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What am I? Between East and West … a Romanian

Portrait of man

(Private photo)

Blog |   21. Apr 2021

Portrait of man

Abel Aioanei


I thought the world was much more homogeneous. I lived in Spain for almost a year, and after the first 2 months, I realized that I was wrong about the homogeneity that I thought existed, at least in Europe.

I lived in Burgos, a small town in Northern Spain, and I had already noticed how different the Spaniards were. After a few months, I realized how different the many identities were, depending on the region. In the last six months of that time, I lived with Italians, and again, I observed the same thing about them, as they were different from the other nationalities, but also different from each other.

However, they, too, and the Spaniards and individuals I have met from other places, seemed to have a kind of shelter to which they could return, a safe place where they were guarded from the insecurities imposed on them by something I could not understand well. I had not understood what that ‘safe place’ was even after I left Spain.


I realize that I am not Western. I look at those in the East, and I realize that I am not like them either

In the meantime, I had arrived in Denmark. Another culture, other people, other customs and again … that homogeneity that I thought existed, could not be found here either. My current studies are focused on Chinese business and culture, and I also study the language. In class, I have colleagues from different countries, but most of them are local.

To help us learn Chinese, we have days when we gather in the college cafeteria to speak Chinese. This was the first time I realized something I could never have imagined.

Normally, if someone from Europe would have asked me where I am from, of course I would have said that I am from Romania. And so, in their eyes, I would have been associated with something Eastern, almost oriental, I would say, even if the term used here is exaggerated. However, when students from Korea, Japan or China ask where I come from or originate, and I give them the same answer, I am associated with something Western.

Of course, I can’t tell them that I’m Eastern, especially when I’m talking to people who have lived and grown up east of the Black Sea in countries like Japan, China, or Korea. It wouldn’t be fair to them.

However, this is where the contradiction comes from. I realize that I am not Western. I look at my fellow Scandinavians, Dutch, English, Germans, etc. and I realize that they come from another world, a world built on other values ​​that I am still not sure I understand. On the other hand, I look at those in the East, and I realize that I am not like them either, and Romania in itself, is somewhere in between, somewhere between East and West.

For the first time, I asked myself, ‘Where am I really from? What am I?’ I know that for those in Western Europe, I will never be Western. On the other hand, for those in Asia, I will most likely be associated with something Western, I am white and I also have blue eyes ha-ha. And yet … me, or no … us? We Romanians? What are we? And so … I remembered why Emil Cioran, a Romanian-French philosopher, wrote the following words:

“The shortcomings of small cultures are so great that, left in their natural course, they degenerate into caricatures.”

Which is to say, Romania is a “small culture” and thus, left in its natural course it’ll try again and again to find the identity we never actually had. This would be why in the past 30 years, we just copy-pasted what was abroad and we degenerated into some kind of a kitsch or cliché culture, defined above as a “caricature”.

It is unlikely that we will ever want or succeed in being something that we organically want to be, something that comes from us Romanians intrinsically. We are and I think we will be, just a funny caricature of the West, maybe from too many points of view.

I would add to this the fact that the Romanians do not have in our historical DNA (if I could say so) the fact that we came from somewhere, something that the Slavs seem to have more. I think that adds even more to our identity crisis.

We Romanians are in an identity crisis, and we will remain that way. In a way, we're cursed with it

We Romanians are in an identity crisis, and we will remain that way. In a way, we’re cursed with it. I would say that it can be seen very well in the music from between the years ’95 -’07 where everyone was singing about how nice it is in the West and how much we want to be just like that.

On the other hand, I see and know that specifically this issue we’re having, makes us very good at adapting to different Western cultures. Being a romance language, Romanian is very close to Spanish, Italian and French, which throughout history made it easier for Western ideas to penetrate our borders. I would also say it made it easier to relate to the people and the culture there, resulting in the big Romanian diaspora in these countries.

Moreover, Transylvania, being under Austro-Hungarian influence for some time, also plays a role in integrating a kind of a holistic European identity so to speak. I also come from an old German village and I can say that now, having left, I do observe small aspects influenced by that.

In the end, maybe we are the most European of Europeans … yes … a beautiful dream of mine, but I think and hope that the ideal and the new dream of Europe will maybe come from Eastern Europe, and why not even from Romania?!

portrait of a young man

(Photo by Anne Marie Lykkegaard)


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