Friday, December 30, 2005


As mentioned elsewhere, the Christmas Eve visitor for us was Az Angyal - the Angel.

The Angel comes in on Christmas Eve, puts up the tree, decorates it, and puts all the presents under it, in the late afternoon/early evening while the children just happen to be out for an hour or so.

Well, as a result of other events documented elswehere, this Christmas Eve our household was rather shrunk (ironically just as it had in practice become larger), and so I sent Bogi out with the neni who looks after her when we're working/out, and took on the angelic role myself. It was a bitch of a job, I have to say, and I find myself having new found respect for all winged dead people who live on clouds.

Well, obviously it's not a bitch of the job in the sense that I got to spread Christmas joy and cheer and brighten up my 6 year old stepdaughter's life no end, but in the sense of the sheer physical labour involved. You see, trees don't sit in pots here, they get put into a rather elaborate wrought iron supporting holder thingy. But the tree trunk was thicker than the hole provided for the purpose, so I spent over an hour sawing it to the requisite thickness, using only a hacksaw blade. (If I had thought about this in advance I would have been out to buy a real saw that may have made it easier - or even I suppose a hacksaw itself into which I could have inserted the blade - but obviously when you only realise that you will have to do this after all the shops have closed, you have to make do with what you can)

It was all worth it though, even though the angel did forget one entire bag of gifts which were hidden in the shoe cupboard and which thus arrived a few days later.

Buek 2006

I saw this word written in lights on a factory the other day, and wondered what it meant. It was obviously festive and seasonal and related to the new year, but it was a word I had never before seen, and I thought I knew all the Christmas/New Year wishes expressions. Turns out that in fact it's actually an acronym meaning Boldog Új Evet Kivánunk (We wish you a happy new year). Now, being the contrary sod that I am, I actually felt somewhat hard done by by this seemingly half-arsed wish. I guess it was cheaper in terms of lights. I have yet to hear anyone actually wish me a BUEK, but I wonder if anyone ever does use the acronym to express their best wishes. It's laziness taken to the nth degree, IMO.


Well, tomorrow is Szilveszter, and I would like to take this opportunity to wish both my readers a happy new year and a generally cool and groovy 2006. This year a new law has been enecated regarding the sale and discharge of fireworks prior to the big day, and so far it seems to be working - unlike last year (documented here), when by this date the town was rent by a constant stream of explosions, this year I've barely heard one. I presume tomorrow they will return with avengeance and make up for lost time.

Thursday, December 29, 2005


More inter-linguistic cross-cultural bureaucratic fun.

On Tuesday I went to Udvarhely to pick Erika and Paula up and bring them home. Before they could be released from the hospital though, I had to complete a bunch of paperwork, and take it to the city hall to get a birth certificate. I was ushered into an office where myself and a nurse proceeded to complete these forms. This was interesting as it was a conversation that happened in my limited Hungarian and her limited English in order to complete a form in Romanian.

Many of the lines were easy to fill in - the names etc were all printed on the wedding certificate and our ID cards. For that it was just a question of her copying stuff down correctly. Others involved a little bit of dialogue - her asking me what Erika's job is and her level of education and so on. This I could cope with though, and was feeling quite chuffed with my comprehension and responses, when suddenly she asked me something about Erika which question I had absolutely no understanding of. She tried repeating it a couple of times but it wasn't helping, so I asked to see the form - often I can understand Romanian better than Hungarian from speaking other latin languages. Aha, it said "Religia". This I could have a stab at and we continued. Then she had to do the same thing for me, and once again we hit the "Religia" question. Rather than go into detail about my own particular brand of agnosticism, I took the lazy way out and went for "Anglican". Fine. She understood what that was...but then, she realised she had no idea how to write Anglican in Romanian. (It's not terribly surprising, while I'm sure she was pretty fluent in the language, it's unlikely that she would ever have had to use the word Anglican in any way ever in her life before that moment). Eventually, she made the guess that I would have, and wrote Anglican as phonetically as possible as if it were said by a Romanian (which may actually be "Anglican")

So, once I got the papers out, I was free to go to the City Hall and get the birth certificate. This proved to be surprisingly easy and there is no funny story to tell about the experience. I have to go back and get it next week though, since they had a bit of a backlog, what with it having been a holiday period and there being a number of births to go into the register.

Eventually though, my girls were free to go, and were released from the delicious cuisine of Udvarhely Hospital. (Most of my trips over involved a shopping list of goods to supplement the culinary offerings). And now they're home safely and our entire existence has been thrown upside down. In a good way though.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Paula's birthday

Thursday December 22nd, 2005. When we woke up Erika was complaining of some small contractions. I say "small" because that's how she described them, but as everyone knows, women basically have no realistic concept of pain.

Man (slightly cuts finger): Arrrgggghhhhh. Expletive deleted. Expletive deleted. <5 minute tirade of swear words>
Woman (partially amputates own arm with a rusty fish slice): Ooooh. That stings a bit.

So, anyway, she's suffering some level of pain that would probably lay low an entire troop of battle hardened Marines, but thinks that "It's nothing". As the morning goes on, I keep solicitously enquiring after these contractions, but they are still regarded as nothing much, and certainly nothing to get worried about or to start driving over the mountain to the hospital for. I, on the other hand, am frantically consulting our dog-eared copy of "What To Expect When You're Expecting" every few minutes to work out if there are any visible signs I will be able to pick up on to offer up as conclusive evidence that this is in fact the onset of labour, and hence get her to the hospital.

We make stuffed cabbage for Christmas dinner. I do the heavy work, such as grinding up the pork (this at least makes me feel that I'm contributing in some small way as this kind of thing is an odd activity for a vegetarian to be indulging in). Erika does the mixing, and subsequently the stuffing. It is thus, then, that at 2pm on the day in question a visitor would have witnessed Erika bent double over the kitchen counter, gritting her teeth against the pain, and rolling pickled cabbage leaves around a kind of pork/rice paste. By now the contractions were coming every five minutes (by a curious coincidence, my enquiries after her well being were coming at similar intervals). Eventually at 3pm she agreed (in an effort to shut me up perhaps) to call someone at the hospital. There was no answer, but it seemed that she felt she had done all she needed to at this point.

Eventually I convinced her that we really should probably go, as from what she told mne about the frequency and length of the contractions it was certain to me that the baby's head was out by now. We called our friend Gyözö, who had offered (nay insisted) that he drive us over to the hospital, and he came over to pick us up (he has winter tyres on his car). We finally left the house at 4pm.

The road over was not too bad, a little slippy in places and with a light dusting of snow, but at least it was daylight and there were no real problems. I was glad that I was not at the wheel, though, as I was knotted up inside with tension and I think my fists were clenched in traditional white knuckle style. By this time, Erika was timing her contractions down to about three minutes apart, and I wondered whether we'd have to pull over and deliver the baby somewhere on the Harghita Mountain.

Finally, at 5pm, we made it into Udvarhely (Odorheiu Secuiesc in Romanian), and drew up at the hospital. We found the midwife on duty and she examined Erika. She came out and said that she'd called the doctor as she thought the baby would be here in ten minutes to one hour. Ten minutes! I was extremely grateful that I hadn't known this ETA while on the road.

An hour later she told us "I think, about an hour". At this point Erika's doctor arrioved and told us, "an hour or two". We went off to buy Erika some slippers (Romanian hospitals don't provide you with any of the stuff, and the ones that Erika had packed, the midwife had looked upon rather disdainfully). By 7pm we (Gyözö and I) were back in the corridor, looking at bits of old sterilisation machines that had been dismantled and left to clutter up the hallways. Time passed. I sat, I wandered aimlessly, I tried to read a book (without success). At about 8.30, at the edge of the two hours that the doctor had suggested as the outer limit of this wait, a nurse came sprinting past us from some other corner of the hospital and into the delivery area. This did nothing for my nerves, since I knew that Erika was the only person in there, and why would a nurse need to be sprinting unless there was something seriously problematic. By now my wandering had turned to pacing and trying to strain my ears to hear anything at all from behing the doors.

But then, 15 minutes later, out walked the same sprinting nurse from earlier carrying in her arms a little bundle of cloth with a baby stuffed in the middle. My baby. Our baby. Who was fine and healthy and perfect. Apparently, behind the doors, everything had gone very smoothly and normally. Paula got taken away to wherever it is that she was taken to, and Erika had to remain in the delivery room for four hours to rest before going up to the ward where she would be reunited with Paula. I started texting people and taking phone calls. So overcome was I that I completely omitted to slip the doctor his envelope when he came out past us and went home. (There is a system of wage supplementation for doctors here, and for delivering a baby the going discrete backhander is 1.5 million Lei. Had the baby had to be delivered by caesarean, it would have been 3million, so I was all ready with various denominations. The midwife gets a mere half million, which seems a bit unfair, but thems the breaks).

Eventually, with no reason to wait around any longer, Gyözö drove me home. Mother and baby are still doing fine and everyobody is happy and healthy. Two pictures below:

Friday, December 23, 2005

Happy Christmas

I am achingly happy to announce that last night at approximately 8.45 local time, Paula Reka Hockley was born looking as beautifully gorgeous as it's possible to look when covered in slime. Both she and her mother are healthy and well, and her father is still far too elated to be especially coherent.

[Pronunciation guide: Paula is pronounced like the Italian name Paola rather than the English Paul-with-an-A-on-it. Reka is NOT pronounced "wrecker", but closer to the Japanese name Reiko - something like Ray-kaw (where that last syllable is very short)]

My only regret is that due to factors beyond my control (an innate crapness at indoor photography) I cannot share with you a reasonable picture at this

I hope you all have a very very merry Christmas and New Year and a very happy and successful 2006.

