Saturday, May 28, 2011

tension on the autobuz, flashbacks to the dirty south

Today we went back for round two of volleyball with much success, without getting rained out. It was a good day, and unexpected for a handful of reasons. There is a relief that comes with entrusting things to God, even while it is also hard, and it always surprises me, every single time. I see that I shrink his goodness to fit into my own hopes. But to walk away from even those hopes--I realize that he is my hope, my good Father in whom there is freedom. And it is sweet.

But this was hardly the most unexpected thing that happened today. On the way to volei, I took the bus. There seems to be an unwritten rule here that if you are on public transportation, you're relatively quiet, mind your own business and generally just wait to get where you're going. It's very subdued. Mostly people just seem to be in their heads, in their own worlds. Sometimes people talk on the phone, yes, and every once in a while if the bus slams on brakes, someone will yell at the driver. But on the whole, we are homogeneous, straight-faced people

And I don't know what it is, but it seems to me that people get tense quick when other people don't follow those rules. Up till now I've been writing about (ethnic) Romanians, but if there's something else that's generally true, it's that Gypsies are boisterous people and I can't imagine them at all conforming to these supposed rules of travel.

So on the way to the park, a group of Gypsies got on, a girl who couldn't have been more than seventeen or eighteen and four filthy kids, at least two of which were hers (not assuming--she said this to one of the other kids). And the whole time they were being loud and rambunctious, hitting each other, laughing across the bus and shouting. And you could see the Romanians around them getting more and more uncomfortable. The girl had a stroller and was blocking the back entrance and there was a man beside her who kept getting hit by the door because there wasn't much extra room. They got off pretty quickly, but immediately another group got on, mostly teenagers and kids. Also really loud and rowdy. At this point you could see the Romanians around them squirming. But no one said anything. They just gave them sidelong glances (or often just looked at them, as Romanians tend to do with one another in public transit), sighed loudly, adjusted their bags. It's the most uncomfortable I've ever seen a group of people here.

Sitting there, I realized two things. One, these people have never been to the dirty South. And two, I've seen this before. I remember I must have been thirteen or fourteen, I don't know. My mom and brother and I had gone to Golden Corral one Sunday afternoon. The place was surprisingly empty for that time of the day/week, except for us and a group of white middle-aged people probably just come from church. And halfway through the meal, a group of mostly kids and a few adults comes in. Important to the story: group number two is black. And the kids were all over the place, running up and down to the buffet, one little girl with mashed potatoes in her fro, yelling back and forth at each other like it was their living room. And the group of white people were getting visibly more frustrated, looking at those dirty kids running wild, the clean white ladies sighing and looking at their husbands like, do something. But again, that's the thing. No one said, hey, do you mind be a little quieter? We'd like to enjoy our meal. Meanwhile the girl with the mashed potatoes in her hair had spilled soda down her front and her brother was sprawled out on the floor laughing at her. Somebody's baby somewhere was crying and their mother was hollering from the end of the table to quit acting a fool. The white people kept huffing and puffing and eventually just left, saying I'll-let-you-guess to one another on the way out.

Now if you're from the sort of South I grew up in, you're used to chaos. And so people could do pretty much anything short of shouting through a bullhorn two feet from me without really bothering me. And besides, if you like your peace and quiet on the bus, yes it is annoying to have a smelly little kid accidentally elbow you, but he probably weighs forty pounds and your day will go on. So what do you do? It's cultural, 100%. I don't want to generalize more than where it's actually true, but ethnic Romanians and Gypsies are worlds apart culturally, and the straight-laced white people in Golden Corral lived in a different world than those unruly black kids. (Yes, these things do not apply to every Romanian/Gypsy/white American/black American everywhere. Clearly. Besides, we're talking cultures, not ethnicities, and you'll easily have fifty cultures for one ethnicity and maybe vice versa.) I'm not saying there should be barriers, but it is the simple truth that there are cultural divides and they are worth talking about, particularly if you hope to bridge them.

Now it's easy to say, hey I'm a white American who loves white Jesus who loves red and yellow black and white hey free the Gypsies! But it's more nuanced than that. I love culture, I think there is value in every culture. And I have my own cultural background that is surely different from yours, and yes, sometimes it clashes with other ones. That doesn't mean I deny mine or yours or say whose is better--it means I recognize it, try to understand it and then get to work at what it looks like to love in a way that honors God.

So what to do?


  1. There is this saying that some people forgot: When in Rome do as in Rome.
    Diversity is not good! It creates tension and problems. After so many years the politicians in Western Europe agree that the so called multicultural society was a disaster.
    We're (the Romanians or the Eastern Europeans) happy now because the gypsies fled to Western Europe.
    Talking about gypsies and Romanians in Bucharest is funny because the rest of Romania considers all the people in Bucharest gypsies :). I've been a lot of times in Bucharest and I have to say that there is some truth in what the other Romanians believe about people living in Bucharest... most of them are darker, most of them aren't too polite and the city is full of trash.
    The Western Europeans said that the gypsies are discriminated in Romania... and so on but now they're trying to send them back. Unfortunately on average a gypsy women has 3 kids while a Romanian women has less than 1 it will be impossible to get rid of the gypsies or at least to bring them in XXI century. They've been in Europe for 600 years already and nothing changed in their backward culture... sad but true...

  2. i agree with you in that if you go to live somewhere, you should adapt, learn the language, etc. but i disagree about diversity. of course it causes tension, but so does so much, and you can't just check out of everything that does unless you want to live completely isolated. and even then. besides, my opinion, there are things to be gained from diversity. we can learn from people who are different from us, they can learn from us. give-take. and it challenges you. it's not easy at all, but i think it certainly has worth.