I was on the fence about visiting Bucharest. So, as with all my major life decisions, I turned to the Simpsons for guidance. That evening’s particular episode featured Lisa Simpson attending Springfield’s Romanian Film Festival.
I booked my ticket that night.
Spotted: the moon travelling down Calea Griviţei last week. Any ideas where it might have been headed or what supervillain might have been transporting it?
A little glimpse into my life, the English teacher’s staff room at George Cosbuc. Startling empty at 7.15 on a Thursday morning, this room is normally packed to the gills with teachers and the occasional students, going about the daily business of attempting to educate students.
To make up for the unusually miserable October, November has pulled out its finest. Almost every single day this month has been anywhere between upper teens and into the 20s (60-70s F), and one day last week supposedly hit 27 degrees C. While I’m not so sure that mother nature is meant for this, the street cafes have been overflowing and those winter shoes have been put away for yet another day. The sun has been shining, the trees in full splendor and the windows thrown wide open. Not sure how long it will last, but I’m relishing in the warm sunshine.
At least I know that sometimes they listen to me. Last week I had a hilarious moment with one of my fifth graders. They were working on an activity in class and I reminded them that if they were going to disrupt the activity by talking, then they should try to disrupt the class in English at the very least. I noticed one of my students turning around to remove a piece of paper from the back of his chair and writing on the other side of this sign. I moved closer and realized that I needed to ask for him to hand it over. When I looked at it more closely, I could barely contain my laughter.
Originally he had placed a sign on his chair, in Romanian, that says, “Here sits a beast”. When I reminded my students that they needed to be using English, he promptly removed the sign and (incorrectly) translated into English “There sits a beast”. You take the small victories.
You’ll also notice the annoying practice that my fifth grade boys have adopted of replacing the letter s with the dollar sign. Most of the time they do this if their name has the letter s in it, which most of the time it doesn’t, so they’ll instead write things like, “Adrian the Bo$$”. Oh children, whatever shall we do with you?
I spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the city of Iasi, in the northeast corner of the country, very close to the Republic of Moldova. While I was there for the purposes of attending the RATE conference, I took the time to walk around the city for some brief sightseeing. Fall is in full swing up in this area of the country. Most of the trees in Bucharest are still green and just starting to change their colors, while the city and countryside up north were a vibrant patchwork of autumnal foliage. The sun shone brilliantly all three days and it was a breath of fresh air from the rainy autumn we’ve experienced thus far.
The conference was overall a good experience. I came away with some great new ideas for my classrooms, a few useful workshops, and exposure to some fascinating and (personally) inspiring people in the field of education all across Europe. I spent quite a bit of time with the rest of the SOL team (the organization that did my placement at Cosbuc), met the lovely 2010-11 Fulbrighter placed in Iasi (who most graciously hosted me for the weekend), and put a face to the name behind Classrooms on the Danube.
It’s always interesting when interacting with other Romanians who don’t know you at all. Most of the weekend I was mistaken for being Romanian, as the most frequent comment was, “But you don’t look American, I thought you were Romanian!” and then the follow-up question of, “But why are you here?” There were plenty of foreigners at the conference, but they were primarily workshop leaders and plenary speakers with well-known names and CVs to accompany them. However, when you look like you’re 22 (as I was told multiple times throughout the conference) and you begin to answer the question with, “Well, I’m studying education systems in transitioning, post-communist countries with an interest in how…” and I begin to see their eyes glaze over, I usually switch to something about how Romania is such a lovely country and it usually pulls them back in. I think sometimes my most useful contributions are explaining strange things about language and the U.S., the highlight of this weekend being the moment when I explained to a room full of people what phat stands for—mark that one down as a first, and hopefully, last.
Here’s something I don’t get. Back in 2005, that’s five years ago friends, in case you weren’t sure, Romania changed its currency. Instead of counting in thousands of lei, they now count in tens of lei. They chopped off four zeros so that for example, 10,000 lei became 1 leu, and 50,000 lei became 5 lei, etc. To put it into perspective, 1 leu = 0.320842 USD, according to xe.com.
However, I’m not here to give you a math lesson. What I don’t get is why people still talk in old lei. The other week, Stefan and I were at a gas station and the clerk asked him for 19,000 lei. He did a double take and after a few moments, they figured out how much he needed to pay (19 lei). Someone the other week asked me for 10,000 lei (in English) and I responded that as a school teacher in Romania, I barely make that much money in a year. They were really asking for 10 lei, but couldn’t be bothered to “translate” it into new lei. Why, why, why?
Thanks to a trip I took in March of 2005 to Romania and the insistence of my father that I bring it along, I have examples of old Romanian lei. The stuff is worthless. You can’t buy anything with it and you can’t exchange it anymore; if you have some, it’s simply for novelty’s sake. The new money has sufficient amounts of zeroes for how the currency is used today, so why can’t people get used to it? I remember going to the flea market in Sibiu and seeing prices in old lei. I hear people my age and younger talking in old lei and I just don’t get it.
Come on, people, it’s 2010. At what point does the old way die out? I have to wonder how long the old lei talk will stick around and there’s probably a very interesting linguistic study somewhere in all of this, but that’s not my field and I quite frankly just don’t care. So if you see me muttering to myself and getting overly excited when I’m dealing with money, it’s probably because someone probably just asked me for 500,000 lei, when all they really need is 50.
Stefan left me for a few days to go to Munich for work and family, but thankfully he left me with a jar of zacuscă. Some might also call it food of the gods. What is it you ask? All of the bounty of late summer’s vegetable harvest grilled on an open fire, mixed with whole black peppercorns and vegetable oil and maybe some other things that I don’t know about, and mixed until mushy. That’s about as much as I can figure out. This particular delight has eggplants, red peppers, onions and mushrooms and melts in your mouth. My favorite way to eat it is on soft, freshly baked white bread or on top of an open-faced toasted cheese, although I’m not sure that any Romanian would approve of this particular method.
Trusty* Wikipedia gives an interesting run down on the etymology of the word:
“The word zacuscă is of Slavic origin (compare Russian: закуска, zakuska), which means simply “appetizer” or “snack”. The Slavic root of the word (Russian: кус, kus) indicates “tasty” (Russian: вкусно vkusno), “to bite” (Russian: кусать, kusat′), or “to snack” (Russian: закусывать, zakusyvat′).”
*I do not condone the use of Wikipedia for anything other than fulfilling general knowledge and hours of entertainment.
And on the flip side, learn how to be a kid again. I spent most of today sitting on the floor in my apartment, playing arts and crafts in preparation for the week, watching Six Feet Under and eating peanut butter. It seems that teaching little kids has brought me down a few notches in maturity level when I’m not in school (just ask Stefan if you want details) and has brought me back to being a kid. I’ve been taking notes from my fifth graders on a daily basis, as they challenge me constantly to come up with activities to keep their five-minute attention span fully engaged and learning. Every class I have to be on my toes, work those eyes in the back of my head, and use instances when behavior spirals out of control as a teaching tool. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. If you have any tricks for keeping 5th and 6th graders fully engaged, please feel free to share in the comments.