Friday, June 27, 2014

Day of the flag

Yesterday, I learned while watching the news, was "The Day of the Romanian Flag". WTF is that? There's also a day for the national anthem, and a day for the constitution.  I am not yet sure if there is a "National Day of the Romanian Penal Code" or "National Day of the Romanian Currency".  I mean seriously, what exactly do people do on a day which celebrates a piece of cloth? Do all countries have one of these? What's the point of it?  Can anyone tell me?

Not really the same thing, but anyway:

Slightly later update:  I made the day of the currency up, imagining it to be an impossible date... but it exists! April 22nd, if you ever want to pay homage to your Lei.

Seriously though.  the day of the flag. What's it all about?  "The day of the symbol of the national day".  Does the flag get its own symbol, that you can wave in its honour?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Romtelecom, setting Romania back 30 years

Customer service in Romania is frequently (though by no means always) a haphazard affair, with there still being a significant number of places where your custom is seen as more of a burden than a positive.  But things are changing for the better, and noticeably so.

So when a large company with - no doubt - up to date processes and a focus on customer service manages to piss you off so much through treating you like the old days it can be really shocking.

Romtelecom is the company that used to have a monopoly on all telecom type services in this country, but these days they are in competition with other companies, and they provide internet, land-line telephone services and cable TV.  Of late I've actually heard reasonably good things about them.  And so, when we decided to get a much better Internet connection in our house, we had no problems in going to them.  Last week we got in touch and put in our request to be connected to their service.  "OK, we'll let you know", was the response, which we took to mean "We'll call you when the guy is coming round to connect you up".  We checked in today and ... well it wasn't like we had imagined.

Today's message was "The fact that you asked for internet does not mean we will give it to you.  That was just a logging of your request.  The village you live in is not part of our "development plan", and so, well,... "(you get the picture). Now, Romtelecom has cable here.  Our neighbours have internet through Romtelecom, as do most people in the village.  it's not that they have to lay cable out here or something.  They just can't be bothered sending someone out to the village.  It's an absolute fucking joke.   I feel like I jumped back in time 20 years to a Romania where the customer is just a pain in the arse to be ignored or treated like shit.

I'm flabbergasted, to be honest. 

Monday, June 23, 2014


This week is exam week for the 8th graders of Romania.  Essentially, they have 2 (or 3 - see below) big exams, after which their futures (or the next 4 years of those futures anyway) are decided.  Roughly, how it works is this: Over the 4 years from 5-8th grade they have been receiving marks for everything they do at school, and this continuous assessment goes towards their final grade.  But it only constitutes 25% of the total, and the exams they are taking this week make up the other 75%.  But they don;t have exams in all the subjects they have been studying, just 2 (or, as I said, 3, in some cases).  So there are large amounts of subjects that have almost no weight in this process - Physics, English, chemistry, geography, history, biology, etc etc are all sort of left behind here.

The exams that they do have are in Romanian (that was this morning, Monday), and maths (that's on Wednesday). For those kids whose first language is not Romanian, they also have an exam in "limba materna" - in my daughter Bogi's case (and the case of 90% of Harghita County, and about 7-8% of the country) that means Hungarian. Seems a bit unfair that they have to do 3 rather than 2, but them's the breaks. (It will be this way after the 12th grade too).

Next year, from the 9th grade, they will all be at high school.  These tests will decide (a) what "track" they will be able to take in high school, and (b) what high school they can go to.  Because while there isn't any form of streaming in the Romanian system, the "good" high school can choose the "good" students to fill its places (this happened to me too when I was at school choosing sixth forms, so it;s not exactly a Romania-specific issue).  So it does make a difference.

Over the years the weighting of the continuous assessment and the exams keeps changing (to the point where you only really find out what it will be during that final, 8th, year.  4 years ago, there was no test at all, and it was all on continuous assessment.  Last year it was, I think 50/50.  Now the test is dominant.  I'm intellectually opposed to the primacy of the test as a form of assessment, but the argument that I hear a lot from parents is that in schools in villages, everyone knows everyone and the teachers tend to give higher marks during the year than do teachers in towns.  Thus when the reckoning comes, kids from villages end u taking the places in the "good" schools, squeezing out the town kids who have had much tougher teaching and more exacting standards.  I have no idea if that's true but it sounds like a valid concern - especially in a community like this where it's very rural and this is the point at which kids from a large hinterland are all feeding in to a few schools, all in the town.  The national test, it is thought, at least provides a level playing field.

Anyway, the stress will all be over in 2 more days, and then it's just about trying to jump through the bureaucratic hoops to get to your chosen school.

Today, then, the kids are not 100% happy, but just to wrap this up, here is a video that Bogi's class made to celebrate the end of school.  You get to see lots of shots of the town and it is really, genuinely  a very high quality video.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Modern slavery in the free market

My neighbour has just come home from Sweden. She's been working there for a month or so picking asparagus.  She came home early because she started suffering from a heart condition and basically was advised that she should no longer work.

Now the reason that she may have developed this heart condition is that she was worked like a dog.  Well harder than that.  They got up to start their day at 3am.  yes, that's right 3am.  And they worked, some days as late as 11pm (it being light late in Sweden).  They worked 7 days a week at this appalling pace, in terrible conditions - they were told they would be picking strawberries, which wouldn't have been much better, but is not as bad as picking asparagus.  Before she got the heart problem she also had an infected leg wound from working in the wet fields. For the time that she was there, just over 5 weeks, of this punishing, brutal schedule, she has brought home 600 Euros. 7 days a week 16-20 hours a day.  For 600 Euros. Away from her husband and daughter, away from her home.

And, let's not forget, this is in Sweden, one of the best places in Europe and the world for conditions for workers we always think.  God knows what she'd have gone through somewhere else.

Now we've heard a lot recently about the EU's open borders for workers, the migration of people looking for work.  But we don't hear that much about the unscrupulous bastards who use this fact to treat people like virtual slaves.  These vile, cruel, workhouse capitalist pigs. Scum of the earth, using and abusing the poor and disadvantaged to furnish their own profit margins.  Sweeping up poor, undereducated people from SE Europe, transporting them half way across the continent and them working them (literally) into the ground, until their bodies fail.  This is inhuman and absolutely disgusting.  This is where the EU's policies are failing the continent - failing to protect people from these slave-drivers, these rapacious monsters who abuse the system and those they "hire" into their appalling schemes.

And, yet, repugnant motherfuckers like Farage and Le Pen, focus their ire, their hate, their attacks on the people who are forced by circumstances to take these "jobs".  The victims are not to blame, and to make them the scapegoats is just piling misery on top of those who can least fight back.  The EU needs to change its policies - it needs to protect the vulnerable and disadvantaged.  Instead it creates the conditions for the exploitation of people in the name of free movement.

It's time to fight this shit.  The market may be free.  Those that are used by it most definitely are not.  Just another commodity to be mined for profit.