mestecau (chewing gum) as currency  

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Ever since I have decided to focus on English language blogs, I find every now and then news about Romania that beg to be commented. I never have enough time to do so, but today, as I read about the chewing gum thieves, I shall make an exception.

Steaua-Card-BancarI just learned from BBC that our beloved contrymen have chosen to further promote Romania’s image as a touristic destination by stealing tones of chewing gum:

On 16 January two Romanian nationals were jailed for stealing £800 worth of chewing gum from stores in Worcester the previous day.

Worcester magistrates ordered Constantin Barbu, 31, and Bogan-Constantin Panait, 23, both from Hounslow in London, to spend seven days in prison after they pleaded guilty to stealing chewing gum from supermarkets.

If you’re like me, upon reading this you might thing that the Brits have decided to place all Romanian thieves in jail and that is the PR piece to convince public opinion that this is the right thing to do. After all, there is no free press left in the world, only PR-driven efforts to sway the public one way or the other. Then again, even if that’s the case, they do a good job in providing “evidence”:

PC Walton said it was a "widespread problem" with the first case he became aware of happening in April 2011. He said: "The values we are talking about are £340, £700, £420, £318. "What they do in effect is they go down the aisles and empty the whole box into their trolley. They always have a vehicle outside, they never use public transport and they target stores on retail parks because there is less chance of getting blocked in by traffic, like in the town centres." (..)

Sarah Cordey, spokeswoman for the British Retail Consortium, said the thefts fitted with recent trends they had identified of shoplifting being carried out by "organised criminal gangs". (..) "Sadly (chewing gum theft) fits into this trend and what's of concern to us is they are more likely to be violent if confronted by staff and are more likely to be responsible for sizable losses because they tend to pre-plan."

Richard Goodchild, who runs the Safer Shrewsbury Pub and Shop Watch Partnership, said at first he thought the problem was just contained to Shropshire. (..) "When we raised the issue at the Midlands Retail Crime Partnership forum we felt a bit daft, but when we mentioned it other places said it had happened to them too." PC Walton and Mr Goodchild are advising stores to reduce the amount of gum they have on display and to heighten their security. (..)

They quote even a Romanian student.

Romanian student Ioana Enea, 20, from Moldova, in Eastern Romania, said it was "not uncommon" to receive gum instead of change in her home country. The digital design student, who is currently studying at the University of Dundee, said: "Bubble gum or other small candies are used as small change but only if the cashier is out of small change and you are asked beforehand if you wish to have a piece of gum instead of currency. "Usually people use large notes to pay for items and shopkeepers, especially in small shops, don't have much small change and that is why they use gum or candy when they run out of it. This is not an uncommon practice."

..and an English man in Bucharest:

John Bagley is an engineer from Warwick who started working in Romania in 2010. He said: "I was given chewing gum at the train station in Bucharest. "It was a bit of a shock at first. I was just buying some water at one of the little kiosks before I got on the train and had handed over some notes and got given some gum instead of bani [the equivalent of pence in sterling]."

Still, how did it come to this? How did Romanians get to accept candy in lieu of change (i.e., “rest”)?!

proster-nation (“restul”)

Romania does not have a culture of customer service, as we find in Protestant countries such as Netherlands, UK, Switzerland and Scandinavia. In the pre-communist Romania we had an incipient customer service culture based primarily on Oriental/Southern (Greek or Turkish, mostly) submissive prostration (“prosternare” in Romanian) on the part of the one receiving the money and moronic machismo from the one giving it. Whomever does not conform to such standards is a “fazan” – p(h)easant. Romanians, like most of those holding lawn tickets at the European concert, have a real difficulty setting the boundaries necessary in any business relationship and do not understand that there is a dignified way of conducting business and there is an Oriental way. They don’t travel much either, so trying to explain such concepts to them is akin to explaining quantum mechanics to orphans in state institutions.

I myself remember trying to purchase stuff from kiosks and never receiving the full change. The vendor tends to assess your hurry and based on that tries to negotiate with you what kind of change she gives you. This does not happen only with street kiosks but even with taxi cab drivers. It happened to me even with bus drivers who would refuse to provide a ticket, preferring to pocket the money despite my repeated requests. Most Romanians are so tired of fighting corruption at every street corner that they no longer differentiate between high and low-level corruption succumbing to a sweet resignation in front of any and all reports of high-level corruption.

So what was the point of all this? Since the use of dumb candy is so widespread, it is a necessity for them to have a large supply of zero-value candy obtained most-likely through illegal means. In so far as people accept to give their business to “kiosks” instead of boycotting them and demanding that their license is revoked, such establishments needed to “innovate” and provide the public what they seem to want and accept: “ciunga” (chewing gum) as currency.

bazooka joe

If there is a silver lining on this new development, is that Romanians have surpassed the Americans (fara rusine putem spune). More precisely, the pre-columbian Americans who – if you didn’t know watch the speech below – used seashells as currency. Besides, I already said that we are very much like the Americans of half a century ago – I’m just off by a few centuries. Furthermore, a “bazooka joe surprise” (bite sized comics that came with the Turkish chewing gum of my childhood) resembles far more a banknote than a seashell a coin.

