A biased, anecdotal post about Romania….

Before I write the few small things I want to say about Romania, I want to make one thing entirely clear. I’m biased. Biased in favour of Romania. I know the country pretty well – I’m married to a Romanian woman, and have visited the country many times over the last ten years or so. I know a lot of Romanian people – and like them. There is, as a consequence, no way that I could possibly write anything about Romania that wasn’t biased…. and it’s also true that this post is based on pretty much entirely anecdotal information – from my various trips to Romania over the years, and in particular over this last week. I’m not going to attempt to give an economic analysis, I’m not going to try to ‘prove’ anything about how many Romanians will come over here to the UK, how many of them will claim what kind of benefits, how many of them will commit what kind of crimes etc etc. I don’t have that data – but neither, I suspect, do the people making most of the claims about what will happen over the next few years as a result of the changes in rules for Romanians and Bulgarians.

What I do want to say, though, is that the way that Romanians are being portrayed in the press and by politicians seems to have almost no resonance with my experience of the country. Romania is not a country full of poor, desperate people looking for the first opportunity to leave and to come to the UK to steal our jobs/leech off our benefits/drain our health service/run criminal gangs. It’s not a country, as some have tried to tell me recently, with a culture that is somehow alien to ours, incompatible, bound to cause conflict. It really isn’t. It’s a place where people are, once you get to know them, very like the people of the UK. The kinds of conversations I’ve had over the last week would seem very familiar to most people: worries about the education system, discussions of fashion, a mother bemoaning her daughter’s love of One Direction, complaints about self-serving and incompetent politicians (!).

I spent most of the week in Bucharest – and it’s a European capital that anyone who’s spent much time in Europe should find familiar. Yes, there are many of the old-style communist blocks, but there are also old churches and museums, brand new shopping malls, drive-through McDonalds, big, out-of town shops like IKEA and Decathlon. The images you may find on the pages of the Daily Mail of shanty-towns and peasant farms do exist – but to imagine that they represent ‘the real’ Romania would be as accurate as assuming that the abysmally manipulative TV portrayals in programmes like ‘Benefit Street’ are a real representation of life for most Britons.

Unsurprisingly, the subject of the change in rules for Romanians in the UK did come up in conversation a few times, but mostly with wry smiles. Most of the Romanians I know are fundamentally pragmatic people – many people who’ve had to live through repression have had to learn how to ‘find a way’ to solve problems, rather than have them solved for them. They find the current obsession of the British press and politicians amusing for the most part. They don’t think anyone will change their behaviour – those that wanted to come to the UK have already come to the UK. The economy in Romania seems to have bottomed out, and is turning a corner – why would they want to leave now?

That’s the other thing – Romanians, surprisingly enough, generally rather like Romania. They don’t have a particular desire to leave – and the idea that they’re all desperate to come over here is patently ridiculous. As for those twin red herrings of ‘health tourism’ and ‘benefit tourism’, well, they’re both complete jokes. The Romanians I know generally trust Romanian doctors, and the Romanian health service, far more than they would trust the UK’s system. If they got ill when in the UK, I’d expect them to fly home to get treatment, not to use the UK’s system. And Romanians, just like Brits, don’t generally like the idea of benefits. They’re proud people – in David Cameron’s detestable terms, ‘hard-working people’ – for whom benefits are a safeguard, not a ‘lifestyle choice’. I notice, however, that it’s the same kind of people in the UK who have fallen for the hideous ‘striver-scrounger’ agenda who somehow imagine that immigrants are part of that same pattern. It isn’t real in the UK, and it isn’t real for Romanian immigrants either.

Anyway, that’s all by-the-by. In practice, I didn’t see any floods of Romanians queuing up to enter the UK. My flight back from Bucharest to Luton was no more full than the flight I had taken the other way. There was no desperation – just ordinary people flying on ordinary flights. I was a touch disappointed not to be met by Keith Vaz or a few journalists from the Daily Mail…

…and even if Romanians do come here in big numbers, it wouldn’t be a bad thing. Immigration is generally a good thing, once we overcome our fears. Then again, I would say that. I’m biased.

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7 thoughts on “A biased, anecdotal post about Romania….