Andy (and Erika, and Bogi, and Paula Reka)

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Hrean man

Lately, I have been eating a lot of horseradish. I have decided that it (horseradish) is one of the finest and most underrated of vegetables. That, of course, is assuming that it is a vegetable. The Romanian word from horseradish is hrean and the Hungarian word is torma.

I have started eating it with everything. The other day, for example, I had a horseradish sandwich. It was gorgeous. And here I am not referring to horseradish sauce, or horseradish mixed with mayonnaise, but genuine strong, sinus-clearing, head-expanding, wasabi-esque horseradish. I'm thinking of writing a horseradish cookbook. This will be a triumph of marketing as it will basically just be lots of traditional recipes with horseradish added. I might even make it trilingual so it would feature, for example, fish 'n chips 'n horseradish, as well as tormás rakott krumpli, and of course mămăligă cu brânză şi smântână şi hrean. It would go down a storm in the lovers of strong tastes community of the Hungarian-Romanian-English speaking world.

Yesterday I dropped and broke a whole jar of it, which caused me much grief. I half expected the carpet to be eaten away this morning.

Sorry about the title, by the way, I couldn't help myself.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Just in case

Just in case anyone's logging in here specially to find out the news of our forthcoming daughter, she's not here yet. We went to the doctor yesterday who showed us that she's quite ensconced in there (although she was looking a bit grumpy - possibly from being stared at via ultrasound technology). If she doesn't come out before then, we have to check into the hospital next Wednesday (when I say "we" here, I mean, of course, Erika) and they'll coerce her into coming out next Saturday. So, she will almost certainly be born in 2005. Aside from that, all bets are off. She's certainly not demonstrating her father's punctuality, though she does already weigh 3.9 kgs and has a big belly, so she has inherited something from me.

Been driving for 7 hours through a blizzard today, so my eyes are bugging out of my head and I shan't be writing further. Hasta mañana, insh'allah.

Monday, December 19, 2005

I look like Prokofiev

According to this site, I look a little bit like Sergei Prokofiev (60% like him to be exact). I also look 66% like Howard Dean and 63% like the kid who plays Harry Potter. And I look 53% like Nicolae Ceausescu. Fortunately I think it's utter rubbish and I don't look anything like any of them. It's supposed to be a demo of face recognition technology. As demos go, it's not that successful.

Baby watch

Still no sign. I think, astrologically speaking, she's verging on changing from an archer to a goat.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Waiting Game

Today (Sunday December 18th) is supposed to be Paula's birthday. Well, that was the theory given to us by the nice gynacologist. The obnoxious gynacologist told us December 13th, and the serious and unfriendly gynacologist plumped for the 23rd. We selected the middle one because (a) the nice one said it, and you always like to believe nice people; and (b) because it seemed like the statistically logical way to go about choosing between three dates (it being not only the median, but the mean).

At the moment, though, she shows no signs of showing up. It feels like we've been waiting for ever, when actually we've been kind of semi-anticipating her arrival since about Monday. Frankly, it's getting a little bit tiring being in this constant state of more-or-less alertness (those who know me will know that alertness is not exactly my natural state and, well, y'know it's an effort and stuff). I constantly watch the weather, I haven't touched a drop of alcohol in about three weeks (this may actually be a healthy side effect), and I'm constantly thinking about whether the car will start.

For Erika, of course, this feeling is magnified. She can't get comfortable, she wants to lie down, or sit or stand or something all the time. Plus I think she's just tired of carrying Paula around everywhere. In some ways I think all this would have been easier if the doctors had told us that the due date was January 10th and we could have been taken by surprise when she turned up a couple of weeks early.

We have a doctor's appointment on Tuesday, so I think if Paula's not made her mind up to come out by then, Erika might get admitted to the hospital anyway. I mean it is pretty cold out, so you can't really blame her for hanging round in what must be this very comfortable and warm womb, but that doesn't make it any easier for those of us outside waiting impatiently with our nails bitten down to the quick (the quick? why?). I've tried talking to her, remonstrating with her, cajoling her, being stern with her, but nothing works. She's already testing the limits of my paternal authority despite not even being born yet. Kids, eh.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Monitor Blizzard

There's an insane snowstorm going on outside right at this moment (and it seemingly came from nowehere - 30 minutes ago there were blue skies). If Erika goes into labour in the next few hours we're screwed.

Later addition in keeping with the title: It's stopped now. Only lasted about an hour in the end. All we need now is for the roads to be cleared and we're laughing.

Who comes at Christmas?

How is a Transylvanian Christmas? Who comes and gives out presents? What do they give? And what other features are there? These, I'm sure, are questions I'm sure you've all been dying to know the answers to.

Firstly, the present bearing visitor. Early last week, we were all visited by the Mikulas (Hungarian), Sfantu Nicolae (Romanian, possibly misspelled), or as English speakers will know him, St Nicholas. He comes on December 5th and leaves sweets, fruit and various goodies (finomság) in your shoes.

He is merely the first of two visitors in the month, though, as on Christmas Eve there is a second, toy dispensing visitor. This is where it gets more complicated, because the visitor varies depending on your ethnic group. For Romanians, I think, though I'm open to correction, it is Mos Craciun. This translates as something like Old Man Christmas, though that's not a very satisfactory translation (Hungarian speakers would translate it as Karacsony Baci). I'm not quite sure how and where Mos Craciun and Sfantu Nicolae differ since in Englsh the British Father Christmas is equivalent to the American Santa Claus, and therefore these two characters are roughly the same thing. Perhaps he makes two visits with different hats.

For us, the visitor wil be the Angyal (angel). The angel shows up on Christmas Eve at a time when the children have been removed from the house (I suspect that in the late afternoon/early evening of that day you see a lot of grandparents walking their grandchildren around while the angel comes), and not only leaves presents but also put up the tree, and decorates it (I think Mos Craciun does this for Romanians too). As you can see it's quite a demanding life being the angel. None of this popping down the chimney, dropping a bunch of presents, and then drinking a glass of whisky and eating a mince pie. (Did you know by the way that Father Christmas in the UK gets whisky, while his American counterpart gets milk? It's prohibition gone mad). But there is a variation (we think). Erika thinks that in Hungary (and in Hungarian families in parts of Transylvania close to the Hungarian border) it's not the angel that comes but Jesus himself (in baby form, rather than 33 year old hippy form). One wonders whether all sects of Christianity would be happy with the thought that Jesus comes to Hungary once a year and hands out toy soldiers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Barbies and so on.

After the children have come home to find that their house has been miraculously decorated in their absence, the presents are opened, and then everyone sits down to the big family dinner. I'm almost certain that stuffed cabbage is involved. It usually is. Subsequently, those who are interested in doing so go to midnight mass. On the 25th, there is no special event, but people go round and visit each other.

In our household this year, we have no idea what will happen. Unless the baby comes in the next two days, it is almost certain that Erika will be spending Christmas in the maternity ward, and it will be just me and Bogi here to celebrate the big day. I will have to hire someone to take her out for a while so the angel can come round and put up the tree (which is currently sitting on our balcony). We have some presents to open, and I'm not sure what we'll eat, but possibly it will involve large amounts of chocolate.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Measles Weasels

It's a bad time to be about to have a baby in Romania. That's because there is currently a measles epidemic here. The reason there is an epidemic, despite the vaccination being compulsory, is because they ran out of vaccine a couple of years ago and nobody really did anything about it. I'm sure (at least I bloody hope) that they are solving this supply problem now, but it's a bit late as 10 kids have already died - and the point of a vaccination program is to stop any outbreak in its tracks (if more or less everyone is immune the occasional isolated cases will remain just that - isolated cases). Now I have been in small villages in Africa and have seen little tables set up under umbrellas for vaccinating all the kids of the village. If rural Uganda can manage it you'd think Romania would able to. Cretins. I think it's simple shit like this that winds me up more than mad psycho neo-cons bombing people into accepting "our values".

Or maybe it's because I'm on the verge of becoming a father.

Bob Lung

My new favourite Romanian word, replacing “crap” (see this post from ages ago) is “Bob Lung”. OK, OK. It’s my favourite Romanian two word expression, rather than just one word. Bob lung means “long grain” and as such appears on packets of rice. You’ll be walking round the supermarket when suddenly you’ll see a bag of bob lung. Occasionally, it’s even Uncle Ben’s Bob Lung, which could only feasibly be improved if it were Uncle Ben’s Lung, Bob. Or possibly Ben's Uncle, Bob Lung.

My nephew's name is Ben. Perhaps I should go the whole hog and change my name to Bob Lung.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Winter Vegetables

It is, as you may be aware, winter. This means the range of veg. on offer in the market is significantly reduced. This, indeed, is why we spent much of September pickling, jamming and zakuszkaing. But now, as the cold begins to bite, the market is more and more the preserve of potatoes (Harghita county’s biggest export, surpassing even Csiki Sör), parsnips, leeks, kohlrabi, and other roots and tubers (is there a difference between roots and tubers? I have no idea). I have been introducing the denizens of Csikszereda to the delights of roast parsnips, which no-one seems to have seen before. Parsnips, by the way, are called paszternak in Hungarian (or at least they are in Transylvanian Hungarian – Hungary appears to name all of its vegetables differently from us, so I have no idea if this crosses the entirety of “old Hungary”). Since paszternak looks to me like a word of Slavic origin, I wonder if Boris Pasternak actually means Boris Parsnip. There aren’t that many famous writers named after vegetables, really, are there? I’m struggling to think of any to be honest. Maybe it’s a Russian thing. Perhaps Dostoevsky means courgette, Tolstoy is daikon, and Chekhov is curly kale.

