Posts Tagged life story

The bitter taste of unmet expectations

A good friend of mine, who also lives abroad now, has texted me last week with an unpleasant (for her) piece of news. She has been fancying this guy at work for quite a while now and even felt a connection, but they never dated. However, apparently he told her he wasn’t in a relation, only for my friend to recently find out he is moving in with his girlfriend. She wrote me “how do I get over this bitter taste?”

The first thing which sprang to my mind was that, actually, he’d done nothing wrong. Many men, especially at work, prefer not to discuss or give much detail on their personal life whatsoever. Many of them only talk about any such matters with very close friends. Although I do feel for my friend, I see how her disappointment has little to do with the guy himself, but more with her own unfulfilled expectations. He probably didn’t even lie to her, considering, as she’s also told me, that he valued setting a clear limit between personal life and work.

Now I need to say I have known my friend for many, many years. She is the sweetest, most delicate introvert, with a sparkling sense of humour, which actually shelters a very shy, sensitive and emotional person. And, after years of not being in contact, we found each other again on, yes, Facebook and have kept in touch better via Viber and Skype. It feels just the same as in those days past when we sometimes confessed to each other by writing letters.

The bitterness which she possibly felt quite overwhelming we all experience, heavier or lighter, over and over. Every time an unmet expectation strikes us, it seems like the natural feeling, a little less heated than anger and a little more obvious than frustration. But then, at the same time, whichever the range of emotions, we can stop and ask ourselves: does this actually have anything to do with somebody else treating us unfairly or not? Did they do anything wrong to us, after all?
The more we think they did, the more difficult will be for us to get over it and move on.

Of course I am speaking out of experience. I do know a lot about lingering in the drama, about feeding my own frustration and keeping the flames of my own anger high. But I have also come to realise what I have probably read over and over again, and was told by some of the most helpful people I’ve met, that others do not have to react, behave or relate to me in the way I want or would like them too. As long as it is not offensive, what they do is their own choice and has nothing to do with me.
Once we realise this, we do not take things so personally any longer. It doesn’t mean our first reaction would be different or we would lose all of the bitterness, frustration or anger when our long learnt and practiced pattern has been to feel hurt, disappointed, mislead (if not, plainly, lied to), pushed aside.

However, in time and with good practice, we can come to understand that the way people behave has little to do with us. It has much to do with themselves, their life circumstances, their past and background, their life experience, their own state of mind.
Wherever we are, whatever the situation, it comes to us to consider our options and where we want to shift our attention to. Just the same as it is the others’ own business to deal with the consequences of their own behaviour, choices and expectations.

Writing about this made me think of a Paul Valery quote, which I knew in an approximate form in Romanian. According to Goodreads, this is what the French writer said: “Our judgements judge us; and nothing reveals us [or] exposes our weaknesses more ingeniously than the attitude of pronouncing upon our fellows.” 

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The Lost Europe

During my last University years, I joined two cultural studies groups, led by members of The Third Europe Foundation in Timisoara. One of them focused on literature studies, while the other carried on social study to achieve an anthropological view on history. With all the debate today in the UK regarding immigration and countries like Romania, my home land, I’m not sure of how The Third Europe sounds, but for me it has a lot of meaning. Let’s see if we can decipher it together.

How many Europes do you know today? Yes, of course, we can think of Europe as being a big book with so many pages of history, culture, social changes, economy, geography and so on. But generally we speak of Western and Eastern Europe. Well, apparently this leaves things out and the people who started the named foundation were aiming at filling the gaps. This “Third Europe” is actually what has been torn apart by the two wars of the XX century, and ever since the whole world seems to have forgotten about it. It is that part of the continent which has been more or less covered by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, one which many of the people living in the countries nowadays considered Eastern Europe are still praising in their memories, even if only for the cultural heritage. It’s Central Europe.
While some people might have heard or known of it, most haven’t, not even in the countries politically transferred behind the Iron Wall after WWII. Ask a Romanian which countries are part of Central Europe and the chances are very slim they would pick out their own.

