferentele.

    Mie mi se pare asa cu toti astia din Europa de Est, cu turcii, grecii. Avem un anumit way of carrying ourselves care e la fel la toti. Putin (mai mult?) provincial, to be honest. Sau cel putin de la mine asa se vede.
    –pai istoric e normal sa fie asa, nu? adica sa avem multe puncte comune. dar ca sa vezi diferentele, du-te intr-o biserica greceasca la slujba si pe urma in una romaneasca. romanii nu au fastuosul levantin.

    • thearrow said

      E, sigur ca sintem natii diferite; eu ziceam doar metaforic ca sintem aceeasi natie pentru ca mi se pare ca avem a similar outlook. Uite ca n-am reusit sa ajung la biserica greceasca de-aici, ca nu e linga metrou, dar acum m-ai facut curioasa.

  7. we said

    nu, nu avem acelasi outlook. chiar nu il avem. si nici “la port” nu suntem identici. fiecare e cu stilul sau. sunt apropiate, true, dar neidentice. sunt prieten bun cu un turc, stiu ce vorbesc.
    cele mai apropiate ar fi romano-bulgarii, true, dar nu toti bulgarii si nu toti romanii.

    e complicat:) mai bine vorbim despre animal prints:)

  8. thearrow said

    Hm… Ce interesant. E adevarat ca eu sint prietena doar cu o bulgaroaica, deci we’re talking about a sample of one. Oricum, nu ma gindeam la o asemanare omogenizanta; e clar ca sint niste diferente. Eu doar am fost surprinsa de asemanari.

  9. we said

    in levant natiile s-au tinut “deoparte”. amestecurile au fost grele, incete, si de obicei fortate de cei de la putere: romei si dupa aia turci (mai putin). dupa 1850, natiile iar au tins sa se tina deoparte – vezi bataile cu bulgarii si expulzarile reciproce – ai auzit de “comitagii (”? pana si ar(o)manii s-au tinut “deoparte” si de aceea ii recunosti pe multi de la 1 mila.

    alt (si ultim exemplu): romanii din Dobrogea nu s-au “amestecat” cu cei din orase – satele romanesti erau pe marginea Dunarii, in timp ce in orase erau “100 de natii”.

  10. thearrow said

    Asa e, nu prea se amestecau triburile mult pe vremurile alea. Zic “triburi” pentru ca tendinta asta de a-i da in cap vecinului mi se pare primitiva dar human nature at the same time. Intre timp lucrurile s-au mai schimbat, zic eu, in naivitatea mea. Da’ io cred ca tu vrei sa te uiti la diferente si eu la asemanari. He he. Asa, vorbim aceeasi limba cu moldovenii dar sint totusi multe diferente intre noi si ei, mai ales ca intre timp ei au fost rusificati. Faptul ca (unii dintre) ei zic ca vorbesc moldoveneste nu inseamna decit ca vor sa ia in considerare diferentele si nu asemanarile (bineinteles, politically motivated, I know that).

    Deci again, eu ziceam asta cu “sintem din aceeasi natie” mai mult metaforic. As fi curioasa cum i se par lucrurile prietenului tau turc.

  11. we said

    nu erau triburi. vremea aceea, cand, de fapt? triburile “slave” (e problematica originea lor, cine erau de fapt acesti slavi – nu erau numai sclavenii & related) erau rapid integrate de romei, cu voie sau fara voie. bulgarii si-au facut repede kindgom, deci nema triburi din sec XII-XIII (asanestii – ionita caloian), hai sa spunem ca primul regat/imperiu inca era tribalizat. tribalizarea la care te referi tu de fapt apare mult mai tarziu – alimentate si din exterior. pana la urma, fiecare sef-sefuletz turc, un bey cat de mic, facea cate o “cismea”, unde sa bea apa “toti calatorii”. era o datorie si un semn de integrare.

    nu, nu ma uit numai la diferente, ci si la asemanari. nu degeaba glumeam cu bulgarii ca tre sa punem bazele noului imperiu romano-bulgar, sau bulgaro-valah (contentious issue:D). am stat la palavre, bbq’s, chefuri ani de zile [eu/alti romani si cei 2 bulgari, care aduceau alti bulgari, including the “animal print” + her boyfriend – see now the script?:), and others including an irish lost in translation].

    nu cred ca exista limba moldoveneasca. last time i checked it was still romanian.

