12 February, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mihaela

As I may have mentioned before, my memory is not my most reliable asset.  So when my Outlook calendar popped up a reminder that today is Mihaela's Birthday, it was as much a surprise to me as anyone else.  In my usual attention to detail, no last name or other clue accompanied the alert.  I know a few Mihaelas but no way of figuring out which one is having a birthday.  So this is the best I can do. Happy Birthday, Mihaela - wherever and whoever you are!  And if I'm still using Outlook by then, expect just as heartfelt and personal wishes next year as well!

UPDATE: Problem solved! "Mihaela" is an entry I made into my cellphone's Contacts, sans last name because I didn't know it at the time. Compounded by this is the peculiar behavior of my cellphone, wherein it automatically inserts today's date as the Birthday when you enter a Contact, and saves it as such unless you tell it not to.  All of which means that I simply entered Mihaela into my Contacts on 12 February, probably last year, and forgot to change the default date-saving silliness. From there the misinformation was sent to my Outlook calendar when I synchronized my phone to my PC.  Ain't technology grand?  And Mihaela, can you ever forgive me for playing such a cruel game with your heart?

08 February, 2010

How Often Do You Get to Say This?

Happy 100th Birthday, Dad. Raise a glass, he wouldn't have cared if he didn't know ya.

07 February, 2010

Infringe Benefits: "Copyright" is One Word, Not Two

Keeping, as I have always had, a few toes in the warm waters of advertising, I appreciate a good brand identity. Since I've lived in Bucharest, I've seen several others who apparently feel the same.  Because they seem to have no problem ripping off someone else's long-established logo and slapping it on their own venue. And the legal powers that be seem to have no problem letting this happen sans enforcement of any kind.  Let's run through a few shameless simulacra, shall we?

Legend has it that Burger King, a recent arrival on the Romanian fast food scene, actually had a try of it years ago before my time here.  It failed (it may not even have been a sanctioned franchise, which, given the tendencies here, seems quite likely), and the Obor eatery remained in business under a new name, Ines Burger, complete with an astoundingly original and innovative logo.
I went only once, and while I'm not a fan of BK (at least as much as I am of McD), this wasn't even up to BK quality.  Ines apparently closed down at roughly the same time legitimate BK franchises opened up around town. Coincidence, I'm sure, but at this writing the empty establishment still stands, logo flapping in the breeze.

I've only driven past this eatery on Pache Protopopescu (say THAT 3 times fast!) but I'm impressed how a touch of graphics warping in Powerpoint or maybe (a bootleg of) Photoshop is enough to create an "original" logo:
Wow, a gun in place of the "r!" How cool is that?!? Nobody else has thought of that before, certainly not at like HBO or anything.  Jeez, not even the font has been changed. Just squashed a bit in the middle is all. And accounting for exposure in the photo, I'd wager not even the COLOR has been altered.

I feel a little guilty here because I like this place, but crime is crime. Once upon a time Bucharest had an awesome Mexican restaurant named Amigos.  Then there was a management dispute, then some of the owners broke away to start another Mexican restaurant. It's only semi-awesome now but still quite good.  What's most awesome of all is their new name and logo, which, of course, is only by the sheerest of coincidences reminiscent of the well-known Stateside chain of the same name and logo. Go for the margaritas, stay for the litigation.

As a US expat, I've met my share of fellow countrymen who have come to Romania in search of the quick exploitive buck and who don't mind taking a few shortcuts to get there.  This popular rock and roll club is one such example, as I know the owner well enough to suspect that he would never been this successful in any country where he might have had to actually work for it. When this club was in the planning stage, I asked what he planned to name it. 
He said "Coyote Ugly," clearly attempting to cash in on the popular film of the same name. I pointed out the obvious copyright problems with that and the shrug I got in reply could have choked a horse.  But apparently some of my concern was taken to heart... only some.  The name was slightly changed, but the titular mascot is none other than the roadrunner-fixated Warner Bros. cartoon character, Wile E.  If the likeness was even considered for being licensed for this venue, I'll go out and buy a hat, and then eat it.

Has EU membership softened this craze and compelled Romania to start maybe policing this egregious trend just a little? Nope, not a single bit. In fact, it's getting worse.  The latest example is no less than a new nationwide television station called Vox News. While they maintain the name is derived from "Vox Populi," any Statesider (at the very least) will instantly hear the derivation from Rupert Murdoch's self-proclaimed "most powerful name in news."