Sure, most of the world is moving toward virtual (i.e., bitcoin) and / or community based currencies, but can’t Romanians be more minimalist / original?!

The fact is, only rich Romanians get to use cards:

Card payments in Romanian shops reached EUR 4.5 billion last year, up 26 percent on the year before. December was the peak month of the year, with payments in shops exceeding 16 percent of the total card payments in the country. ATM transactions still make up the bulk of operations with cards, some 80 percent, reaching EUR 23 billion in withdrawals. This was 10 percent above the level in 2010.

The average value of a card payment in shops stood at some EUR 40, which is higher than in Western European countries, where cards are habitually used for smaller payments. The average value of an ATM withdrawal exceeded EUR 100 and was slightly up compared to 2010.

There was 13.3 million active cards on the Romanian market at the end of 2011, the bulk of them – 90 percent being debit cards.

A question still lingers though: why steal it? Does it not make more sense to simply purchase chewing gum en gros (wholesale) so that the cost approaches zero? Perhaps the answer to this riddle has more to do with attitudes and the same “communist/cleptocratic/homo sovieticus” culture, where the winner is whomever manages to steal more without getting caught. And maybe, just maybe, UK policies tend to favour and encourage such actions.


Explaining this mechanism is no easy task. Most Romanians do not believe it – in fact, I suspect that there are more British people who understand how discrimination breeds this type of situations, so rather than spelling it out, I will rely on the metaphor provided by the recent movie “In Time”.

This movie is a riddle because it presents the viewer an enticing metaphor yet simultaneously it turns off those apt to understand it by distributing in the lead role Justin Timberlake. [BTW, it’s interesting how for every generation, god’s gift to women is named Justin: my grandma is or was in love with the “OverHappy” Justinian, middle age chicks still dig Justin Timberlake much like Mila Kunis (Lois in Family Guy), and all the underage hormones tend to land on Justin Bieber’s lawn; remember SouthPark’s Goths and their “why don’t you go back to your homework and Justin Timberlake, you conformist asshole?!”? :)] But if we treat it as any work of art deserves to be treated and analyzed, we discover an awesome jewel (underneath all those Justin-generated bodily fluids). In short, in a dystopian future (reminiscent of Gattaca: trailer, full and another, even older movie), time has replaced money as the main currency. Everybody is guaranteed life until 25; over that, you have to work for hours of life. Poor people die young, while the rich live forever.

LE: There's an older movie with a smilar premise (Logan's Run, 1976), but its treatment is different.

If you think about it, our society is already like that, it’s just that this social contract is not fully spelled out, and furthermore nobody yet lives forever, at least not to our knowledge. Yet Nursultan Nazarbayev, Borat’s fearless leader, has come close to [wishing?] that (discovery):

The 70-year-old leader stressed in a speech that a new scientific research institute in the capital Astana should study “rejuvenation of the organism,” as well as “the human genome, production of human tissue and creation of gene-based medicines”.

Of course, who wouldn’t want to live forever when they have a country that they rule–for life. He said back in October that he would be the country’s president until at least 2020 if his old bones can take it, says The Guardian:

“Maybe, then, you’ll offer me an elixir of youth and energy – maybe you have such potions in Korea … I’m willing to go on until 2020, just find me an elixir.”

Yet another situation presented there is more than compelling and almost realistic. This society is partitioned in “time zones”, much like Europe. Though it’s not impossible to move across, it’s difficult, and it costs a lot of currency (i.e., time), so that only the very rich can afford it. The rich and their police (“timekeepers”) are very much like vampires, sucking the very life out of the poor and ensuring that no-one can jump the queue.

And this is the sad situation in most of the civilized world: even if you play by the rules, you will still be unable to get ahead. If you ever win the lottery, either the Mafia or a bunch of lawyers will come knocking on your door, ensuring that you will never jump queue and will continue to live your life as an insignificantworker ant” or “free-range chicken”.

Sources / More info: bbc, ri, steaua, in time, wiki-mtn, imdb-lr

Thank you for reading (mulţam fain pentru cetire)! Publicat Tuesday, February 21, 2012 . Similar articles under the following categories (poţi găsi articole similare sub următoarele categorii): (Subscribe), (Subscribe), (Subscribe), (Subscribe), (Subscribe), (Subscribe) . Dacă ţi-a plăcut articolul, PinIt-uieste-l, ReddIt-eaza-l, stumble-uieste-l altora, trimite-l pe WhatsApp yMess şi consideră abonarea la fluxul RSS sau prin email. Ma poti de asemenea gasi pe Google. Trackback poateputea fi trimis prin URL-ul de sub Comentarii.
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