  1. So Bucharest is typical of Romania in the same way that London is of England? Pull the other one. I see that Romania has a population density of around 94 km2- and falling – the lucky devils. The average density of England is now 400+ and growing. We were last as thinly populated as Romania, I would guess, in the early 19th century. I live in Worcestershire, well below the average for England at 325 km – and we’re seen as quite rural with wide open spaces by them poor devils down in the Smoke. Space is vital to quality of life in my, and lots of other people’s books, and we are desperately short of it here. I guess if your weltanschauung consists in ever-increasing “prosperity”, then you’ll have a different view of immigration. “Immigration is generally a good thing if we overcome our fears”. What sickening, patronising guff, so typical of the metropolitan lefty. Reminds me of a psychologist starting out on a programme with an arachnophobe – ‘Spiders are quite nice when you get to know them, my dear – trust me, I’m an expert”. Being scourged with a leather whip is quite enjoyed by masochists, but guess what, we’re not all the same. Some of us don’t enjoy it.

    • I guess you missed the point that this is both biased and anecdotal….

      …but I could have written an equivalent piece based on my experiences in rural Transylvania where my wife’s cousins live and where I have often stayed, or with our friends in the mountains. It wouldn’t have the same details, but the conclusions would not have been that different. I’m glad, though, that you did your best to stereotype me at the end. It does help.

  2. Thank you for responding. Excuse me if I was a bit brusque, but for millions of us, cries of “Racist!” and “You can’t say that!” and worse have met the slightest mention of immigration for over 40 years now. Only in the past few years have those opposed to mass immigration for perfectly legitimate reasons, had a voice, and this only thanks to the internet. I have posted a comment on an article elsewhere rather than duplicate it here.

    http://www.progressonline.org.uk/2014/01/16/what-kind-of-country-do-we-want-to-

    be/

    As for stereotypes, I didn’t get it absolutely right, but stereotyping is what humans do. They are programmed to strive to form a concept based on even limited information. Without stereotypes, there would be no human language. If you are human, which you appear to be, you will already have some stereotype of me? Is it perhaps a bloke with a union jack round his shoulders and a can of lager? Or a crusty ukipper with a blazer and carnation in his buttonhole?
    I’m an Englishman and a fluent Russian speaker. I’ve got rudimentary German, French, Spanish, but to be honest, western European languages are a bit boring. I once passed an exam in Serbo-Croat. I know how to use a Kanji dictionary – and can read hiragana fairly fluidly. When I went to Istanbul in 1968, my fellow-travellers were amazed that I’d taught myself enough Turkish to
    get by. Xenophobe, little Englander – I’m not.
    Sorry to read about your dad’s death. My dad – a warehouseman – died only in 2008, aged 90, and it’s still raw. Do you know what? He was born exactly 20 years to the day, before your dad – 10th March 1917! His twin died in 1940 on HMS Glorious during the ill-fated Narvik mission. My dad smoked most of his life, and insisted on a fry-up for breakfast at least twice a week, and plenty of fat with his roast beef. He’s bequeathed me some good genes, I think, and a family tendency for a head of unruly thick hair into old age! I’m telling you this, because we’re all much more similar than we think, in real life, and this is biassed and anecdotal! The internet, for all
    its benefits, does tend to polarise discussion, I think.

  3. Well, where to start? Your beautiful article raised a few questions and that is what makes blogs great I guess ;)
    First, I don’t understand British government obsession with Romanian or Bulgarian people either. I have never been there at all but it is quite difficult to imagine a horde of Romanians and Bulgarians jumping on a plane only with the aim of benefits tourism… First, I am a migrant myself and know very well that the only reasons why you leave home is to get a better a job or to get a job!
    Second, I am still in touch with many of my fellow citizens (I am originally from Italy and I’ve still the Italian citizenship) and the so called benefit tourism knows no nationality, given that I had to answer questions about British social welfare from many Italians.
    The main argument, in my opinion, would be how and when to reform the whole system and who has a right to get the benefits. I guess that many Brits don’t know that in Spain and Italy you need to have worked at least two years (i.e. paying taxes for 104 weeks) to get any sort of benefit…. If the British government is so worried about benefit tourism, why don’t they use the same sort of system, for everyone? ;)
    Off topic, you say you are biased but I don’t think so. My husband is British and when we visit my mother in Italy, he sees very well why the country is going bankrupt ;) so I guess you are telling the truth about Romania :)

    • Thanks – the thing is, as I see it everyone’s biased one way or another, but some aren’t able to see it or admit it. Personally I think the current situation is primarily based on ignorance and unnecessary fear. It’s really not a problem, but they want to find something to be scared about, someone to blame for all the many problems they have – and the Romanians and Bulgarians are a possible target… that’s all…

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