[Linguistic aside: Weirdest Hungarian vegetable word, by the way, is that for onion. Now here in Transylvania onion is hagyma, which, while nothing like onion, is not especially weird. But recently I was sitting in the living room minding my own business while Erika made onion soup in the kitchen, when suddenly a blood curdling scream rang through the apartment, followed by the cry “bloody Hungarians”. Other than Erika herself, and Bogi, there were actually no other Hungarians present in the flat at that time, so I was slightly baffled by this outburst. Rushing to the source of the problem I discovered that what the cry was referring to was the cookbook that she was using for the recipe. The dish called for “vöröshagyma”, which literally translated means “red onion”, so that is exactly what she had used. But, in Hungary, and the reason for the outburst, vöröshagyma means the kind of onions that are by no means red. What you or I would call yellow onions, or just plain onions. They (the bloody Hungarians) call red onions lilahagyma (lit: purple onions). At least I think, anyway. I could of course be way off here, and it wouldn’t be the first time]

Back to the topic at hand: I love parsnips, me. The other day I made potato and parsnip cakes. They were excellent. On another winter food related ramble, I also recently made vichyssoise. Now for those who don’t know, vichyssoise is the posh French word for leek and potato soup. In the cookbook which I consulted for the recipe it stated that I could serve it warmed through or chilled as that is how it is eaten in France.

Now, I've nothing against cold soup, per se - I enjoy a good gazpacho, and I'm even prepared to believe that cold leek and potato soup would taste pretty good. But there is one glaring problem with this idea. That is that leeks and potatoes are winter vegetables. Who, in their right mind, wants to eat cold soup in the middle of winter? Gazpacho is basically salad in a blender, so that one I fully understand and go along with, but vichyssoise? It’s madness I tell you.

We ate it hot, as nature intended.

In other soup related cultural insanity news, Hungarians eat fruit soups. Apple and sour cherry are the two I've seen. There comes a point where you have to bite the bullet and admit that your soup is in fact a cleverly concealed dessert, and I think Hungarians need to come clean on this one.

(By the way, Microsoft Word’s spellcheck function recognises vichyssoise but not gazpacho. I wonder what it makes of mulligatawny? Oooh – it's recognized. Why is gazpacho given the cold shoulder I wonder? Maybe the dictionary compilers refused to recognise cold soups. I may have to do some more soup/word crosschecking research)

Monday, December 05, 2005

Football article

Well, it's an exciting time for me, as I've just had an article published in When Saturday Comes, the only good football magazine in the UK. It came out at the weekend, I'm told (my copy won't arrive for another couple of weeks yet). I wrote about the farcical recent Romania vs Nigeria friendly international, and well, you can read it yourself as I have reproduced it in full below. On the off chance that you have a copy of the magazine and this is not exactly the same it's because they've employed a sub-editor to make it readable and stuff. Anyway, enjoy.

We’ve all seen it happen. A match is organised, there is confusion among the participants as to whether it will actually take place, no-one is quite sure when it kicks off, and finally the visiting team show up late without enough players to make up a team and have to borrow a local or two to make up the numbers.

In this case though, rather than a couple of estate cars overstuffed with slightly portly and sheepish looking blokes drawing up and wondering if they could borrow a couple of players, the whole comedy of embarrassment was played out on Romanian TV, as the Romania vs. Nigeria friendly descended rapidly into utter farce.

The signs were there as much as a week in advance when the Nigerian Football Association Chairman, Ibrahim Galadina, informed the media in Nigeria that the game had been cancelled at the request of Romania. They even, it seems, managed to arrange another friendly with Oman to make up the gap. But, in fact, the match hadn’t been cancelled at all, and was still scheduled to go ahead. The NFA finally contacted its players on the Monday, 48 hours before the game, to let them know they had been selected and would they mind going to Bucharest. Realising the late notification may be a problem, they took the unusual step of inviting 40 players to the game in the hope that some of them at least would show up. In the circumstances it’s hardly surprising that most of the names in the Nigerian side chose not to.

By lunchtime on the day of the match, due to start at 5pm, precisely 3 Nigerian players had made it to Romania. Just after 2pm a plane arrived carrying a further 7 players (protesting that the match was supposed to start at 8, and saying “Let us rest. We’re dying of hunger”) and the remainder of the “delegation”, which consisted of one official from the NFA, assistant-to-the-normal-assistant-coach Daniel Amokachi, and the goalkeeping coach (the team’s manager Augustine Eguavoen had decided to go to Morocco instead to watch the second leg of the CAF Confederation Cup).

With the players at the hotel attempting to grab a hasty nap to recover from the long flight, the officials were seen in one of Bucharest’s shopping centres, getting names and numbers printed onto the shirts. By this time an eleventh player had been identified, FC National Bucharest’s Agumbiade Abiodun. Apparently he played a couple of games for the U17 Nigerian Team back when he was (presumably) under 17, but since then had not been close to the squad. Still, he was available and in the country. Interviewed on TV when they located him (by this time the “game” was big news and it seemed like the media had taken over the business of trying to make it go ahead), he was asked if he knew Amokachi. “Oh yes, I know him very well, I just don’t think he knows me.” Yet more Nigerians were located, seven in all, players for second division FC Targoviste, but they were deemed surplus to requirements – after all by now a twelfth player, Benedict Agwuegbu (a man who even had some previous caps), had arrived from Austria.

Finally, in front of a massive crowd of 300, and a Nigerian bench of one sub, but still live on TV, the match kicked off at 6.20pm. For the record, what amounted to Romania B beat Nigeria D 3-0. The real question, aside from whatever recriminations go on in Lagos, is why on earth this game was arranged in the first place. Romania don’t have another competitive match until the qualifiers for Euro 2008 begin, and having already played Cote D’Ivoire the Saturday before, they’d presumably got whatever practice they needed against West African opposition (in preparation for the remote possibility of meeting another in the group stages of WC2010?). For Nigeria, it was billed as a warm-up game for the upcoming African Nations Cup. But with none of the first choice team playing, and the coach not even showing up to watch, it’s debatable what kind of a warm-up it actually was. Still, if nothing else, at least Abiodun, Brentford’s Sam Sodje, and a whole bunch of other previously uncapped players have stories to tell their grandkids about how they ended up playing for Nigeria.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

March to December

There are a bunch of soldiers marching around in the main square visible from my window. It seems they are rehearsing for Thursday. I’m not quite sure why they need to rehearse marching since it seems a fairly straightforward activity, but anyway, what do I know.

Tomorrow is, as you may know, December 1st. Unless you are Romanian or live here, you may not know that it is also the National Day of Romania. I mentioned it last year. Now recently, in the comments section of another post I wrote, someone called Albinel (near the end) commented that he could never vote for autonomy while people in this region didn’t celebrate December 1st. This struck me as odd, and I’ll attempt to explain why.

December 1st is the country’s national day. If it were merely that, then it should obviously be celebrated by everyone. But the reason it is Romania’s national day is that it celebrates the “unification of Romania” in 1918. Now the other side of that coin is that it is the day when Transylvania ceased to be part of Hungary. In effect, while it is a celebration of the creation of modern day Romania, it is also a celebration of the destruction of what used to be Hungary. So, as you might imagine, Hungarian Romanians are not that enthusiastic about celebrating it. In fact, it would be weird for them to celebrate it, and this has nothing to do with any lack of patriotism or anti-Romanian feeling. If the national day in Romania were timed at and billed as the celebration of the signing of the constitution for example, then it would truly be an inclusive celebration. If it were a day celebrating the overthrow of the Ceausescu regime, then once again, it would include all groups of the country. But celebrating the addition of Transylvania to Romania, while perfectly understandable as a Romanian celebration, is never likely to be a celebration for Hungarians.

I discovered today, to go on top of this, that there’s actually a law that you have to celebrate December the 1st. Which means that the government (or whichever government wrote that law) knows full well that it’s not very inclusive, and that people are going have to be coerced into feeling Romanian. It’s not a law that gets obeyed much, if my observations last year are anything to go by.

One final thing. Military parades. What’s that all about? Do people (I mean real, normal, regular people) get a kick out of military parades? Do people think to themselves, “Hmmm, there’s a military parade going on this afternoon, I mustn’t miss that.”? So who are they parading for? It’s either for the commanders who can feel good about how much mightiness they have at their disposal, or for the people that this army might be one day employed to subjugate. “Look,” they are saying in their curious goose-stepping body language, “don’t try anything people, or we will be forced to march on you.”

Now I don’t actually think that the army will be marching in downtown Csikszereda tomorrow just to make sure that the Szekelys don’t rise up, and that it’s more to do with half-arsed tradition, but it seems to me that someone could at least ponder this for a while, and wonder whether or not it might be seen as provocative in any way. In the meantime, I have to say that for a group of people who have more or less nothing to do except march, they’re remarkably bad at it. They’ve been practising all day and they still making mistakes.

But anyway, I hope all my Romanian readers have a good December 1st, and enjoy your nation's birthday. You can have Csikszereda's piece of cake.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Wed Tape

So, I’ve teased you (the reader) for a while with references to TB and chest X-rays, and I feel it is now time to come clean. It is, as you may have guessed, yet another example of my continuing adventures in Romanian bureaucracy (and British in this case).

Going back to the beginning, much of this started when I checked out the regulations regarding registering our upcoming daughter as a British citizen. It was then that I learned that under British law, a baby which is “illegitimate” is not entitled to be a British citizen, regardless of whether its father is British. Now, obviously my first reaction to this piece of news was to launch into a tirade of abuse at my own country’s government for being so bloody Victorian. I mean “illegitimate”? Come on. That word in the sense of the meaning “born out of wedlock” became obsolete years ago, surely. Do people really still refer to babies born to parents who are not legally wed as illegitimate in the real world? Why not just call them bastards and be done with it?

