13 May, 2009

I Can Take It, I Can Dish It Out...

Above and beyond the usual cruelty I inflict upon your intelligence with my diatribes, I now inflict cruelty on your appetite. The specific type of cruelty depends on whether you've just eaten, or are at the moment, quite famished. I will periodically share with you some of the cooking I do. Although you wouldn't know it by looking at me... man does not live by popcorn and McDonalds alone!

Hmm, when you look at it all together like that, I suppose I shouldn't so wonder why my significant others grow larger as the relationship grows longer...

04 May, 2009

Romanian Jokes Used to Confuse Me, Until I Became One

I have a few friends who doggedly maintain the attempt to translate the Romanian humor that flies around our dinner tables. Invariably, however, the conversion from Rom to Eng is virtually the conversion from "Howl!" to "Huh?" And it's not usually a fault in translation, as one friend is a proven pro at translating not just the words of a thing, but also the meaning and spirit, even unto wordplay. Nor is it my lack of a sense of humor, which in all modesty is quite developed, mostly for reasons of survival. Nope, it appears to be the actual content which leaves me cold, for what is hilarious to an historically impoverished, oppressed Balkan seems, at best, surreal and at worst, incomprehensible to an historically overfed, privileged American. No common frame of reference I fear.

Here's the example that started this entry in motion, as translated to me with significant care: On a sweltering Bucharest summer day of 40 degrees, an old man is walking about in full winter clothes, sweating profusely. Someone asks him why on earth he is dressed like this in such weather. He replies:


"It's the situation!"

If you got anything from this besides the sound of virtual crickets chirping, then for god's sake reply to this entry and tell me what I am missing. My dinner guests were laughing so hard I feared for the dryness of the seat covers.

But I digress. I came here today to write about the best way to understand a "situation:" live it.

THE SITUATION: My car, an American sports import, needs new brakes for the back wheels.

  1. Zip down to NAPA, Pep Boys, AutoZone, or any of 10 such shops in a 5-mile radius, or in a pinch, even the dealership if you don't mind paying extra.
  2. Obtain brake parts from stock on hand.
  3. Install new equipment myself, as I've been doing it for 25 years so for me it's about as hard as tying your shoelace.


  1. Zip down to the only store in Bucharest which professes to sell parts for American cars. Discover the pads are available for 500% more than US price, and the disks are 600% more but will take 45 days to order. Kindly invite them to shove it.
  2. Call and/or visit and/or surf to every other auto parts place in and around Bucharest which professes to sell parts for "import" cars. Discover they mean "import" as in elsewhere in the EU but not the US. Discover they will offer to order the parts, which, from the time and cost being quoted, you strongly suspect will simply consist of a call from their shop to the gougers of Step 1, above. Kindly invite them to shove it.
  3. Do NOT think of approaching the dealership, which is already known to charge prices and time comparable to the Step 1 Gougers, but will additionally not release the parts for DIY as the car is still under lease and therefore must be done by them at no less than €300 labor cost and the loss of the car for up to a week. Kindly invite them to shove it.
  4. Attempt to order parts from US website which was my favorite and frequently-used when I lived there. Smile when they remember me from previous orders. Cry when they refuse to accept online order from "Hacker Heaven" Romania. Scream when they let me go through the cost and charade of ordering by phone only to receive an email two days later that "our computer 'broke down' and we lost your order information." Translation: "no way, no how are we risking shipping to Romania, no matter who you are." Kindly invite them to shove it.
  5. Analyze list of friends and family in US who might buy and ship the parts for you. Unfortunately, spectacularly egregious shipping rates in the US, and/or the fact that my friends and family haven't heard from me since I left the US 6 years ago, means I am, by inference of non-response, kindly invited to shove it.
  6. Crawl back with tail between legs to Step 1 Gougers because by now brake pads are completely worn and beginning to cut the disks. Enjoy as Gouger declares, without even checking, that he doesn't have any more. Apparently even 400% profit isn't sweet enough revenge for having been told to shove it back in Step 1.
  7. Give serious consideration to learning mass transit. Learn that as an obvious foreigner I'd be a superconducting magnet for thieves.
  8. Give serious consideration to using taxis. Learn that as an obvious foreigner my half-kilometer destination would entail a citywide tour with the fare meter running thrice normal speed.
  9. Start exploring other EU countries from which to order parts. Spend several days waiting for email and/or phone calls to be returned with the most basic of information to help make a decision, if any.
  10. Settle on one seller in the UK, which seems to be the best price/shipping ratio. Ask for quote.
  11. Ask for another quote when they forget that VAT is not paid on transactions between two EU companies.
  12. Ask for wire transfer information when they tell you they don't accept credit cards.
  13. Try to transfer using online banking. Give up after an hour and drive to bank for help in person, in a car that now sounds like a knife sharpener on steroids.
  14. Discover that the problem with online transfer was that I can't transfer Pounds Sterling unless I open a bank account in Pounds Sterling.
  15. Wait 45 minutes for bank account to be opened in Pounds Sterling and funds transferred.
  16. Wait another 90 minutes for Pounds Sterling to be transferred by wire from new Pounds Sterling Bank Account. The process goes something like this: Transcribe the computer printout of the payee information which I brought with me into a bank-approved handwritten 2-part carbon form. Hand the handwritten form to the girl to transcribe again into the computer at an average rate of 2 keystrokes per second, from where she ultimately gives me - wait for it - a computer printout of the payee information. Furthermore, I was apparently the most exotic request the bank had had in weeks as 2 other workers left their desks to offer well-intentioned, if completely conflicting, suggestions to my banker as she lurched through this obviously unfamiliar procedure.


