Updated: Sep 24
Born and bred in Romania, a Balkan country in South East Europe, I can't say that my upbringing was racist or not because this was a subject that didn't come into discussion too often. Why? Because everyone around me looked like me and race was never an issue. Ever.
Back in 2008 I lived in London for a year, studying for a diploma in Major Events Management. Then and there I had my first eye-opening experience of how different, colourful and wonderful this wide world can be. In time, I learned that the N word is a no-no (I had no idea that it's offensive because I heard it in so many non censored rap songs), I had so many discussions about international food that I am still drooling and I met so many amazing people, from so many walks of life, that I feel truly humbled and blessed.
In London I saw for the first time the Hasidic Jewish community from Stamford Hill, wearing black clothes and all men having curls next to their ears. I had to google them because I have never heard of them before. In my immaturity, I also took a picture and documented them on my blog back in 2008. If you are curious, the article is here.
Then, I discovered the Jamaican culture through a friend of mine who's partner was Jamaican and I fell in love with their reggae music and jerk chicken. That is when I heard the term "mixed race child". What can I say? They are absolutely gorgeous.
I met a Thai girl at the Uni and we became best friends. 10 years after, I was invited to Bangkok where I was lucky to be part of the traditions of her lavish wedding ceremony. The colours, the close knit family bond, the heritage... I have no words to explain the rainbow of flowers, flavours and tasteful decorations that warmed my cold stone heart in their special day.
I was married for 3 years with an Algerian man and I have experienced first hand the traditional way of being a Muslim wife (no more for me, thank you!)
I worked with an Ghanaian girl for half year but even if life took us apart, we are still friends after 4 years, we still go out for dinners or meeting up for lunch. We never grew apart.
Work took me to India for a month and the quality of people that I met there is exceptional. We are still friends and I truly appreciated how nice they were with me and how much fun we had together when we were outside the office.
After learning about so many new cultures, I fell into the trap of thinking that everyone is like me. That everybody likes everybody and there is no fault in the world. All good, until I experienced my first racial abuse.
And here is where our today's story begins.
After working 14 years in Romania, I moved to London and landed my first job in a bank. It was a Japanese bank so the Asian culture was intertwined with British culture. This meant very short wee breaks, very short (hopefully inexistent) cigarette brakes, but with a monthly bubbly lunch (an ordinary lunch but with a £15 glass of "bubbly" champagne). Everything was new for me but I was embracing it fully. I was so delighted that I did found a proper job that I didn't even paid attention when someone was talking down on me. I thought that was the norm, the banter.
I do remember one specific day when I got the nasty feeling of being bullied. It was new for me and I haven't experienced it before so this is why it was hard to recognize it initially. But dam you, nasty girl, sitting next to me in the office and asking, out of the blue, if we have McDonalds in Romania. Why is that? Is McDonalds the symbol of civilization, prosperity and progress nowadays?
I felt instantly offended by the question but I kept being a lady and, after a short google session, I found out that the first McDonalds was opened in Bucharest in June 1995, attracting over 15,300 customers in its first day and establishing a world record for the company.
It was hard for me to be friends with the girl after that. I am not sure if she realized the damage that the did to our relationship. I still respect her as a woman, as a mother, as a colleague, but I can't have her as a friend. Being the first generation of British in her family and coming from Jamaican parents, she is the least entitled person to throw shade of my heritage. I did not appreciate the question, I found it offensive and cruel, but I was too inexperienced in racial biases to call her out for it. My way of teaching her the realities of my home country was to show her pictures from my holidays with my large group of friends from Romania. She saw that we had nice restaurants with fancy food, mountains with waterfalls and breath-taking views and seaside resorts. We also have great wines, gorgeous women with exquisite video chat skills and brilliant hackers.
She surprised me a few weeks later when she came over to my desk and asked me if I knew where Timisoara was. Of course I knew. It was the 3rd biggest city in Romania, located in the west of the country. That's the place where the 1989 Revolution started. But why did she want to know if I know? Did she read something nasty about the gipsy communities living there? Is she going to offend me again with a new discovery?
It looks like she has done some research about Romania and she discovered a website that was organizing 7 days trips to Timisoara for complex dental works. The price was very low comparing with London exorbitant prices and it also included airplane tickets and hotel accommodation for that week. I read between the lines and I considered this as an armistice. I am a sucker for a hidden compliment so it mellowed my heart a bit, but, as a pathetic revenge, she was not invited to my leaving party, one year later.
What can I do? I am still human.
Have a good one, everybody, and may you win at the Lottery of Life!