Anyway, once I got over my twenty first century rage at my nineteenth century government, we started thinking about what we needed to do to enshrine in law the various rights responsibilities and support for our family. One day in the not too distant future these rights and responsibilities will not need to be linked to a marriage certificate, but for now, at least in Romania, and seemingly in quaint old-fashioned Britain, they are. And so, we decided to go ahead and sign the necessary documents that give you the requisite legal status, or, as it’s often referred to, get married.

And so, obviously, we one again set out on an extended stroll through the dark forest that is the Romanian bureaucracy. In fact, initially, all seemed remarkably easy. We went to the city hall and they told us we needed was our birth certificates, proof that neither of us were already married to someone else, and a medical certificate. Three things. That was all. It seemed too good to be true. And, it was.

The birth certificate was relatively easy. It had to be translated into Romanian and the translation notarised, which as ever with notarising cost an inordinate amount of money, but generally speaking it was easy.

Next up was the hard part. Proving that I wasn’t married. Now, as you know, proving something doesn’t exist is much harder than proving something does exist. For Erika it was relatively easy, since she’s lived all her life in Romania, and she could at least produce a divorce certificate. For me, things were slightly more complex. I had visions of having to get sworn statements from everywhere I’ve ever lived saying that I hadn’t got hitched while in their jurisdiction. Getting one from the Federated States of Micronesia would have been particularly tricky, especially since marriage there was more or less merely a transaction involving the exchange of pigs, without any great legal mumbo jumbo. But it turned out all I needed to do was swear in front of the British consul in Bucharest. Sounded like exactly my kind of deal. Sadly, it wasn’t as fun as it sounds. (How cool would it have been to have to have found a way to be captured on film getting in his way and saying “bollocks”?) I travelled, then to Bucharest on the morning minibus (my first, and I hope last, experience of using this particular leg-compressing mode of transportation), showed up at the embassy, and filled in various pieces of paper protesting my singleness (or bachelorhood – once again I was taken aback by the archaic language promoted by the British Government and its representatives overseas. At one point I had to fill in a table with my and Erika’s information, one column of which was marital status. There I am looking for the “unmarried” option, or at a pinch “single”. But no. Here in the world of official documentation we are still using such words as “bachelor” and “spinster”). I then had to wait for the vice consul to show up and read in front of her a document which said that I was not married and over 18 and so on. Then we both signed it and she put this big official stamp on it and I was charged 4.5 million Lei, which seemed a bit steep. The remainder of this process involved them pinning the notice of my intention to marry outside the front gate of the embassy for 21 days in some kind of mediaeval style proclamation so that any of my other wives who happened to pass the building and glance at the noticeboard could then put a stop to my polygamy. Since I haven’t heard from them, I assume this didn’t happen.

At least once I got the train home, and therefore completed a 14 hour day for the sake of half an hour of quality time in an embassy waiting room, I felt it was all taken care of. So now all that was left was the medical certificate. I assumed that this would be a fairly simple procedure. This, however, is where the red tape really began to kick in. A visit to the relevant doctor was all that it took to shatter my illusions. On her door was the list of five items we would need to bring in order for her to sign off on our permission to marry. That’s five more pieces of paper each of us needed to get in order to get through this final hoop. I can’t even remember what half of them were now, but they were all ridiculous. I mean the proof that I wasn’t married already, I could at least see the point of, but why on earth would I need a chest X-Ray? Are people with TB prevented from marrying in Romania? Isn’t that a tad discriminatory? Is there a support group for tuberculosic singles? Can I even say “tuberculosic”?

Well, it was proved through the magic of radiography that I don’t have TB (Erika avoided that one on account of X-Rays being contraindicated during pregnancy – so women with TB can get round the state restrictions by getting pregnant before applying for the clearance), and by blood test that I don’t have syphilis or some other things (not HIV/AIDS apparently – not sure if that’s because the bureaucracy hasn’t yet caught up with the existence of such diseases or because HIV is not seen as a barrier to marriage in the same way that, say, TB is).

To cut a long story short, or slightly less long I suppose since I’ve already gone on a bit, we finally got the medical certificates, combined them with the other documentation and presented them at the City Hall. Once Erika’s clearance had come through (i.e. after no-one had commented on her name being similarly pinned on the wall of the city hall) we were free to go. And so we did. Though there was one final scare, five minutes before the wedding, when the woman filling in the forms suddenly hit a wall regarding the difference between my citizenship and nationality. Now, to me, there is no difference between the two. I have a UK passport and UK nationality. But here, it’s a huge deal. 90% of this town list their citizenship as Romanian but their nationality as Hungarian. So my attitude that they were the same baffled her. Eventually she offered up “English” as nationality, which I accepted in order to placate her.

My next adventure in red tape is likely to be getting the birth certificate sorted out. That sounds like one I’ll have to do fairly solo. I presume anyway - it certainly sounds like the kind of thing that fathers ought to take care of.

Sunday, November 27, 2005


Mr Andrew Hockley and Ms Kocsis Erika would like to announce the wedding of themselves to each other.

On Friday November 25th, 2005 at 11am Mr Andrew Hockley and Ms Kocsis Erika were married in a civil ceremony held in Csikszereda City Hall. After a special breakfast of poached eggs served on individual cakes of bubble and squeak and topped with a white wine mustard sauce, cooked by the groom, the couple disported to the wedding venue. The bride wore a fetching pair of dark pinstriped maternity trousers and a peasant blouse made of the finest hessian, while the groom wore what he always wears at any vaguely dressy occasion viz the only nice shoes, trousers, shirt, jacket and tie that he owns.

The formalities were conducted by an unfriendly civil servant resplendent in Romanian red, yellow and blue sash. The ceremony was conducted in Hungarian with English interpretation provided by Elvira, friend and colleague of the bride. Since the groom does not have TB, syphilis, or any other wives*, the Romanian state is apparently very supportive of us and is happy to bless our union. The wedding took place in a large room in the city hall, especially reserved for such affairs, and had a backdrop of a badly designed triptych highlighting the famous sights of the city, poorly superimposed on a cobblestone background. Music, “The Wedding March”, came from a boombox in the corner.

After the wedding the bride and groom took their two witnesses to lunch at which the marriage was toasted with Stella Artois N.A. The groom was heard to remark that he’d never imagined drinking non-alcoholic beer on his wedding day. Later, the bride’s father arrived and the marriage was yet again toasted, this time however in copious amounts of palinka.

The bride and groom are honeymooning in their apartment.

Friends and family of the bride and groom who were not invited and feel in any way slighted should note that the decision to get married only happened a couple of weeks in advance, and the date for the wedding was set one week prior to the event. Participation was also limited by the bride’s insistence that she is not fit to bake and prepare anything elaborate, as well as feeling like the size of her belly detracts in some way from her beauty. The groom would like it be known that this is not true.

Global receptions in honour of this event will be held in various locations during 2006 to which you will be invited. For now, however, feel free to toast this happy occasion.

(*Please see Wed Tapefor details)

Photos of this joyous occasion can be found here.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Name Game

Time marches on and we really have to come up with a name for our daughter before long, or otherwise she'll be here and we'll just have to call her "girl" or something. My family had a cat for a long time which was called "cat" so I have some previous for this one.

So, we've whittled down the choices to a few. We first went through a book of acceptable Hungarian names (including such old style Magyar names as Dzsenifö. That may not have been the exact spelling but it was something like that. Those who have no idea what that might sound like need to think of the first name of US Hispano star Ms Lopez, who for a while went by J Lo. No doubt there are Hungarian spellings of lots of names of current stars of MTV. Mödanö? Britni? Kajli?). Then I eliminated the names which while acceptable in Hungarian are actually only used for old women in the UK. Agnes for example (sorry, Agnes). While Erika eliminated the names which I had chosen which were unacceptable for other reasons. Elena for example, which I had forgotten was also the name of Mrs. Ceausescu.

So we are left with the following possibilities, some or all of which may end up being appended to the kicsi bobo when she pops out. Paula (pronounced in the Hungarian/Italian way, rather than the English Paul-with-an-a-on-the-end). Beata. Ana. Reka. Mia (the problem with this last one, while we both like it, it's sounds a bit like a kind of a rude "village" way of saying "excuse me would you mind awfully repeating that my good man?")

Who knows? Frankly it's a huge responsibility which at the same time is meaningless. I mean obviously I'd never have considered naming my biological child "Bogi", but it fits her like a glove, and now that word only has one connotation in my mind, and it's her.

So there we go. We'll come up with a name somehow, sometime. And anyway, she could still of course be a boy, which would render all this talk meaningless. (Most of what's on here is meaningless to be honest).

Big day tomorrow. I'll let you know why afterwards.

Oh and happy thanksgiving to all my US American readers. Yes, there are some, really.

Monday, November 21, 2005


Somehow, by force of personality perhaps, I have converted Bogi to football. I suspect this is the kind of stepfatherly bequest that she may end up needing therapy to get over. Over the last few weeks she has started finding football matches on TV and inviting me to watch them with her. Since there is practically always a football match on TV in Romania at any one time this is not hard to do. However, by helping her with her selectivity we have focussed our attention on the Spanish Primera Liga mostly, while typically avoiding the Romanian league (though we do do internationals too).

Her favourite player is Ronaldinho, so we watch every Barcelona game. He is a good player to be into, partly because he’s bloody brilliant, partly because he is easy to recognise from a distance, and partly because he sees a lot of the ball so her interest doesn’t wane. Yesterday, while we were watching Celta Vigo vs Atletico Madrid (we were both supporting Celta, though sometimes we choose opposing teams just to spice things up), she started asking whether the team would get an “eleven”. I thought she was talking about the number of players on the team, but then finally worked out (with Erika’s help) that an eleven in Hungarian is a penalty. She also started telling me the rules – at one point someone got booked and when he saw the yellow card she excitedly told me in her Hunglish: “The red card is very very rossz” (bad). I was forced to agree. A little later she even told me that “two yellow card is making red”. I have no idea where she gets it all from – school I suppose – but it’s great. Trying to explain the offside rule to a six year old though is a challenge, especially when you have to relate to each other in pidgin versions of each other's language.