At minimum, if all goes perfectly from this point, I may have my parts in another 5 - 10 working days. I'm crossing my fingers but not holding my breath. There will be another chapter to this saga but I needed to write down what's happened so far before I forget, or at least mellow my recollection with the passage to time. Stay tuned.

So, the ultimate point of this entry is that to understand the humor derived from the average Romanian situation, I suppose it's necessary to put yourself through one or more average Romanian situations. Whether or not this is true, I have to say it works for me. At least, I think it does. I choose to interpret it as simply timesaving if, when confronted with a joke like "It's the situation!" that causes everyone else to laugh until they cry, I just skip ahead to crying.


I'm happy to admit I may have been a tad harsh on my UK parts supplier. On Monday, as noted above, I made the wire transfer. On Tuesday I wrote to them to remind them to check for the payment. On Wednesday, they wrote back simply "payment received, parts sent" and a tracking number. On Friday, I left my cellphones at home so I didn't catch up on my business calls until too late at night to return them, but there was an unfamiliar number which I then called back today (Monday). Turns out it was the courier wanting to know if I'd be home to receive my package, which means it could have even been here on Friday! So, I stayed home from the office, and sure enough the bell soon rings and I suddenly get a taste of how Moses must have felt when he received his 10 (15?) commandments from the Almighty:

With the help of a helpful helper, these puppies went on in just about two hours. In fact, the last lugnut was being tightened just as the first fat drops of a thunderstorm rolled in. Okay, they were also the last fat drops, it being a particularly low-producing storm more concerned with filling its quota of thunder and lightning than actual moisture, particularly worrisome since by then I was in the shower trying not to think of the "Mythbusters" episode where they proved, via frying a mannequin, that people do indeed get struck by lighting inside a house during a storm if they are silly enough to play with water and the metal fixtures it comes out of, but I digress.

In conclusion, I am in a place of life right now where I am bombarded by so much conflict and bad news that I cling onto every tiny success like a lifering in a perfect storm. After many false starts and dead ends, fixing the brakes on my damn car will do just fine for awhile. The fact that I can hold my head up without shame again because I'm not driving a mobile food processor anymore, actually overshadows the stupid insanity that stole six weeks from my life for a chore that should have taken a few hours, tops.

03 May, 2009

Sometimes Bathroom Humor Writes Itself...

Noted at the shiny new mighty Baneasa Fashion Mall. Granted, they were under no obligation to label the bathrooms in English, but I've always been the type to say, if it's worth doing, it's worth doing right. If you're going to use English to impress the anticipated influx of wealthy Euroids and other expats, try a spellcheck for pete's sake.

And now the promised joke: maybe it's an effort to get the guys in and out of the can ASAP, since they sure as heck can't sit "for a spell." Yuk yuk yuk.