If the virtually-identical-sounding names don't clue you in, how about the absolutely-identical matching letters and colors? This goes beyond a one-off club or eatery, it's a national TV network for crying out loud.  And everyone's okay with this?  Granted, on a personal note, I'd probably just as soon see the actual self-serving ultra-right-wing-biased Fox take a nosedive as much as any cheap Romanian knock-off, but we're talking principle here.  Wonder how long until Vox trots out a Bogdan O'Reilly or Ann Coulterescu...

There are endless more smallish examples to be found in and out of Bucharest, mostly mom and/or pop kiosks who download a Disney character from the Internet and paste their SRL name over it.  But I'm talking about the heavy hitters, who clearly depend on flouting copyright law to establish their identity.  You can talk about oriental Gucci knockoffs, but for some of Balkan's Bogus Best, you need only look up or down the street... or hell, now just turn on your TV.

06 February, 2010

From the Vault: Airport Taxis

Ken H. Posted Jul 2, 2008 4:06 PM
Post #: 146

Airport taxis are a great source of entertainment when properly used. Not that I'm complaining at all, but since I'm (so far) blissfully free of telemarketers in his country, I sometimes long for obnoxious but harmless aggressive solicitors of legally-dubious services on whom to take out my frustration. I specify "harmless," because two species who would otherwise fall into the category, i.e. hookers and stoplight windshield washers, can indeed be provoked to to the point of violence. Pirate cabbies seem to be a calmer lot, perhaps because their business success depends on making as little of an impression on you as possible. They would rather you not remember their faces for possible future identification, so unlike the beggars, washers and other solicitors about town, they don't waste time with you once you say "no," instead moving quickly onto the next victim.

This means that you can derive a kind of satisfying enjoyment by insulting their intelligence as much as they insult yours. Have some witty responses ready when your next Otopeni pirate cabbie approaches you, eyes darting for any nearby proper authority, offering his furtive, "Taxi, meester*?":

  • "Good idea after that bumpy flight. I don't want to throw up in my own car.
  • "No thanks, I only want the slowest and most expensive ride into town!"
  • (only works if you and cabbie are both disheveled and unshaven males)"Only if I can ride up front with you, handsome." (caress his cheek with finger)

Of course, no guarantees that their answers won't backfire on you (like #3 saying "sure!"), but that's half the fun!

My favorite so far was the cabbie who flashed his genuine imitation Taxi Driver ID card (complete with taped-on photo and "Taxi Driver" written impressively above the crossed out "Universitatea din Bucuresti - Janitor") and said "See? I not with Mafia!"

I got in his face and with all the wiseguy accent I could muster, rumbled "Well I AM, you got a f***in' problem wid dat?" Again, this is a highly-tailored response as I can, with little effort, closely resemble a 2-meter tall semi-shaved ape from Jersey. Mostly because I AM a 2-meter tall semi-shaved ape from Jersey. Your results may vary and I encourage you to find your own tactics that best suit your gender, physical stature, personality, and maturity.

So now you know how to make your travel into Bucharest just a bit more entertaining. Give it a try!

- K -

*You will be called "Meester," regardless of gender and/or age.

05 February, 2010

From the Vault: Exact Change in Romanian Shops

Context: Expat Forum thread:
"If I had the right change or something smaller I WOULD HAVE GIVEN YOU IT IN THE FIRST PLACE!!!"
by Harold Sacks
Posted Aug 3, 2009 6:54 PM

Sorry, about that. Had to get it off my chest.

I sometimes just want to ask them if they know why they are called "Cashiers" but i expect it would fall on deaf ears.

Ken H. Posted Aug 21, 2009 4:30 PM
Post #: 191

In case you think the "happy medium" is to give coinage so you get back an even note, forget it!

There's a small sweets store next to the office where we all run for life support during the long afternoons. The last time I went for my choc- er, nutrition fix, the bill came to 4.60 lei. The smallest bill I had was a 10 but I did have coins so I gave her 10.60 so I'd get a clean 6.00 back.

She stared at the money on the counter for a full 7 seconds. Doesn't sound like a long time? Just now, count it off to yourself and imagine that's how long someone is staring motionless with a line of customers waiting. Immediately after that I swear I heard a sound like a cross between a truck trying to shift without the clutch and the old teletype-style computer sound effect from the first Star Trek series. The cashier started blinking more and more rapidly and sweat started trickling, then pouring.

When I saw the first wisps of smoke coming from her eye sockets, I shouted "Everybody DUCK!" When I realized half the crowd hadn't moved and the other half was now frantically scanning for quacking waterfowl, I remembered where I was and this time shouted "JOS!" We hit the ground just as her head exploded. A wad of gum, launched in mid-chew, shattered a bottle of Alexandrion behind the register. One earring was later discovered firmly embedded in the far wall. There was far less gore than expected but the metallic odor of helium was almost overwhelming.