Also (and this is definitely classifiable as child abuse) she has got into helping me follow Sheffield Wednesday via the Internet, constantly checking and rechecking the scoreline on one of the websites dedicated to that purpose. The other day a couple of weeks ago, we (Wednesday) were playing Cardiff and she was insisted when she went to bed that the first thing I did in the morning would be to tell her the final score. Sadly we were hammered, so I waited until later in the day so as not to shatter her day in the way my evening had been shattered, as so many before it. Fortunately she is not quite yet so obsessive to actually remember when she wakes up that she wanted to know the score (or even to be bothered for more than 10 seconds). I'll give her about two more months.

Conceptual Hungary

Hungarian, as you may or may not be aware, has all these cases. No, not suitcases, linguistic cases. In practice, to someone like me who has never previously tried to learn such a language, this means that there are a bunch of suffixes to learn which can be appended to nouns or adjectives.

So far so good. I will skip over the concept of "vowel harmony" which is a truce declared after the Great Diphthong War of 1293 and still holding to this day, because while it is interesting, it's not what I want to comment upon today.

What I want to comment upon today is the idea of being in or on something. I am sure that the relevant case for this concept has a name like the plaintive case or restive case or something, but I don't know what it is, and I can't really see the value in learning it. What I need, as a student of the language, is to know that to express what English uses the preposition "in" for, one needs the suffix -ben or -ban (depending on vowel harmony, but we're not talking about that). With me so far? Now, if you are in a particular country, say, you may use this suffix to express that. Angliában, for example, means "in England". You can do this over and over: Romaniában, Spanyolorszagban (in Spain), Amerikában, etc etc. It works for every single country in the world bar one. Hungary. For some unaccountable reason you cannot be "in" Hungary, but you can only be "on" it. So you have to say Magyarorszagon. Maybe Hungary is a concept, an indeal, that can only ever be grasped at but can never be entered.

Not only that, but it works for cities too. Londonban, for example, but Budapesten. I think, but am by no means sure, that you can only be "on" most cities in Hungary, and a few others (in Cluj, for example, is actually Kolozsvaron rather than Kolozsvarban). To confuse me even further, while everyone here says Csikszeredában, often on the Duna TV channel (from Hungary, but with lots of Transylvania based news) they often say Csikszeredán.

It's a rum do, that's for sure.

PS I am well aware that English is not in any way whatsoever logical, and while you welcome to comment on how ridiculous my native language is, you will receive nothing but agreement from me. Please take it as read.

PPS. I am sure that my vowels are disharmonious at times. Feel free to taunt me.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

What? Hó.

Winter started on Friday afternoon. We were told it would, and the forecasters were right. At about 2.45PM the snow began to fall, and it kept on falling. By 6PM I had participated in my first snowball fight of the season (Bogi insisted I was “cheating” – which seemed to mean that my snowballs were actually on target, even from distance, though she probably didn’t know that they were even more on target than that being aimed at non sensitive areas which were well padded by multiple layers of clothing).

When we woke up on Saturday we were greeted by the scene on the picture below, with the snow still falling. Most years in snowy climes you get prepared for winter by having off and on flurries for a few weeks before the first big snowfall. Not here. Bang. One morning you wake up and it’s still autumn and a positively balmy 5°C, the next, and you’re digging out your car from 30cm of snow.

So we went out and threw more snowballs, and built a snowman, and generally had fun. I like snow and real winters, I just wish they’d only last for about three months. Three months of winter is perfect. 6 months not so perfect. But I will resolve to live in the moment and enjoy the three months of winter between now and February 19th, before settling into my moaning bitter old man persona for the remaining two months or so of it.

Oh, and the title? “Hó” is Hungarian for snow. I know, even by the appallingly low standards of this blog, that pun is seriously scraping the barrel, but just be grateful I didn’t tap into Gangsta Rap for my ho-related pun inspiration.

View from our balcony Saturday morning.  Posted by Picasa

The three of us
Originally uploaded by adhock.

I'm the one in the middle, in case you were wondering.

A couple more pics are here.

Thursday, November 17, 2005


Very few people know about my clandestine and rarely fulfilled decadent indulgence. This is not an indulgence that is little known for reasons of me being secretive about it, more that it is one that I tend to only indulge in the privacy of my own home, and so is not often brought into the public gaze. It is also closely affiliated with my home country and a luxury which I have not previously been able to pursue elsewhere. That is until now.

Because of this momentous event I have decided to go public, to come out and share with the world my sybaritic debauchery.

I am talking, of course, about pickled onions. Real pickled onions, not those small ones that people sometimes put in martinis. No - big fat ones dripping with vinegar and as acidic as the world's most sarcastic person. You bite into them with that satisfying crunch and let the sting of the vinegar and the brute force of the onion take the skin off your tongue. It is a beautiful and sensual moment.

But it's a rarely enjoyed moment, because for reasons only known to the rest of the world, the pickled onion has not travelled well, and like the digestive biscuit, appears on foreign shores only in odd, dusty little shops run by British expats who are sure that if they import enough tea bags they will make a tidy profit.

Well, for the first time, I have made some. And, I'm happy to report that they are everything I expected and more. Crisp like a February morning, sharp like a hypodermic, acid like a field of tripping people. And I suspect they will only get better with time. I had to leave them to fully infuse for six whole weeks after making them, and then I left them for one whole more week just because I was scared they would be no good and I'd be disppointed. But they are good. Damned good. The remaining jars I may keep as some kind of special occasion reward to myself, and see if they get even more potent. I am happy.

Now if I could just brew up a decent pint of Marston's Pedigree, the world would be a wonderful place.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The minority law and the far right

The political scene in Romania is currently gripped by the debate over the minority law. It’s difficult to find English language sources regarding this debate but I think it’s worth looking at anyway. What follows is what I’ve been able to glean about this debate from my limited Romanian and Hungarian and from talking to people. If there are any inaccuracies, I hope someone will please correct me via the comments page.

From what I understand, there is a bill before parliament to enshrine in law basic rights for minorities. It’s not that these rights don’t already exist in practice, but that they are not formally stated anywhere [Edit: Note comments from Andrei below]. This bill is proposed by the UDMR which is the Hungarian party in the Romanian parliament. [The UDMR is a fairly moderate centre right party politically, but its main function is to represent the interests of the Hungarian minority in Romania.] Because of the political makeup of the parliament, the UDMR are almost always a partner in whatever coalition government is ruling, and one condition of their joining the government is that they get to put this bill before parliament. So this isn’t the first time it’s come up, but each time it does, it seems like the dominant coalition partner (whether this be the DA as now, or the PSD as before) renege on the deal and start trying to weasel out of it.

So now it’s come up again. What amounts to a fairly watered down version of the original bill is up before parliament and it is being attacked left, right, and centre. Mostly, of course, by the ultra right, for whom minority rights are anathema. Cornelius Vadim Tudor, the ultra scumbag leader of the ultra rightist Party of the Romanian Nightmare (not actually the real name of the party), is pulling out all the stops to fill the population with fear of this terrifying Hungarian minority. Apparently this law will subject Romanians to oppression by those evil Hungarians. It’s an old trick – white supremacists argue that laws promoting diversity and human rights are actually laws designed to attack white people. So it is with Vadim Tudor. Vadim Tudor is the worst kind of bigot – he’s actually quite intelligent I think and he knows this fear-laden rhetoric is the way to mobilise people to support him. So, he whips people into a nationalistic fervour by claiming that the minorities are out to attack their right to exist and to be Romanian or something. In a recent debate he said, and I swear I’m not making this up “Do you really want Romanians to defend themselves alone? They will! I promise you things will go that far!” That’s practically inciting civil war, and he gets away with that shit, and not only that, but they give him vast amounts of air time on TV. He is utter utter scum. He also described the UDMR as a “terrorist organization”, just to really ratchet up the fear factor among his rural uneducated voting public.

Now, if it were just him attacking the bill, it wouldn’t be a surprise at all, but in fact the supposedly left wing PSD have also seized upon his coat tails for a spot of populist bigotry and have launched into the debate. I didn’t have any respect for them before, but now what little hope I held out for this bunch has gone right out the window. Also members of the DA (the dominant part of the coalition) have been speaking up against it, which means probably that it’s dead in the water. The media here are focussing on what this means for the government and whether the UDMR will pull out of the coalition and bring down the government, forcing early elections. But this is not the real issue (it just allows people to not think about the real issue).

What then, is the real issue? The debate around the bill seems to be centred on the phrase “cultural autonomy”, which, as far as I can tell, allows minorities the right to have an education in their native language and so on. In the case of Hungarians, at least, this already happens (at least up to age 18). What the anti camp are really against, I suspect, is the word “autonomy” featuring anywhere in any document ever. This bill does not, categorically, request any kind for autonomy for Harghita and Covasna counties, nor for Transylvania as a whole. But, the people against it like to present it as the thin end of the wedge and the beginning of this Hungarian master plan to break Transylvania (or parts of it) away from Romania. And of course they then hold up the example of these poor oppressed Romanians living in Harghita and Covasna counties who are already suffering mightily at the hands of these brutal Magyars, and if this master plan comes to fruition will be somehow oppressed and magyarised as they were at the end of the 19th century.

