With this my second last day of holiday in Romania, I'm grabbing the opportunity to write my first MyNews24 article from outside South Africa with a bit of a broader perspective.
I can tell you that I'm actually homesick for South Africa, which up to now I'd always taken as just a cliche for expatriates ... it turns out an extended holiday has the same effect (especially when the major language isn't English!).
From this side of the Mediterranean, it becomes hard to get too upset about e-Tollling (or is that SANRAL's PR disaster?), the ANC's lack of empathetic leadership, or the bad relationship between the rain and working traffic lights.
Rather, what I miss about South Africa is a lot more difficult to define ... it's the country my grandfather fought for in World War II, and the country which ensured that I can trace my lineage back to four different European countries (all on opposite ends of various wars), and the country that has been the constant back-track of almost everything I've achieved (if not dreamed about).
Romania is an interesting country for more reasons than I could go into here, but it bears striking similarities between two countries both still struggling to overcome the numerous legacies of an oppressive political system (Communism for them, Apartheid for us).
What I've found most fascinating is that even here in Eastern Europe, Europe's 'country cousin', I have access to a dirt cheap unlimited 20 MB/s internet connection (bundled with cable TV with over 50 channels); I've bought a single prepaid card which grants me seamless access to three different forms of efficient public transport (tram, bus and underground Metro); and best of all there are numerous deals to be had for cheap food and clothing.
I'm not listing these things to brag - I am looking forward to returning to South Africa as stated. It's just interesting for me to see where Romania and South Africa's public and private infrastructure converges and diverges, and in South Africa it seems to me that we have focused so much on personal wealth that we simply lack effective public transport and internet infrastructure than even a poor European neighbour could pull off with decent planning.
Also, being in Europe has its benefits for Romania: my guess is that it's more cost effective to import cheap food from European neighbours and ultra-cheap (but surprisingly good quality) clothing and hardware from China than it would be for us in South Africa.
Despite all of these advantages, however, I've found that electronics cost significantly more in Romania than in South Africa, as does fuel (think north of R18/litre), and that VAT here is 24% compared to South Africa's 14%.
Romania also has a problem with its image on the global stage - where South Africa is best known as 'that country that overcame Apartheid' and the home of the Big 5, Romania still cannot shrug the Dracula associations and the immigration fear-mongering in the United Kingdom ahead of getting full EU access in 2014.
I think that in South Africa we've gotten too focused inwards on our own problems, whereas a little global perspective might help tone down some of the pointless rhetoric and futile anger. Also, instead of comparing ourselves to the UK or US, maybe developing neighbours like Romania might yield more fruitful lessons ... we both don't need to be the best in the world, but rather just continue to strive to be best-in-class.
And with that, see you all soon! Leave me a country to come back to, y'hear?
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