The commotion was so great, that the manager in the back office actually TURNED HIS HEAD AWAY from "Dan Diaconescu Direct." Peering through the doorway at the carnage, he sighed deeply and unfolded himself. Stalking to the register, he saw my payment on the counter and immediately nodded with understanding. Popping the cash drawer, he slapped down 6 lei with all the contempt he could muster. Then he grabbed a mop and shooshed us all out the door. When it slammed shut, he turned the sign to "Inchis" and, muttering all the while, unveiled a second sign, well-worn but still legible: "Angajam Personal."

I have since learned to maintain my desk with a stash of sweets brought from home.

- K -

Ken H. Posted Aug 25, 2009 11:32 PM
Post #: 196

In case it wasn't obvious, I did indulge in a bit of creative license in my account of events.

It was actually a bottle of Murfatlar behind the register.

03 February, 2010

From the Vault: "Lemon" in Romanian - A Sour Subject

Ken H. Posted May 22, 2008 11:38 AM

"Lamaie" contains both of the Romanian vowel sounds that don't exist in English (except for a brief period a few hours after Mexican food). The closest approximation that an English speaker can manage, changes the word from describing "small yellow sour fruit" into a vulgar term for fellatio. You can observe the correct spelling of the latter, spraypainted on the nearest building, wall or overpass, most often coupled with the name of a football team. The closest the two concepts ever come to being similar is if someone tells you to "suck a lemon."

I'm pretty sure "getting the expat to say 'lamaie'" is a rite of initiation to every new arrival, akin to fraternity hazing or snipe hunting. I also suspect it has significant potential for the canny expat as a pick-up line, but only under a very narrow range of circumstances.

From the Vault: He Said, She Said, It Said

Ken H. Posted Apr 25, 2008 11:39 AM

Oy, for someone who communicates in English as well as I thought I did, my recently-started Romanian lessons are a real eye-opener! It's my own fault, really... I could have just gone into "parrot mode" and simply learned to echo what I was tought to say and when to say it. Instead, I took advantage of my teacher's patience and umpteen linguistics degrees and decided I wanted to know why I was saying something, not just what I was saying.

So the first thing I learned, was not only how little I had known about the technical structure of my own mother tongue, but that the little bit I did know, would largely need to be unlearned.

How humbling it is for a 42-year old guy who prides himself on his language skills to be stopped flat by terms like "fricative," "gerund," and "nominal declension." It's like driving the finest car without an inkling of what's going on under the hood. It may help to know that I've always needed to know the "how" and "why" of things where most normal folks are quite happy with just "what." Well, finally this need has come back to bite me in the butt - big time.

Because no sooner did I find out how little I knew about English, than I learned it would not serve me very much, beyond mental conversion purposes, in learning Romanian.

One word: "gender."

This simple concept alone will probably keep me from ever learning Romanian (or any other "foreign" language). Until someone can satisfactorily explain to me not only how inanimate objects can be "masculine" or "feminine" but why they don't even follow any rules of logic within their own context... like how a book might be "female" but the paper inside it is "male." Oh, better yet, how so many items are "male" in the singular and "female" in plural... and those items are called "Neutral!"

Seriously, if ANYONE can give me the smallest clue of how or why this concept exists, I'll nominate you for sainthood. If I had a dollar for everyone who just said "Uh, it just IS," I could afford to go back to California and the problem would be academic. :) I can't believe we can explain the thermonuclear reaction in stars but NOT why a book or stone must be assigned genitalia. One thing you should all know about me by now is that I'm a pretty smart fellow - I could probably understand any reasonable answer I'd get. It's just that nobody is giving it. Not even my own learned instructor is up to this task. I feel like I'm asking for proof of the fourth dimension or something!

Ohhhh, this went off into another rant. Makes it a good blog candidate! :)

- K -
[This actually received a nice reply, included here for fairness. Ed.]

A former member Posted Apr 25, 2008 12:08 PM

The gender thing is grounded in the Latin roots of the language, and I believe it originates in some - now arcane - Aristotelic attempt at "categorizing" the world . A simple rule of thumb (for Romanian) is, if a noun, in the singular, ends in an A, it's likely feminine; if in a consonant or a U, likely masculine. The few that end in E can be either (as well as fem. plural); almost no noun ends in O; and those that end in I are mostly in the plural.

So: NOUN + ENDS IN A = m/p feminine; I - check context, it's m/p masc plural; E- ask a friend; ANYTHING ELSE - take your bet on masc.