The other issue is language. Now it seems that many Romanians are convinced that Transylvanian Hungarians cannot and will not speak Romanian. I don’t know where they get this idea from, but it seems to have a lot of currency, even among well educated Romanians. Now, it is possible, that in remote villages people don’t speak Romanian well, or in some cases maybe at all. But Romanian is taught in schools, kids need to pass their Romanian exams to get through the various general exams and to leave high school with a qualification. I can honestly say I don’t know and have never met any Romanian citizen who doesn’t speak Romanian. Maybe they’re not all completely fluent and maybe they have an accent, but they speak the language. What seems to upset people is that, shockingly, they persist in speaking to one another in their native language. People who are otherwise quite intelligent have asked me whether this is “normal”. Whether it’s normal that people speak their first language to each other. I have to respond that yes it is, and to deny the people the right to use their native language is characteristic of dictatorships and oppressive regimes. And to offer people an education in their native language in their home country is not in some way weird or anti-patriotic whatever it is they fear. Democratic Spain for example offers Catalans and Basques the right to an education in their native language, while under Franco there were attempts to ban the languages outright. Which of these two governments is more modern and “European”? (I ought to note that one of the bizarrest arguments against the minority law is that it is “un-European”). The only thing that I can possibly imagine is that in the twisted political climate of fear and insecurity brought about by the posturing of idiots like Vadim Tudor, when people hear a conversation conducted by Hungarian Romanians in Hungarian they assume it to be some kind of plotting against the state.

To close, I have to say that listening to the rhetoric of the ultra nationalist PRM, while knowing that they command about 12-13% of recent polls, is the first time since I came here that I have wondered if just maybe there could be some kind of mini civil war in Transylvania. My hope is that the majority of the supporters of CVT and his ilk are actually not from Transylvania and in fact live in isolated rural communities in Oltenia and the like where they can’t do any damage. But this kind of hard line talk of terrorism and of Romanians “defending themselves” is just the kind of thing that Milosevic was saying in 1989. Fortunately, CVT doesn’t have the power that Milosevic did then, but it’s a slippery slope and as long as he’s given a platform to air his odious views, the damage is being done.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Coming out in a nasty 'tache

Why is it that Hungarian men sport large moustaches unseen practically anywhere else in the world? Is it to disguise spectacularly ugly upper lips? Is it like a clown's makeup - you can tell whether the man in question likes to think of himself as happy or sad depending on whether he's gone for the uplifted twirly version or the downcast drooping down to the chin version?

It's most odd. It's not everyone, obviously. I know of many many clean shaven men both here and in Budapest, but this long moustache thing does seem to be a curiosity of the Magyar male. Having said that I just did a bit of research - to be honest I typed "Hungarian moustache" into google, which is what passes for "research" when I am feeling lazy - and found that in Europe this kind of moustache is actually called the Hungarian Moustache, while in the US it's called the "Wild West Moustache". Which leads me to suspect it's related to horsemanship and riding across endless plains herding livestock. But why would horsemen need long bushy moustaches? The other possibility is that it is related to the concept of the "Gay Hussar" - is the moustache seen as an identifier within homosexual culture because of it's links to Hungarian men and hence to the Hussar and ... well you can see where I'm going with this, but I fear that I'm barking up the wrong leather clad thigh.

It's a fascinating subject I think you can tell, and I am inspired to look into it further. Though I'll probably forget.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Say hello, wave goodbye

Been away from these pages for a few days, in part taking care of my latest bureaucratic need. I can’t go into details just yet, but I can inform you, my loyal reader, that it involved both a visit to the British Embassy and a chest X-ray. At that, it will have to wait for now. You may, if you like, see if you can possible imagine what level of bureaucratic procedure might involve those two necessities.

Not much to add to that at this stage, except to note that in updates to recent posts – (1) the teachers’ sztrajk is still on; (2) despite chaos theory, the storks were able to predict weather 3 months in advance and we are still enjoying a glorious autumn – last Sunday we were walking around the town in T-shirts. In November. I’m told this is unheard of in Csikszereda; and (3) after the first half of the regular season in the ice hockey, SCMC are still unbeaten (we beat Steaua 4-2 in one game and drew 3-3 in the other, both games in front of half a dozen cheerleaders and no-one else. Bucharest people just don’t give a shit about this sport I reckon. We already deserve it more)

Weird things Hungarians do: Say hello when they mean goodbye. And by hello I mean the actual word “hello”. It stops me in my tracks every time I leaving somewhere and as the door closes behind me someone waves and says “hello”. And by now I should be totally used to it. I’m guessing (and it is only a guess) that sometime in the past the word hello became fashionable in Hungarian speaking regions, and it was understood to be a friendly greeting. However, the Hungarian friendly greeting words “Szia” and “Szervusz” are also used for friendly farewells (as per ciao, aloha, etc), and so it was assumed that hello was synonymous with these words. Quite understandable and easy to rationalise, but I defy any native English speaker to get past the cognitive dissonance brought on by hearing someone say “hello” as they (or you) leave.

Monday, November 07, 2005


What, you may be thinking, is that? (Unless you speak Hungarian that is). Well, that word in the title is actually one of the few Hungarian words which is a cognate with English (and indeed, I assume, must have its roots in the English word). It may look weird but when you sound it out phonetically (and you can do that with Hungarian unlike English) it spells "strike".

So, this week in Romania the teachers are on sztrajk. In Bogi's kidergarten, in the elementary schools, in the high schools and in any other form of state run education (except possibly universities, I dunno about them), the teachers have walked out in protest at underfunding (of education in general and of their salaries in particular). Indeed so serious is this underfunding that the minister of education quit a few weeks ago, after not being able to get the government to stump up a greater proportion of the national budget to his portfolio. (I don't know much about this minister, but this act seems to me to have been spectacularly honest and oozing with integrity. Very unpoliticianlike in fact).

Right now all the schools are closed, but apparently by the end of the week the sztrajk may have become a "Japanese Strike", which apparently means a strike in which everyone wears a badge saying they're on strike but they actually still go to work. It sounds entirely baffling to me, and as a method of industrial action it doesn't sound very effective, but I do know that teaching tends to be one of those professions where the staff are extremely reluctant to go on strike since they are worried about "punishing" the recipients of their services - ie, in this case the children (see also nurses, firemen, etc), so this "Japanese Strike" thing is presumably a way around that. I also have absolutely no idea why it's called a Japanese Strike.

Other possible strike actions:

Mexican strike: people get up walk out in waves as you go along the corridors, then go back and sit down again, before doing it all over again when the wave gets back to them.

Brazilian strike: everyone walks out and goes off to get their pubes waxed

Child strike: small three-wheeled bicycle.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Copsa Mica

On the train between Cluj and Sighisoara you pass through some great scenery, rolling hills, the Turda gorge (no sniggering), valleys, woods, saxon towns and villages. But you also pass through Copsa Mica. Copsa Mica is everything you might have imagined of industrial Eastern Europe from those images of vast pollution we saw after the revolutions of 89. It’s dominated by these vast empty run down factories and worker dormitories that seem to stretch for miles. Back in the day it was so black that even the white bits were black. No, I’m serious. The snow was black up until 1995. There are are
two satellite photos, here
which show how the area looked from above in the 80s and now (after it’s been cleaned up a bit).

Even though the town is no longer black, though, it is still horribly polluted as the second factory there (the blackening one made tyres and dye) made chemicals and filled the ground with dangerous metals, which are still polluting the river and the water table and all vegetables grown there. A lot of people who live there are very very sick (and also very very poor as the factories got closed down). There’s a good overview of the situation at this website

Friday, November 04, 2005

Eight down, one to go

It's getting closer and closer to the big day. This was brought home to me yesterday when we went to the doctor and he said not to bother coming back until we were in labour. But then I expounded my views on Tony Blair and how that wasn't about to happen and he let us off. Ha ha. No but seriously, it'll be in the first half of December (probably), and as it's now the first half of November (certainly) that means it's very soon.

Suddenly I have become aware that my usual method of planning (cross every bridge when you come to it) may not be a terriby good idea in this case. It would probably, for example, be a good idea to have somewhere for the little lass to sleep when she gets here. She might need clothes and stuff too. And really, I can't just take care of this when she's shows up. If I still lived n the US someone would have thrown us a baby shower (no, I have no idea why it's called a shower either) and we'd have a house full of useful and less useful items, but here in Europe, while we may have easily available espresso coffee and a less rigid work ethic, the day of the shower is not upon us. (Why we import such concepts as trick or treat, and not the more useful ones as this is beyond me).

Mind you, we saw nice pictures of her and she doesn't look as csunya* as she did last time. (Csunya = ugly, and to be fair neither me nor Erika thought she was csunya last time either, but Bogi was quite sure of it. Now, even she is convinced of the possibility that her sister will not be some blobby foetal thing with indistinct facial features).

Monday, October 31, 2005


Cluj was nice. It has that kind of faded belle époque grandeur even though it’s pretty much falling down in places. Under the Hungarians it (Kolozsvar) was the capital of Transylvania. It was the cultural centre, the academic centre, the administrative centre. And you can see that it was once important.

It’s still one of the most (possibly still the most) widely respected university in Romania, and it really does feel like a student town. In fact the first afternoon we were there every single person I saw walking round was either a student or someone doing a passable imitation of one. The population of the city is approximately 300,000 and to this is added something like 80-100,000 every term time. Some locals we were talking to told us that in fact the plan is that in the next 5 years the student population will be increased to something like 400,000. Yes, you read that correctly. Where they will fit is anyone’s guess. It already feels like the world’s most student dominated town. And I speak as someone who comes from Cambridge.