To tell you the truth, I have to admit myself that I had no idea whatsoever before attending these two cultural studies groups. Then I had the chance to learn from people like Mircea Mihaies, Adriana Babeti, Smaranda Vultur, most of them professors I’d known from the University, about the heritage of this lost Europe. It was then when I understood where the high esteem people in Banat (Western part of Romania) had on German ethnics came from. And at the same time I could see that this lost Europe was never, in truth, found, ironic as it may sound. The paradox of Central Europe is that it has always existed, but never fully acknowledged until it came apart, was wrapped and buried. People from the countries which became part of the communist block were indeed looking with high esteem towards Wien and the “Kaiserlich und Koniglich” (Imperial and Royal) power, simply because it brought a lot of good investment in their lands. At the same time, apparently the Austrian Germans and the Hungarians, the two ruling nations, were not so happy anymore, looking further on the map.
The world I’ve studied about more than ten years ago and to which my thoughts go back now was as such the heir of an Imperial and Royal dream, a Utopia in which people worked in a joined effort for the benefit of all nations living and prospering together. Ordinary men and women from Timisoara and Praha and Warsaw, be them locals or German colonists, played their part in this world built on the music of Strauss and the image of a benevolent ruler, emperor Franz Joseph, as Encyclopaedia Britannica states: “ he was to his civil servants an unequaled model of exactitude, devotion to duty, and justice”.

Timisoara Unirii Catalina George

(lamps in Union Square in Timisoara, probably not the first ones in Europe, though they might as well be)

Born and raised in Banat, a region which was highly colonised with Austrian Germans, and with the colonists came investment in the mining industry, as well as agriculture, tourism, education and infrastructure, I grew up praising this heritage. I have as well inherited that sense of pride all people in Banat had, summarized by the saying “Banat is the crown” (“Tot Banatu-i fruncea”). One of the last regions to be incorporated into the Austro-Hungarian Empire, taken back from the Ottomans, who have conquered it from the Hungarians (complicated, isn’t it?), Banat saw some of the best projects in Europe of those times. How many people know today that in 1884 my home city, Timisoara, was the first city in Europe, yes, in Europe with electric light on the streets? There were about 731 lamps to start with. And this is not the only premiere in Timisoara that gave local people that sense of pride and of being the chosen ones, as well as the ones capable of bringing the Imperial and Royal dream to life, in peace with all their neighbours, no matter if they were Serbian, Hungarian, Jewish or German.

By joining The Third Europe groups I could now base my pride as a Banat born and raised person on something certain, on historical facts, as well as understand the ups and downs history has brought us to. Funny enough, it wasn’t the literature studies I was most drawn to and most involved in, but the anthropological ones.
The main project going on at the time was based on collecting stories from the elderly locals about how life was and how things happened. We were using the “life story” method, encouraging people to tell us about their lives as they pleased, with little to no intervention from ourselves, not to alter their stream of thoughts and memory. All we did was to politely start a conversation and briefly explain that we’d like to know how life was for them, and then just use our active listening skills, encourage them to keep telling whatever they wanted, and politely support their effort. Of course we would record what they told us, with their permission. In the end books were published about Germans in Banat, or other ethnic communities. The study was based on recurring things in people’s stories. What they thought was important and mattered and was worth sharing in their lives spoke about the thinking of their time, about how people experienced history first hand, what made a great impression on them, what their traumas, dreams and disappointments were. This was history from live memory.

Now I remembered all these because I’m about to write about my life story, in a way that maybe can help other people see more in me and other nationals from the same home country than just a Romanian dreaded as the poorest of Europe, unskilled and ready to do anything to get a piece of the cake, involving mostly crime, milking the British benefits system or stealing a job of a worthy Briton. Maybe my life story can tell more about these Romanian people without a face, “vermin” as some say, coming from a “rat hole” as others claim, maybe it can show that Romanians like me have a lot to offer to whoever wants to learn from other’s experience, history, hopes and dreams and, in the end, their humanity.
Saying stories are like windows to the world is probably a cliché. But maybe when visualising this cliché sometimes we don’t grasp all its meanings: a window is an opening to another world/side/image, but at the same time it’s a mirror. We might not always consciously see our reflection in it, but it’s always there and we do grasp it, even if just with a glimpse we don’t even realize dangling at the corner of our eyes.  




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