...and no, silly, it's not genitals, it's ethereal attributes...

From the Vault: Rimshot, Please

Ken H. Posted Mar 18, 2008 10:19 AM

Something protesty was supposedly going on at Piata Victoriei on Monday because I was given a detour to commute to the office. Never followed up on why, because it was just another bloodthirsty crowd. Oh, I meant the commute, not the protest.

- K -

02 February, 2010

From the Vault: "Mr. Helpful" strikes again!

A former member Posted May 27, 2008 6:44 PM

I am an Architect from India relocating (within a month) to Bucharest on a contract of one year . I need to know everything there is to know about the place, the good , the bad and also the ugly. Please kindly take away a few precious moments to help me out.

Ken H. Posted May 27, 2008 11:25 PM

Architecture in Bucharest is the second best planned agency in the city, just after traffic control. Why, with the right bribes to the right ministries, you can build anything you damn well please, without the need for all that tedious research into the impact against public utilities or parking, let alone anything as intangible as quality-of-life. Will the land under the outgoing 1-floor house support the incoming 30-floor office? Will you sever the neighborhood's underground water and electric conduits to dig your foundation? Will the adjacent homes ever see sunshine again? What will 60 new offices do to the parking demand in the vicinity? Who knows? Who cares? Try it and find out! By the time anyone complains, the money's long paid and the addresses long changed.

"No, really, domnule, self-collapsing ceilings are the latest trend! Easy cleaning, and you should get to know your neighbors better, anyway!"

Your average new office building designed for 200 or more people usually contains underground parking for 8 cars, (if by "car" you mean "Vespa") and enough pressure for heat and water to reach nearly halfway up the building! Will your toilet actually empty when you flush it? It's nearly the same odds as Las Vegas, but without all those nasty free drinks and naked showgirls. So come on down and jump in, why let all the local designers have all the fun?

01 February, 2010

From the Vault: Advice to potential Bucharest immigrant

Matt Posted Mar 11, 2008 8:22 PM

Hi All,
Currently in the US, I have a job offer in Bucharest. Any answer to below are appreciated.

How big is the expat community in Bucharest?
How are the gyms and nightlife?
How big is the city?

Ken H. Posted Mar 11, 2008 11:10

Hi, Matt -

For a take-no-prisoners accurate description of Bucharest and its offerings, you could do much worse than "Bucharest In Your Pocket." It is almost like an anti-tourist guide, being written with much information which is more helpful to the poor suck- errr, distiguished expatriates who make Bucharest their home. It tells you what is truly worthwhile in this city and pulls no punches about what isn't. I am a big fan of the print version! It should answer most or all of your questions in a realistic, non "sponsored by Ministry of Tourism" way. But in the interests of instant gratification, my answers to your questions, off the top of my head are:

How big is the expat community in Bucharest?
Surprisingly big. Not without its share of near-criminal carpetbaggers who come here simply to grab what they can and run. Having said that, most are decent people and a very good representation are right here on this forum.

How are the gyms and nightlife?
Gyms are few and expensive. Very of both. I probably shouldn't speculate on this but I will anyway. Let's just say Bucharest doesn't share the US' 65% overweight rate. :) Therefore I submit that the few full-service gyms are targeted mainly to foreigners and under the assumption that their wallets need to lose weight as much as the rest of them.

Nightlife? Don't ask me... mine consists mainly of stalking online forums like this one. :) Once again, BIYP to the rescue!

How big is the city?
I suppose you could get the geographical statistics from Wikipedia, but an answer which probably more suits your intention for asking is:

Imagine your foot is a size 12. Now imagine your shoe is a size 8. This will give you a functional, if not scientific, insight into the look and feel of daily Bucharest. The concept of "personal space" is completely unknown, and if you're in line somewhere and NOT tightly compressed between an unwashed laborer and a clueless geriatric, well you're just being downright antisocial. Rumor has it the current "baby boom" in Bucharest originated largely in the queues at the Carrefour checkout.

Romania's capital has its many good points, but I grew up spoiled by New York and Los Angeles suburbs. That said, with a bit of tolerance, open-mind, thickish skin and spirit of adventure, you could do a LOT worse than Bucharest. Lacking the aforementioned qualities, you'll still do quite well if you're merely a cynic like myself - this place is a wet dream for that!

So in summary: it's probably best to ignore everything I just said and wait for Jackie or Stefan [Forum moderators, Ed.] to answer you usefully. It's also probably best if I stop logging on here sober, but again I digress!

Best of luck to you whatever your decision!

- Ken -