The Arrow

There are no answers; only choices.

Archive for the ‘immigration’ Category

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 Statesย  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)ย  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.ย  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 ๐Ÿ˜€ 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.


Posted in immigration | Tagged: , , | 23 Comments »

My Wish Was Granted

Posted by thearrow on April 10, 2009

Remember my Moon post from a while ago? Remember how I was saying, “I thought, hm, if the moon was so beautifully presented to me on my balcony, maybe other things I really want will come true, too :) . Theyโ€™re right whey they say, ‘ask and thou shalt receive,’ Iโ€™m telling you”?

Well, my friends, my dearest wish, which I thought was as impossible as getting the moon, was gracefully granted to me when I expected it the least. I get to stay in the States, keep the job I love, keep the life that was otherwise perfect for me. The icing on the cake is that now I have someone to share it with, too. And no, he has nothing to do with how my wish was fulfilled. My wish came true in the exact way I wanted it to, which was the most elegant possible. And yes, it came true when I started to be at peace with the thought of not getting it.

Ask and thou shalt receive.

Posted in dream, heart, home, immigration | Tagged: , | 13 Comments »

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 »

Fallen Mask

Posted by thearrow on November 10, 2008

I’ve never been one to hide what I feel/think, partly because I believe in honesty, partly because I’m just not good at it. When I was at home I could at least conjure up some thin veneer to cover my emotions, though; sometimes I was better at it than other times. Here, however, completely at odds with the understated world around me, my emotions run free. I have too many of them to handle, I have too many insecurities, vulnerabilities, and I have to constantly go between the universe in my head and the real world. But I also feel I’m a lot easier to impress now. The hard shell you have to surround yourself with in Bucharest has fallen, and with it, my mask. It’s a liberating feeling, but a dangerous situation, too: you’re exposed. So the only way for me to defend myself is to stay away from people who can hurt me. I’ve weeded them out and now I’m in a comfortable cocoon. I just wonder what will happen when I come out of it.


Posted in about, immigration | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

No Voting Fun for Me but I Hope Obama Wins

Posted by thearrow on November 4, 2008

“Did you vote?” a co-worker asked me. “No,” I sheepishly replied. “I’m not a U.S. citizen.” I read this in a brief story posted at but the exact same thing happened to me this morning. How I wish I could have voted. Not only I would have been part of a historic election, but my vote would have mattered because I live in Virginia, which has been Republican but apparently it’s tilting Democratic now. I would have LOVED to push it one more vote towards the blue.

Not being able to vote is especially frustrating since I have always been the consummate citizen and I’ve been following American politics closely for at least the past four years. I saw the speech that launched Obama on the national political stage live on TV, at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. It’s true that I wasn’t paying a lot of attention as I was doing stuff around the house, but shortly after he started I just had to drop everything and watch it, that’s how electrifying it was. I watch the talk shows, the public affairs shows, I read the newspapers, I’m familiar with U.S. domestic policies through my work. I mourned when Tim Russert, the Meet the Press host, died of a heart attack in June, leaving us without the passionate and merciless interviewer that politicians feared. I watched him being equally unwavering with both Republicans and Democrats and I kept thinking that I couldn’t figure out what his political affiliation was. I later found out that he had worked for a Dem. Not a day goes by — and certainly not a Sunday morning — without me thinking about how much we miss his perspective.

In short, I care and I’m an informed citizen. But not a U.S. citizen…

On a lighter note, in celebration of Obama’s victory, tomorrow I plan to come in late. With a hangover ๐Ÿ™‚

Later edit: I have one eye glued to NBC, the other glued to the Internet, and I’m mixing all the information with wine. Great cocktail! Obama is at 207 electoral votes, McCain at 129. Obama won Ohio, which is a big deal. They’re at a tie in Virginia but they haven’t finished counting in Northern Virginia (more democratic than the rest of the state).

One friend has uncorked the champagne, another was semi-drunk but said he doesn’t want to celebrate until he’s absolutely certain. No way in hell McCain wins.

Posted in American Politics, immigration | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Do You Need Any Help?

