First, let me show you a couple of pics from my walk this morning!
Now, let me tell you about the time I spent inside the hostel, which is where I’ve mostly been since I got here!
The other night, I stayed up until 2am talking to my Romanian roommate. He turned out to be a very intelligent and thoughtful young man. 29 years old, Master’s degree in horticulture, well-travelled. He hasn’t watched television since he was 17, and he is horrified to learn that many Americans spend their days at jobs they don’t care about, then come home and watch TV until bedtime, and spend our weekends shopping by day and drinking by night.
I’ve heard that people in Eastern European and former Soviet countries, reserve smiling for friends and family and remain stoic with strangers. My Romanian friend told me that when he lived in Canada and went around handing out resumes, everyone would greet him with a ‘big American smile’ and talk through their smiley teeth. He thought “Why are they laughing at me?” but by the end of a week, he said he was smiling back at them (he showed me his grimacey grin, it was quite unnatural and scary).
He loves his country, but it’s hard to find work there, so he travels a lot. He also loves music. He showed me many youtube clips of Romanian music. One was very emotional and romantic and he had to stop it right away so he wouldn’t cry (he’d just been through a breakup). But a great deal of the Romanian music was full of joy. He told me all the things I must see when I visit Romania. I asked where to find good Gypsy music, and he said “That, I don’t know.” He doesn’t care for gypsies (common in Romania). Not only does he think they are ‘bad people’ who steal and practice black magic, but he gets harassed when traveling in Europe because people equate Romanians with Gypsies. Everywhere he goes, he says, they search his luggage, detain him, question him. He blames the Gypsies because “They tell everyone they are Romanian.” He agreed, however, that Gypsies are generally the best musicians in the world.
He is quite blunt at times. “Americans are fat. I can’t even pretend to be polite about it, you are fat.” (not sure if he meant me, specifically, or Americans in general, but I tried not to take it personally). He was also backhandedlykind at times. “You see very clearly. That’s unusual for an American.”
I’m learning that people in other countries may envy our wealth (make no mistake, the average American is quite wealthy by the standards of many countries) but don’t think very highly of our culture. We are seen as spoiled, selfish, materialistic children who are bespoiling the world with our pollution, GMO crops, chemicals, junk food, and our neverending consumption of the world’s resources to satisfy our every whim. We are viewed as mesmerized prisoners of advertising who just keep buying, buying, buying… bigger homes, nicer cars, more clothing, more furniture, more toys. I’ve met people from all over the world who believe that Americans’ only goals are around work and what to buy – better job, better house, better car, vacation, boat. They believe we’ve forgotten our spirits, forgotten about life, about music, art, dance, laughter, friendship, community, connection. To a point, I believe they are right about us.
Besides commercialism and music, our conversation covered food (he’s very unhappy that Monsanto is trying to bring GMO crops to Romania), environment (fracking is also coming to Romania), relationships, religion, meditation, managing one’s thoughts, and so much more.
He believes we are the average of the five people closest to us, in our thoughts and emotions and deeds. He says even our income will tend to be the average of the five people closest to us. Probably true, but I’ve never thought about it that way.
It was AMAZING to connect so closely with a stranger. One of the joys of travel that Craig and I have missed, being isolated in apartments, except for our connection with Viviana and Avishai, which was amazing. I am resolved to seek out more hostels, more ways to connect with locals and other travelers in meaningful ways.
My Romanian friend offered to play tour guide for us in Romania next summer. But when I woke up, it was already 4pm (damn you, jet lag!) and he had checked out. I never even got his name right, much less his contact information. Oh, well, easy come, easy go!
Sleeping so long meant I had to work like a dog to finish all the articles I had due this week. I worked until midnight to get them done so that today I can get out and see a bit of Iceland before I leave in the morning. I went ofr a walk and took a few pictures this morning, but my tour leaves in about 40 minutes and I cannot WAIT!