Sunday, September 28, 2008

How many Romanians does it take to change a light bulb?

I have been changing light bulbs for the best part of 30 years, now, and for around 20 of those I have been the primary light-bulb-replacer in my place of residence. I have, it is fair to say, changed a fair few light bulbs in my lifetime. I have changed light bulbs in 10 countries (Romania is the 10th country I have lived in), including in an underdeveloped tropical island nation, and a place which was living under an illegal and brutal occupation in which power cuts were the norm. I include this background not to brag about my lightbulb changing past - on the contrary, I presume I have changed no more lightbulbs than most adults - but to make it clear that I have some normal levels of experience in replacing bulbs.

However, in all my years of lightbulb changing, I have never really had a problem with the assignment. Unscrew burned out bulb, screw in new bulb. It's not an especially challenging task. Except, that is, in Romania. Here it is a minefield of potential problems, and I have no idea why. When you unscrew a lightbulb here you have to be prepared for this simple act to go horribly wrong - either the bulb itself falls to pieces or the fitting does. I've unscrewed bulbs and ended up with the glass bit in my hand and the metal screw in bit left in the socket. I've unscrewed bulbs which leave behind a metal sleeve of some kind in the socket. I've unscrewed bulbs that bring with them the threaded metal sleeve that lines the bakelite fitting itself. I've unscrewed bulbs that have left the bakelite fitting (is it bakelite?) crumbling into little pieces. It's important to note here, that I live in Romania now, in the 21st century, in the European Union, not in Romania in the 1980s under a regime in which most things were made poorly.

I would say on about 50% percent of occasions when I change a bulb in this country, this simple operation goes horribly wrong and leaves me standing on a chair with a pair of pliers in danger of electrocution trying to extract something from something else that shouldn't be locked together. Truly, light bulbs and the fittings in this country are bloody awful. In all my previous years of changing bulbs I had never once had any difficulty with the act. Here, I feel grateful if it goes smoothly. Now some of the fittings and even possibly one or two of the bulbs probably predate 1989, but even the ones which I know to be new tend to suffer from the same problem. It's really, really crap. I bet most people in this country don't even know that it should be a simple task every time, hence the lack of protest movements and people out on the street with banners reading "Forget Graft, Start by Fixing the Sodding Lightbulbs" or "Hai Romania, Hai Lightbulbs"


Anonymous said...

I really can't understand this article. The title has nothing to do with the article itself, it is just offensive.... Since you live among Hungarians, why not...How many Hungarians does it take to change a light bulb?
Sorry, you lost my simphaty. Actually I feel sorry for you.

Andy said...

The title is a reference to the standard "How many X's does it take to change a lightbulb" joke (eg How many folk singers does it take to change a lightbulb? 5 - one to change it and 4 to sing about good the old one was). I really can't see how it is offensive in any way, but I apologise if you are offended by it.

On the Hungarian thing, it seems I'm damned if I do, damned if I don't. Would you prefer it if I had entitled it "How many Romanian Citizens Does it take..."? (I mean the point is that the lightbulbs on sale here are shit, not that Romanians or Hungarian Romanians or anyone else are bad at changing them.

I lost your sympathy but you feel sorry for me? Curious.

Unknown said...

Sympathy ? Well, I can't say I had much of it for the opinions aired in a blog that stinks of antagonism in the first place, although it's true that my acquaintance with this self-righteous blabber is only 2 hours old.
I'm a native of Marosvasarhely (Tg.Mures) and a very frequent visitor of my family in Csik. I've also spent a cumulated total of about 16 years in the Gaza strip as field pediatrician for Médecins Sans Frontières, and about just as long in the organization’s office on the other side of the fence in Israel. So I happen to know a thing or two about life among Romanians/Szeklers on the one hand, and Palestinians/Israelis on the other. Your favorite prattle on both, but especially on the latter, is nothing but a limited and one-handed smugly opinion of what in fact are much more complex issues you wouldn’t be oblivious of had you spent somewhat more time teaching your teenage neighbors, perhaps treating their wounds and administering them polio shots, but at the same time watching an incredible percentage of them dreaming about becoming shaheeds while not much were your preachings worth to disabuse them from the idea. I'd done that for so long but I also lived the other side of story, including watching many a time the dismal scenery from the vision slit of a Merkava tank. As opposed to Anonymous, who got offended by the probably inadvertent taunt you vented, your petty grudge doesn't cook my goose in any personal way, but I'll have to refrain from wasting my time reading more vitriolic blogs.

Christian, France

Andy said...


Not sure if you'll read this but, I'll go ahead anyway.

I'm not sure where the accusation of antagonism and vitriol comes from. I do occasionally go off on one about various people (usually politicians - the most recent being Sarah Palin), but I always try and flag those up with a "rant" tag. Other than that, I'm a little uncertain where the vitriol is (and the petty grudge). However, I am realising increasingly that the words I write are not being interpreted as I meant them, so it would help me to try and see where it is that I'm rubbing people up the wrong way.

As for my prattle on Israel/Palestine, well all of that blog (bar one entry) is made up of postings that I wrote when I was there and experiencing things as they happened. What that blog is, I suggest, is just me reporting what I saw and my reactions to it - I don't feel there's much if any editorialising. Obviously I have opinions about the issue (as does pretty much everyone, from people who have never been, to people with limited experience like myself, to people with much greater experience like you, to people who live it (on both sides) on a daily basis. But, as it happens I have refrained from sharing those opinions (for the most part) after I left, since it's not like there aren't other people much more qualified (and bombastic) than me. I really don;t think there is much substance to that accusation, but I would enjoy the conversation if you felt like it.

I do prattle on about the whole Romanian Hungarian thing more than is necessary, on that I feel I am guilty as charged. But living here, it's hard to avoid it. I hope that I at least provide a reasonably balanced view.

Anonymous said...


Here in Romania we had this joke like this:

Q:How many "militieni" are needed to change a light bulb ? ( milita = police in communist times)
A:5. One to hold the bulb and 4 to rotate the table [ on which the first policeman climbed to reach the bulb].

As you know, humour cannot be easily translated, but the joke was supposed to emphasise the stupidity of militia/policemen.

Jamie said...

This post is clearly a bit old, but if you're still tormented by sub-par lightbulbs, try using a raw potato to get it out. If the bulb breaks in the socket, cut a potato in half and jam the skinless side up into the socket; twist swiftly and the whole bit should come out. If you're too gentle, you'll just end up grinding a hole into the potato. Then again, the quality of lightbulbs could have increased tenfold since you've written this. ::shrug::