Posted by thearrow on September 20, 2008

I was doing my grocery shopping today, using the basket that goes on my bike rack, as I always do. The basket holds as much as I need to heap on it for one person and, since I’m single, that works out great. So I told the cashier that I don’t need any bags; whenever I can, especially when riding the bike, I try not to use plastic bags. As I’ve said before, the key to being environmentally friendly is using as little stuff as you can; recycling comes second. The cashier was ok with my choice, but the boy who was supposed to bag the groceries really wasn’t ๐Ÿ™‚ More precisely, he was instantly miffed. When the cashier put the bread on the counter for me to pick up, the boy said immediately, with an irritated voice, “that’s yours.” “Yes, it is,” I said with a neutral tone, trying not to react to his negativity. Then, as I was packing my stuff, instead of asking what these people usually ask — do you need help outside? — he said, still irritated, “is there anything you need help with, really?”

Hm… I can think of a few things I’d love some help with, but no one can do what I need ๐Ÿ˜€ While the exchange was funny (for me) and his reaction most certainly triggered by things other than my no-bag choice, I couldn’t help but wonder: Boy, do I look that self-reliant? I certainly try to be, simply because I’ve learned it the hard way that you’d better not count on anyone for anything in this country. Everyone is very busy and has little time to spare for others. Then, a lot of people really cherish their personal comfort and things that might seem very little to you can actually be pretty big for them. Thirdly, most people seem to expect something in return and, since I have very little to offer at this point, I prefer not to have any kind of debt, symbolical or otherwise, unless I really need it. Again, something else I’ve learned the hard way. So I prefer to err on the side of caution and not ask for anything unless I absolutely cannot do it myself. Self-reliance is a quintessentially American value that permeates the whole culture. I’ve seen people who could have really used some help and yet were cheerfully refusing it and saying they were ok. Romanians in their situation would have never hesitated to accept it or even ask for it.

In making the inevitable comparison, though, I wonder if I’m not romanticizing my native culture, even though my friends know I have quite a few bones to pick with it. But I do think that this extreme self-reliance ultimately leads to society’s atomization. Everyone is on their own and everyone is pretty much expected to be on their own. I look at the little things people can help with each other as occasions for bonding, yet I can count on my fingers the times I’ve seen it happen the way I’ve seen it at home. And yes, I know things have changed and people are busy and selfish in Romania, too (particularly Bucharest, where I’m from). So maybe I am viewing this through rosy glasses; hard to know what the truth is.

I guess what it all boils down to is that you just cannot be weak here and that’s particularly hard when you’re not from here, which means you’ve got a few more things stacked up against you than the natives. For one thing, you don’t have the support system of family and friends that you had back home. I know that all in all I’m in a pretty good situation; so many things have worked out wonderfully for me. Yet, other important ones haven’t and there’s that constant stress of still having to struggle that keeps me on my toes. You don’t want to ask for help unless you’re dying, something like that. But, when thoughts like this bring me down, I remind myself that life is a struggle anywhere you are. If it’s not this problem it’s that other one.

Being self-reliant in America without having a car, though, can be difficult sometimes. Everything is far and not always reachable by public transportation; even in DC, which does have a pretty good system. There are whole areas in the U.S. that have never heard of the concept. You have to be ok with walking long distances. All this means you have to be in good shape. Well, I didn’t think of this when I signed up for my gym membership, but the results sure came in handy. All those spinning classes I’ve been taking for more than three years now have definitely helped me find my 5-mile commute to work and the four hills on the way back easy. Plus, I can go to all the big, cheap stores out in the suburbs; I’d see my hair go gray waiting for a bus to take me there.

And, speaking of heaping stuff on my bike, I think I’ve discovered my inner Chinese in America.

Later edit: There’s no connection between the toilet paper and my inner Chinese; I just didn’t have a better pic that would show how much I can carry on my bike.

Posted in American culture, cultural differences, immigration | Tagged: , | 8 Comments »

Olympic Frustration

Posted by thearrow on August 15, 2008

Watching the Olympics in a country other than your own is an underwhelming experience. I’m happy I’m not in Romania, which for the most part drives me nuts, but I’m still attached to it to a certain extent. So when I turn the TV on these days and I inevitably see only coverage of the American team, I lose my interest at some point. I like the side stories by reporters on the ground, I like the excitement, but not being able to watch the Romanian team is disappointing.

Posted in immigration, rants | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »