dimanche 1 mars 2009

In a Western Plane Heading Back from East

Back from a business trip to Romania, in the plane, I was reading a newspaper article about the risk of mixing up toghether the countries in Eastern Europe when it comes to describing their struggle with the current financial crisis. Or their faltering currencies.

I'm a Romanian-born people working in academia in southern France. I also represent my university in eastern european countries. Or at least this is how I introduce myself.

Seen from Toulouse and other places in the western world that might still be called the oldworld, heights of culture and civilisation, countries of eastern Europe look very much the same. Truly but sadly, these countries are best known as places where western companies delocalise to make more profit and bolster unemployment at home, where old Europe has invested a lot of money to help the poor cousins rise their heads after the dark communist era. The place where beautiful girls come from.

Ten to twenty years ago Romanians used to speak about the west. Going west, at that time, was a fine per se. Many people went west, no matter where, just to escape the hunting image of communism followed by wild capitalism and lack of a healthy civil society. Those times have gone by now. Romanians choose to go to Italy or Spain for work or tourism because they know they
can learn the language more easily. They go to France because they know a lot about its culinary art or interesting places tourism-wise. Now that they can freely travel and almost freely work around Europe, now that information travels easily, hardly anyone speaks about "the west" anymore.

And in the west ? Well, we continue to consider the ex-communist, eastern european countries as a block. Apart from the annoingly (for Romanians and Hungarians) mistake when intermingling phonetically Budapest and Bucharest, it is quite easy to appreciate each country's special characteristics: the painted monasteries of northern Romania, the vibrant, beautiful city
of Budapest, the oriental charm of Bucharest, the neatness, old bricks of Prague. Each country's uniqueness is even more apparent when it comes to food: despite the common assumptions, there are hardly any eastern Europe restaurants. Tourist may choose to eat Hungarian, Romanian or Serb or else Italian or French. But never eastern European.

You may still not be convinced by my argument and I honestly think it's not that easy. Eastern Europe people have a lot in common, apart from a tough common history. I feel that we/they all share a strong will to succeed, a natural taste for strong alcohols and unhealthy food, and "a lot of compassion for their poorly-minded, geography-agnostic" western cousins.