Those unfamiliar with Romania may have looked Cluj up or see on a map that it is officially called “Cluj-Napoca”. Napoca is the name of the Roman settlement in the same spot, and it has been appended to the name (I think during the Ceasescu years) in order to remind people of that fact (you see, if it’s Roman, then it has a history that predates its Hungarian one. It’s all very forced). In fact, the city has come to symbolise the worst and most ridiculous excesses of nationalism. In the late 90s the people somehow elected this psycho idiot called Gheorghe Funar (from the revolting PRM Romanian nationalist party) as mayor. He proceeded to do petty and childish things like painting all the benches and lampposts red yellow and blue (colours of the Romanian flag), and then in the middle of town, where there is a large statue of Mátyás Corvinus, a famous Hungarian king who was born in the town, he first removed the word Hungarian from the plaque, and then decided to have an archaeological dig for Roman ruins right there in the same square. This dig necessitated the statue being hidden behind a wooden screen, and then latterly moved somewhere else so they could dig under it. Fortunately at this point the director of the National History Museum stepped in and told him to sling his hook, but this big pit still exists right in front of the statue. Basically, as with most nationalists he was (and presumably still is – while he’s no longer mayor, he’s still alive) an exceptionally childish individual. I think the brain power involved in choosing to be an extreme nationalist is such a regression of humanity that one ends up applying the retardedness to all aspects of ones life.

I have a pic of the statue which I’ll put up later in the week. However tomorrow I have to do a mad day trip to Bucharest (5 hours in 5 hours back, for a one hour meeting), so I won’t be on till Wednesday.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Whisky Robber

So, I was wandering round the Internet, reading stuff here and there, when I came across news of a book launch in the UK this week. The book that is being launched had been published in the USA last year to great critical acclaim, and is apparently a true story about an ice-hockey goalie who was also a bank robber in Budapest. Suitably intrigued I looked further into the story and discovered that this bloke is from here. Right here in Csikszereda. He’s quite possibly our most famous son, and this is the first I’ve heard of him.

So, anyway, more information. The book is called “The Ballad of the Whiskey Robber” and is by a bloke called Julian Rubinstein. The whiskey robber is actually called Attila Ambrus (or more accurately Ambrus Attila, I presume). He ends up playing ice hockey (as a goalie) for a team in Budapest, and supplements his meagre income by holding up banks. Before each hold up, he goes into a nearby bar and drinks a shot of whisky to steel himself. It sounds like the real meat of the story is partly the context in which it takes place: a Hungary in a transition from communism to capitalism. And partly the comical clouseau-esque investigation that takes place to capture him, and subsequently to recapture him as he manages to escape from prison. I have ordered it and can’t wait to read it. A real life celebrity, from right here. (To cap it all Warner Brothers have bought the film rights and Johnny Depp is lined up to play the lead)

Some links in case you’re interested:
The author’s homepage
Very extensive and interesting article on Hungarian website Pestiside

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Religious revolution?

According to this article, Romania's 1989 revolution was actually a Christian one and not a political one. This came from the mouth of one Rev Peter Dugulescu who it says here led a prayer service in Timisoara on December 22nd which was the culmination of a week of protest. Now, according to people I have spoken to, the churches provided an important meeting place and in that sense they were a central part of the revolution. Also, the protests in Timisoara that kicked everything off, were sparked by the government's decision to silence a Hungarian Reformat priest László Tőkés, who spoke out against the system, by evicting him and subsequently attacking him physically.

But to claim that this was some kind of religious revolution misses the point quite spectacularly. I have no reason to doubt the Reverend Dugulescu when he says that he led this 100,000 strong prayer service, although this fairly exhaustive Wikipedia article, doesn't see fit to mention it. However, when he says things like "America is straying from its Christian heritage and inviting punishment unless its people come back to God" it's clear he's a couple of hassocks short of a pew. Whatever his status and his heroism in 1989, sounding off that the USA should become more fervently Christian (more!) is frankly terrifying. Bloody nutter.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Romanian cycle paths

The pavement outside the building in which Erika’s workplace resides is being dug up. Nobody is quite sure why. Well, one hopes that somebody knows why, but most people don’t. We asked the workmen for example, and they said that they were told what to do on a daily basis, and not informed of the final product they were aiming for. It’s obviously very hush-hush when the people actually doing the work are treated on a need-to-know basis. (The flaw in this system became apparent last week, when they had to take up a bunch of edging stones which they had laid a few days earlier and put them somewhere else.) We asked an officious looking bloke who was hanging round watching them work – not working or supervising you understand, just the kind of person who always gravitates towards public working situations and offers advice and the benefit of years of experience standing round watching work get done by other people – and he said that he had heard that they were building a cycle path. “A cycle path! In Csikszereda! About as likely as a shopping mall”, we snorted, derisively. Mind you, the piece of pavement being replaced is only about 200m long, and given that there are no other cycle paths in the town, it is just possible that something as ludicrous as an isolated, unconnected, useless piece of cycle path is just the kind of thing that would have occurred to the mayor.

I’m wondering if the people who live in this building have complained. (I should note here, that while I don’t work for Erika, I tend to spend my days working at “the Soros” as it is known. I could work at home, but (a) Bogi gets back at about 3, and she doesn’t really understand the concept of someone being on a computer and not playing games, and (b) I find I do even less work if I’m at home than I do if I make the effort to have a shower, get dressed, and commute the five minutes to here.) This building is an interesting sociological and intercultural communication case study. You see, the thing is this: Romania is a country dominated by Romanians (unsurprisingly). They (ethnic Romanians) are the majority and they make up somewhere between 84 and 91% of the total population (depending on what the real proportion of Roma in Romania really is). But here in Csikszereda they are the minority. This town is roughly 90% Hungarian and so the proportions are almost the mirror image of the nation as a whole. This creates a certain amount of resentment among the local Romanian population, of the “here we are in our home country, but everybody speaks a foreign language” kind. Obviously not true of everyone, but of some at least.

What does all of this have to do with this building? Well, here, most of the apartments are owned by the police and the military, and hence they are inhabited by Romanians (although the country as a whole is 90% Romanian, the armed services and police forces are closer to 99% Romanian). Here in this building they reclaim their majority status and can feel like there is a corner of Miercurea Ciuc which is forever Dacian (or something). Unfortunately for them, they are forced to share their building with Erika’s school, which of course, being a school, has a large number of people coming and going all the time, most of whom are Hungarian (reflecting the make-up of the community). For the more reactionary and nationalist members of the building (and let’s not forget that the army and police force tend to have a higher wanker quotient than most other members of any society), this is intolerable and they set about asserting their authority in childish and irritating ways. Last week, for example, they locked the lift door on the third floor so that you couldn’t use it to get to floor of the school. Other times one or two of them get drunk and storm into the office moaning about people being allowed into the building without someone checking their ID. It would be funny if it weren’t so frustrating and, at times, downright frightening (one advantage / disadvantage is that the school is staffed entirely by women – meaning, I suspect, that the complainants don’t usually get too belligerent, but also that whoever is there when the drunken boors decide that today is the day to re-assert Romanian dominance can end up feeling quite shaken by the experience). Most of them are completely fine, I have to say, but the one or two who aren’t fine, are quite nasty pieces of work.

It must have really pissed them off when this street was renamed Kossuth Lajos. Maybe the pavement digging is just another step in the same process.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Adventures in language (edition umpteen)

There are a set of Hungarian words which I learned quite early on in my life here, as I heard them on a daily (often hourly) basis. I have only recently noticed their absence from my life, and have come to the conclusion that I probably won’t be reacquainted with them for another 5 years or so. These were the words that Bogi littered her conversation with, constantly and unceasingly for pretty much the duration of her year as a five-year-old. I can probably time the day she stopped at almost exactly her sixth birthday. Unbidden, she just quit and went cold turkey without any kind of help from a support group, 12-step programme, or admitting that there was higher power greater than herself.

These words are the following:
1. pisi
2. kaka
3. szar
4. purc (sp?)
5. moslek
6. ganye (sp?)

For non-Hungarian speakers, the first two you may just about be able to guess the meaning of (though possibly not the pronunciations), the third means more or less the same as the second, though possibly with the rudeness quotient ratcheted up a notch (if 2 is poo, then 3 is maybe crap). The fourth, pronounced poorts, is a slightly milder form of fart – what I would have probably referred to as “guff” when I was of the age when such a thing was the height of comic genius. The last two are a whole new level of 5 year old insult. Moslek is roughly pigswill, which I don’t remember using as a form of cutting edge debate at that time, but would have if I’d thought of it. Ganye, which is some kind of village form of the word in my dictionary Ganéj, is manure or some other form of animal dung.

But now these words are lost to me. In years to come if I should ever have cause to dredge up the Hungarian word for pigswill, it’s quite possible that I won’t be able to remember it, despite it being part of my regular active vocabulary for nigh on a year. Fortunately, going on my experience with English, the number of times I may be called on to use moslek is vanishingly small. Mind you, I have a feeling that these words and their constant overuse are not unique to Bogi, so in five years I’ll get the chance to relive this exciting toilet-word-laden period of my life. Bogi, meanwhile has graduated onto using English words to express her displeasure at events around her. The other day she remarked to me as she was playing a new computer game, “This game is shit”, leaving me torn between uncontrollable laughter, wanting to dissuade her from being quite so graphic in her criticism, and complimenting her on a great sentence (she’s recently graduated from speaking English as vocabulary to speaking it as grammar).

And, finally, having brought up Nagy Imre (the artist) yesterday, I learn that today is the anniversary of the 1956 revolution led by his namesake in Hungary. (I'm not clear whether it's the anniversary of the revolution or its brutal supression)

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Weekend cancelled

The weekend got cancelled. Well, not literally obviously, since I'm typing this at the weekend. But in the sense of our romantic trip to Sighisoara. This is because Bogi got sick. She woke up on Friday morning complaining of a headache/earache, and after school Emoke Neni (the "neni" - lady- who looks after her while we're at work) took her to the doctors and she was diagnosed with a middle ear infection. No, middle ear, not Middle Earth. Not having read Lord of the Rings nor seen the film, I am not sure what a middle earth infection would look like, but I suspect it would involve orcs.

Anyway, when we got home yesterday afternoon, the infection was in full effect. She was obviously in a lot of pain and was crying more or less constantly. When Bogi is ill, I get this wave of something that washes over me. I am not sure if there is a word for it exactly. It's a mixture of emotions - powerlessness, desire to protect and fix things, love, and some kind of realisation of her vulnerability. The best word for it might be compassion, but I'm not 100% sure if that does it justice. Most of the time, Bogi is a human being who I share much of my life with and with whom I laugh, play, joke, argue, watch TV, love, and tease. Then when she's sick, I realise how small and weak and vulnerable and, well, childlike she is. I know she's a six-year-old girl the rest of the time too, but only when she's sick do I feel it, I suppose. Kids, eh? (He adds, desperately attempting to distract attention from his unenglish, unmale, revelation of some kind of emotions, however ill-formed, patronising, and ill-expressed)

We will have the chance to have a weekend away next weekend instead, when we are off to Cluj for a conference. Cluj (Kolozsvar in Hungarian) is the only major, interesting sounding city that I have yet to visit in Romania, and I'm looking forward to it. And eventually we will do our Sighisoara weekend, but it might now have to wait until after the little one is born (she has now graduated from some kind of aerobic kick boxing routine, to doing some kind of extended stretching to investigate exactly how far she can push Erika's belly).

Since we had the day here, and since it was a gorgeous autumn day, and since Bogi, feeling much better today, was helping Emoke Neni make cakes for her son's birthday, Erika and I went for a walk along a path I'd never been on before, across the fields the back way to Zsögöd, which is a village that in effect is these days a suburb of Csikszereda. It's a really nice place, with a great Szekely church. (If I've done this correctly, and you click here, you can see some pics I took. Let me know if it doesn;t work).

We even went in the Nagy Imre gallery. This is an art gallery devoted to Nagy Imre, an artist who was born and lived much of his life in the house attached to the gallery. I knew it was there but had never actually gone before. I liked it - and much of his work, which is very local in many ways (lots of very recognisable landscapes and street scenes). There's an article about him and a couple of his paintings here, in case you're interested. (He's not to be confused with the politician of the exact same name who was prime minister of Communist Hungary in the 1950s and was leader during Hungary's short-lived anti-soviet revolution in 1956).

And finally, you'll all be happy to hear that the Ice Hockey season has started. The level of competitiveness doesn't seem to have changed much though - in Sport Club's first two matches they have won 17-1 and 15-3 "away" to HC Csikszereda (the other team from the town), while traditional rivals Steaua Bucharest have won 10-1 and 15-5 at home to Galaţi (the new team in the premier division). Possibly Progym (from Gheorgheni, about 60km north of here) will be the challengers to these two, as they have won their first two games impressively 5-1 and 13-3 at Sportul Studentesc of Bucharest. I bet you're excited aren't you? I know how much updates on the Romanian ice hockey league mean to my readers.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Around the press

A Time piece on bird flu in the Delta. (Time piece. Geddit?) This is currently accessible to all, but if this somehow starts becoming a registration accessible page, can I recommend Bugmenot, which is one of the most indispensible sites on the Internet (Gives you passwords for registration only pages).

My least favourite Romanian, the obnoxious and vile Gigi Becali, has had his assets seized. Hopefully the authorities will decide to lock him up for a while so we don't have to see him on TV for a year or so.

He gets a mention in this article too, which adds to that post I wrote a while back about racism in Romanian football. This site (Transitions Online) does go registration after a while, so you may well need Bugmenot to get in.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Some small things just to keep in touch

Winter started this week. On Monday the hills around the town were white, and on Tuesday this had become a covering of snow. It's nice now, mind you, but it's usually around 3 or 4 degrees when we leave the house in the morning.

The panic epidemic surroumnding bird flu is in full swing. Every day brings more news from the Danube Delta where the cull of chickens and ducks is in full swing. It sounds like they're killing wild birds too. I was talking to an environmental farmer last weekend says that the genetic erosion (his words) caused by the anticipated cull of poultry in the country would cause a far worse problem than not killing them and allowing H5N1 to spread. Apparently Romania, and Transylvania in particular, is home to a number of ancient poultry lines which have died out elsewhere in Europe. They will shortly die out here because they'll all be slaughtered in an anxious response to the spread of this bug. If I kept chickens, right now I'd be slaughtering, plucking and freezing all my stock, since once the flu gets here the government will kill them all anyway and I'm guessing the compensation will not fully compensate.

Csikszereda has a brand new town website, which I'm dying to share with you all, but can't as it's not officially available yet. I only know of it (and have seen it) because I know the bloke who did the coding. It's at www... no, sorry, I can't.

Amnesty International have slammed Romania and its treatment of the Roma and raised an interesting issue in so doing. From that report: "Mr Oosting also points out that once countries become member states, EU pressure for better human rights falls away." This is something that has troubled me before. It seems that being on the road to accession is quite a good spur to countries to clean up their act, but accession itself is the point when that act ceases to be actively cleaned up.

Off to Sighisoara this weekend for our annual romantic weekend in the beautiful medieval citadel to celebrate Erika's birthday. I really ought to get round to posting some pictures of the place - it has to be one of the most beautiful towns in Europe.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Romanian in schools

Last weekend at a party, my host's son, a 10 year old who has just come back to Romania after living in Budapest for a few years, performed his recently learned party piece. That is, he recited a long and complex Octavian Goga poem in the original Romanian. Romanians present (both Hungarian Romanians and Romanian Romanians) were very impressed by his ability.

Not very interesting, you might be thinking, until you realise that the reciter doesn't actually speak Romanian (or at least speaks very little). His first language is Hungarian, he spent the early part of his school years in Hungary itself, and he is now back here and in the Romanian school system. So, basically he is reciting this poem without understanding it, more or less at all. In fact, so difficult was the poem that many of the adults didn't know some of the words.

But this, it seems, is how Romanian is taught in school. Kids can go to school in their native language, so, for example, most children here go to Hungarian medium schools. But the curriculum is a national one and therefore Romanian (as a subject) is taught as if it were a first language for all. And so, you end up with impressive but flawed scenes such as the one described above. Now, I have my doubts whether kids whose first language is Romanian are getting much benefit from being able to recite by heart Octavian Goga poems, but for non-native speakers of the language it seems the pointlessness is magnified tenfold. There is no provision within the curriculum or within the testing structure for people learning Romanian as a second language. They are Romanians ipso facto they speak Romanian, seems to be the thinking. And so, every year, a large number of kids whose first language isn't Romanian fail and are made to resit their exams or stay back a year - merely because there is no official provision for their situation. It doesn't seem that difficult to create a curriculum for Romanian as a Second Language students. It would also make them much more willing to learn the language if it were properly taught. It's no wonder that when they are older and can speak Romanian well, they'd rather not because their school experience of it was so grim.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

New chain, new dog?

You may remember some time ago the bureaucratic struggles I had attaining my highly prized “Legitimaţie de Şedere” (try clicking December 2004 in that little list to the right and scrolling down). You may then imagine my lack of elation on being told that the crappy little book thing I had been issued with was being phased out and replaced with a jazzy new card.

Initially we were told that this change would happen sometime early in the year, but it kept getting put back, until finally in August the police rang and said we’d have to get it by the end of the month. Come the end of August and we call and see if it’s really necessary to do it then since it’s a holiday month and hard to organise oneselves and also we were thinking of moving and would we need a new card if we did etc etc. The police replied that in fact nobody on their list (of foreigners resident in Miercurea Ciuc) had actually bothered to do it yet, so maybe we could do it in September.

So, come the end of September, we remembered this, and had by now decided we wouldn’t be moving this year, so called to find out what we needed to do. Just show up with the old one, my passport, a receipt for a further 4 million Lei (about €120, the bloody chancers), and they would do the rest. They even allowed me to come at 8am even though the official office hours didn’t start to 9, since I was teaching that week and couldn’t possibly come at the official time. In addition to this new spirit of helpfulness, they have moved the office for dealing with foreigners round the other side of the police station and done radical things like put a coffee machine in the waiting area. The first time we saw this shockingly civilised arrangement Erika taught me the Hungarian expression which translates as “New chain, same dog”, but it seems maybe that not only has the chain been changed but also that a newer friendlier dog has been purchased too.

So, I showed up on the appointed day at 8am, and handed over my receipt, my little green book, my passport. In return they handed me two pieces of paper to fill out - some kind of application form with personal details, and another form which I had to sign to say that it was OK for them to send my personal information to Germany. So, this was possibly the reason for at least part of this insanely high 4 million Lei fee. Despite requiring this new card and despite requiring it for every foreigner in the country, the government hadn’t actually got around to buying a machine to make them. So everyone’s details are sent to Germany, where they make the cards and send them back. You’d think they could invest in their own machine. I have no idea how many foreigners there are residing in Romania but I’m going to hazard a guess at upwards of 200,000, which number, I’d say, would justify the expense involved in getting a machine. Somewhere in Germany there’s a businessman rubbing his hands in glee as he looks at this guaranteed source of income.

Anyway, I signed the form, and they took me next door to have my picture taken. And that was that. I was in and out in less than 15 minutes. On my way home I called Erika to inform her of this fact and her first words were “What went wrong? What else do they need?” being completely incapable of imagining that the process could actually have been over in less than an hour and in only one visit. So, in a few short weeks (in theory) I should have my new fancy laminated card residence permit, which presumably is so ultra modern that it can’t even be produced east of the Rhine – I have no idea what features it could possibly have that make it so hi-tech, but there you are (they didn’t take my fingerprints or a swab of DNA from under my foreskin or anything like that, so it’s not one of these biometric things that the US is pushing for in everyone’s passports). Perhaps some foreigner in another part of Romania who already has one can let me know what exactly it is I have to look forward to.