The Arrow

There are no answers; only choices.

Archive for the ‘cultural differences’ Category

Good Night in the Middle of the Day

Posted by thearrow on July 14, 2011

There are things I still haven’t got used to here and I might never get to the point where they aren’t strange any more. Like saying “Have a good night” when you leave the office, even if it’s three in the afternoon. You have a whole evening ahead of you and yet you hear this “good night” wish. It never fails to throw me off. I almost want to say “I’m not going to bed yet!”

How on earth did this happen? Have Americans always had this weird wish?

Another such thing that even drives me crazy is how empty “How are you?” is as a greeting. No one ever wants an answer; they only acknowledge your presence. I had to adjust to this, though, so now I’m like everyone else, uttering the words and moving on. If people are interested in knowing how you really are doing, they come to you and ask about it. But when you just see each other for the day, that never happens. And it still throws off my expectation that they want an answer because that’s what Romanians do. When they ask “How are you?” they mean it, so you can give them a snapshot of what’s going on with you. In the States the answer is always “great”; nobody ever is not doing great.

Not fair! What if I want to complain about something? 🙂 Although I have to admit I do that very infrequently now. Most Romanians like to complain and I do too, but I’ve changed since I came here. Now I’m just doing great all the time. Ha ha!


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L’Etat C’est Toi

Posted by thearrow on October 19, 2010

The French have now turned violent in their protest against raising the retirement age from the age of 60 to the frail age of 62.

Even high school kids and students protested, completely oblivious to the fact that they would pay heftily for years for a whole generation of retirees before they can even think of retiring themselves. How crazy is that?

But the adults should know better (you’d think). The state is not an abstract entity whose role is to provide a nice life to everyone. I’m definitely not siding with American conservatives here, who think the government shouldn’t even exist (other than give tax cuts to the rich, perhaps). But the French are out of their mind. All their social welfare perks do cost money, and that money comes from their own pockets. Sure, France has a nice, equitable income redistribution system; you pay quite a bit into it and you also get a lot out of it.

They’re in total denial that what goes out will soon (if it hasn’t already) balloon way over what goes in, though. Who’s going to dole out the difference? Their children and grandchildren? One might not agree with Sarkozy on a lot of things (like the expulsion of the Roma) but he sure got this one right. And the French are behaving like toddlers digging their heels in and screaming “non.”

How pathetic.

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Bathrooms in America

Posted by thearrow on February 24, 2010

One of the things that absolutely kills me here even after 8 years + is the lack of privacy in bathrooms in public places. For security reasons, the stalls do not have full doors. I’m sure you remember many movie scenes with people killed in a bathroom stall. I think that’s why they leave about a foot (30 cm) of empty space from the floor to the door. The same for the divider between stalls. You could almost literally hold hands with someone else while peeing.

Which some people actually do, in a metaphorical sense: they talk to each other while taking care of business. I had to do this on occasion too, even if I was mortified, because I had bumped into a chatty colleague. For the life of me, I cannot get used to them. It’s a relief (in both senses; ha ha!) when I use the bathroom at this chain of French restaurants, La Madeleine, which has completely separate stalls with full doors and walls. And no, it’s not a fancy place (way out of my league). It’s a regular, very down-to-earth eatery with a lot of bathroom common sense.

Here are two pics I’ve managed to snap before a colleague came in. Good thing she has a sense of humor. She saw the camera, I said “I know it’s weird,” and she just laughed.

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Posted by thearrow on July 10, 2009

Says my boyfriend about my wacky attitude about being invited to dinner (see below): you might not realize it but this is selfish of you. Ooops. How so? Well, because you’re imposing limits on how other people want to express their gratitude for your help. It’s like saying, “you can be grateful, but you’re not allowed to do X, Y, and Z.”

He has point there (noise of wacky thoughts being revised).

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Will Help for Food

Posted by thearrow on July 8, 2009

You didn’t think I was done with commenting on cultural differences between the US and Romania now, did you? I thought so.

A friend of mine from high school, now in Chad (of all places) where she does some international work, emailed me yesterday to ask if I could help a friend of hers find a place in DC for 2 months. This unknown friend is a French woman doing an internship (one block from my office) and she couldn’t find anything for such a short period of time. Indeed, finding that in DC is a bitch; everyone wants long-term tenants. So I called a couple of friends to ask them to ask other folks if they know of anything. Turned out one of them was thinking of renting her studio short-term (and staying with her family) if the appropriate occasion appeared. Which just did. My DC friend and the French woman are getting together tonight to hammer out the details and I really hope this works out well for everyone. The studio is very close to her office, and, on top of it, it’s located in Dupont Circle, a really charming part of town with lots of restaurants (for all wallets), bookstores, nice shops, and a little park where people come to hang out on the grass on weekends. It will make it for a really nice experience in DC.

My friend (who is Romanian) is excited about the prospect, so she tells me in an email that she owes me at least one dinner. HUH?? Sigh… This is one American thing I cannot get used to. In fact, I do everything I can to not adopt it. I understand that this is what people do when they are grateful, but it really makes me feel that I help others for food 🙂 A simple “thank you” and hopefully some help when I need it (if at all possible) are more than enough. I helped someone else I know by being a witness in her divorce case, which involved just going to court and answering “yes” to a few qustions from the judge, and she wanted to take me out to lunch. I don’t think I could have swallowed a bite. I would have felt as if I was saying, ok, I helped you out, now give me some food :). Seriously, I find this hilarious. People, just say “thank you” and I’m happy I could help.

Oh, and another funny thing related to my friend in Chad. A few years ago she had an assignment in Phnom Penh. She had told me about it but I put the info at the back of my mind. After about a year, an American friend of mine was getting ready to move there and emailed everyone to see if he could get any job leads. I didn’t even connect the dots for a while until it suddently hit me: I know someone there! So… I, a Romanian, help an American with job leads in Cambodia through a high school friend. The mere thought of that just cracked me up. I am really not that well-connected, you know. I’m not one of those people who can say, oh, let me call so and so for any kind of request (although I’d like to be). My Cambodia connection led to only some freelance stuff, not a steady job. Thank God my American friend didn’t mention anything about dinner.

I’m meeting with the (unkonwn) French woman for lunch on Friday, though.

Posted in American culture, cultural differences | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

And What Are We Eating?

Posted by thearrow on February 6, 2009

This is what my boss asks me if he happens to walk by my office when I’m getting ready to eat. With few exceptions, I always cook once a week and pack my lunch. It’s too expensive to buy it every day and I like to know what and when I’ll be eating because, when I’m hungry, I don’t want anything to stand between food and me.

So there is this endless curiosity about what I cook, which presumably is very different from what other people eat :). It used to drive me nuts, because 1. I had to stop to explain what the heck I was eating and 2. it made me feel like some kind of exotic stranger. We all have our own offices, which is neat, but when someone stops in your doorstep and puts you on the spot about your lunch, the office turns into a cage. All of a sudden, you’re the savage with weird eating habits. I’m exaggerating, I know, because there has never been the slightest trace of disrespect. Regardless, the simple question reminds you that you’re different.

But I’ve decided that being amused is a better option. I couldn’t bring myself to tell my boss that I hated being asked about my lunch (and he’s not the only one, but he does it the most often), so I came to terms with his curiosity. Or, rather, with my being different. It’s not the actual difference that bothers me, but the fact that its existence means I have to spend energy on explaining the recipe, putting it in context, be it geographic or cultural. And building all these bridges of understanding used to take an enormous amount of effort in my first years here. That’s unavoidable when you start living in another country. It’s also exhausting. So I think my annoyance has something to do with the trauma of all this effort, year after year, in the first place. I felt like I had to go through it all over again after I thought I was done. I guess you’re never done with this. However, feeling like you’re an exhibit in a cage has its share, too. But now I just smile and explain.

Then, I continue to be the crazy feta-cheese woman at the Lebanese store behind my apartment building. All the workers there are Hispanic, so they’re probably not too familiar with the Balkans. One of them asked me if I was Lebanese the other day. Heh-heh. I started explaining that I’m from Romania, which is close to Greece and Bulgaria, and that everyone in that region eats feta cheese; that’s a staple in our diet. And they, too, were curious how I eat feta, so I had to give them a few recipes. Then they asked me if I had tried pupusas (which I haven’t) and said that I’d probably like them because they have cheese :).

Posted in cultural differences, food, immigration | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Negative Is the New Positive

Posted by thearrow on September 27, 2008

Remember how I was saying that too much positive thinking, the kind you can only see in America, distorts your perception of reality? I complained about it at large in Positive Spin. Well, I wasn’t crazy. There are other people out there who seem to agree with me that this is not normal behavior and one of them said this in an opinion piece published by The New York Times.

In “The Power of Negative Thinking” (, Barbara Ehrenreich writes about “the delusional optimism of mainstream, all-American, positive thinking.” Wow! As a foreigner, I wouldn’t have dared used such strong words, so I’m very glad to see them written by an American in a major newspaper. I can’t think of a better description of optimism in the face of disaster than “delusional.” Ehrenreich refers to the recent financial crisis but she offers a little bit of attitude history, too, from Protestantism, to Calvinism, to today’s optimism on steroids.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think nonstop Balkan/Slavic doom and gloom is good either. But having to put up a show when you’re down is nuts. Me, I’ve stopped pretending things are all right when they’re not out of a desire to protect other people’s sensibilities. I decided I need to protect my own sanity first. I do think it’s fine to try to take trouble slightly less seriously, if only because it makes the burden a bit lighter, but let’s not lose perspective, people.

I feel vindicated by The New York Times 🙂

Posted in American culture, cultural differences | Tagged: | 7 Comments »