    amicul meu turc? pai prima asemanare: fatalismul “life sucks. and then you die”. a doua asemanare: ciocarlia. a treia asemanare: halva. mai erau si altele. contentious issues: janissaries and Tzepesh. evident, astea erau si surse de mistouri reciproce. el fericit cand a aflat ca stiam de spahii. eu fericit ca stia de kustendje si bul-bul (umlaut).
    gandea la fel ca mine. tipul e pe 1/2 kurd, asa ca are si un referential ne-turc.

    asa. asta nu e singurul turc cu care am interactionat pe timp indelungat. parca am mai zis, vreme de ani buni, 2 turcoaice au stat in apt. vecin.

  12. we said

    sa clarific ceva: in orase, sub orice forma de imperiu, levantul insemna “100 de natii”. la tara nu era asa, din diverse motive. omogenizarea aparea din timp in timp, cand imperiile deveneau mai puternice si aveau nevoie de oameni pentru agricultura/aparare.
    o data ce imperiile slabeau, viata citadina se reducea, pana la disparitie. oamenii se retrageau la tara, sau pur si simplu fugeau cu trupele in retragere. asta ducea pana la urma la separare pe baze etnice/culturale.

    un exemplu mai putin stiut. expresia “natione scytha” apare in prima parte a imperiului romeilor, cu referire la populatia din dobrogea. erau sciti? nu. erau oameni adusi de peste tot in orasele dobrogene. aceasta sintagma/populatie dispare practic in sec VII-VIII, cand trupele bizantine se retrag de pe limaes, ca luau bataie de la “barbari”.

    ultima perioada a imperiului otoman, ca orice astfel de perioada, este caracterizata de reducerea vietii citadine (constanta era un pic mai mare decat un sat la 1840) si recrudescenta miscarilor centrifuge – in cazul asta nationale, care se bazau pe “acelasi sange” bla-bla. apar expulzarile, epurarile reciproce etc.

    asa ca ai un background comun vechi de 1500 de ani, reinoit strat cu strat, peste care ai diferente specifice, date de cel putin 3-4 generatii de “retribalizare”.

  13. thearrow said

    Draga Elfule,

    Apreciez lectia de istorie dar zau daca era cazul sa te ambalezi asa. Eu am facut o observatie simpla de asemanari culturale, nu tinteam spre un tratat:). At the same time, comentariul tau de mai sus ca “e complicat, mai bine vorbim de animal print” mi se pare ofensator. Daca tu crezi ca asta e nivelul pe-aici, that’s fine, dar prefer sa-ti pastrezi parerea negativa pentru tine.

    Cit despre limba moldoveneasca, evident ca nu exista. Eu am folosit-o doar de exemplu extrem de emfaza asupra diferentelor (chiar si imaginare).

  14. we said

    eu am vrut sa spun ceva, dar vad ca s-a inteles cu totul altceva.
    i stand corrected, and my apologies.
    chestia cu animal print nu era apropo la vreun nivel scazut al discutiei de aici, ci voiam sa subliniez ca discutia e complicata, daca vrei sa adancesti un pic problema.
    si nicidecum nu a fost lectie de istorie, cu atat mai putin ambalare. doar am incercat sa (ma) lamuresc de unde vin si cum sunt legate asemanarile/diferentele.

    inca o data, scuze. lesson learned: cu cat scriu mai putin, cu atat mai sanatos. pt. toata lumea.

    imi pare rau ca a iesit asa cum a iesit. intentia mea a fost la exact 180 fata de cum ai interpretat tu.


    • thearrow said

      E, nu-i nimic. Stii cum e: in scris cuvintele par mult mai dure decit ar fi in realitate; eu tot timpul ma izbesc de problema asta. Stiu ca e complicat si cu multe straturi, iar istoria mea e foarte subtire, din pacate. Ii cam lipsesc din straturi (he he).

      Eu m-am agatat de asemanari pentru ca, mai ales la inceputul sederii mele aici, totul era alien and I couldn’t relate to it at all. Ceva familiar era like a much-needed breath of air. Si-apoi, I like to be a contrarian :). Mi se pare ca oamenii in general se agata prea mult de diferente si asta nu e sanatos. Ce atitea diferente, domnule? Sintem toti o natie. Eeeeee!

  15. v said

    atunci, păcat de intenţie, că şi alţii tot aşa au înţeles din exprimare…

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