This story follows a series of experiences, the last one being a recent conversation with a Nigerian soccer player that landed in one of Romania’s most international-void places. This is my home city, once the pride of Romania’s steel industry because parts of the Eiffel tower and first country locomotives had been built here, it later became a culturally and economically deserted place.
The train ride…
After scanning the inside of the train from the outside, I chose the seat based on a formula tested during years of train traveling, some in safety and hygienic conditions that are hard to imagine to westerners my age. Whenever I go by train I try as much as possible to seat next to people I believe I would enjoy chatting to, or just having them as neighbors.
70% of the time when I choose an empty seat in one of these regions, I end up sharing the ride with drunkards, people who listen to loud music, people who remove their footwear, people who travel with live stock in a handbag, religious bigots, you name it. Funny to think about, not funny to travel with.
Although the train was somewhat crowded – every bench has been taken and empty seats were scattered – nobody chose to sit next to the Nigerian guy. So I told myself that he might have an interesting story and chose the place opposite to him. I asked if the seats are taken, he said no, we shook hands (he started it) and a convivial “how are you”.
What stranger shakes your hand when you take a seat next to him in a train?!? The guy thought I was pretty polite asking him in English if the seat was taken and decided I deserved a handshake.
He avoided telling me how he ended up with a contract in a part of Romania divorced from internationalism and I let the subject pass. He then told me about how this is just a stage towards his objectives of leaving Romania for countries like Germany or Switzerland.
He wanted a different level of football and a sport culture that doesn’t see players as money-making machines until they get injured and forgotten. He was tired of the bullshit surrounding football in this region. Half of the conversation was in English and half in Romanian. It took him 18 months to reach an impressive level of Romanian on his own.
He seemed very ambitious and very focused on his mission. He calmly added that playing here was “just something that has to be done”. I connected, because living now in my home city is just a stage, something that has to be done. (later edit: read this on the subject – The Wisdom Of The Two Steps Forward, One Step Back Career Plan)
The sports theme is a recurrent one whenever I think of everything that has to do with goals and achievement. Business especially, I believe we all can learn from successful athletes. There are no ‘try’, ‘but’ and ‘maybe’. It’s either you strive to beat your time or score, or you don’t. You either learn and implement your learnings in the next round or you don’t. Feedback is immediate, excuses are superfluous. Watch the one minute video below, then continue reading.
Business has somehow shed an unhealthy layer of diplomacy over such immediate feedback. An in this layer I’ve met the people who have suffocating amounts of ‘ifs’, ‘buts’ and hidden agendas – i.e. the bullshit.
I left Romania in 2008 with a light professional experience. Even so, I’ve met managers that often cursed their employees, salaries that had been paid months later, lack of work-contracts etc. In the past four years I’ve had the opportunity to work in international teams throughout Europe.
As a rule of thumb, west European countries had, in my experience, a more effective and simple approach to work than east European countries. Work hours were more (self)-regulated and there was a distinct cut-off between work and personal life. It’s here that I learned to speak the international business language of collaboration.
This comes in huge contrast with the work relationships that mix with status, competition, complaining, trickery and self-victimizing I sometimes find here. A foreign friend recently employed in Romania told me how his project got delayed several times, months in a row, and he’s not sure about the next deadline either.
Some complained about the business communication. You exchange mails, phone calls and offers, and then everything turns silent. It is a combination* of business and courtship, leaning on the latter. People seem to have misunderstood the meaning of ‘fake it till you make it’.
My pet peeve when talking about business relationships would have to be time management. Or the lack of it. Romania being a combination of latin and slavic cultures, being late means also not apologizing about it. If possible, find an excuse and ‘fake it till you make it’.
The reason why this bothers me a lot is because every ‘respectable’ business person wears on technology that would power a moped. So you’d think that they can remember a meeting if it’s written on the pad, smartphone and latest mac.
More than business relationships appear to be, political affairs are a zero-sum game. Disgusted and confused by the lack of integrity and ideology in political parties, I’ll leave this subject in need of more information. With a prime minister accused of plagiarism by two out of three commissions, and an overwhelming amount of internet data so that everybody can compare the two texts, I prefer to fast on this subject.
The end: Esse quam videri
By now you probably noticed what is it that I call bullshit. It’s this insulting lack of communication mixed with lack of integrity and honesty, all these being deferred from being personal weaknesses and promoted as means to protect against others with the same traits. I have a lot of respect for people who have shaped my view on things with their verticality and eye on the long-term gain.
If I could sum up in a sentence my feeling towards this subject, that would be the friendly latin advice esse quam videri – to be, rather than to seem to be (on Wikipedia).
If you’ve read so far – thank you, and please take this with a grain of salt, as things are changing for the better in the subjects I chose to speak firmly about. And sometimes is not the Who, but the What that has to change (embedded in the video embedded below).
* not with the meaning in the text, but worth knowing, in Ro slang a combination (o combinatie) is an activity done on shady terms, that benefits both sides, usually in the detriment of a third.