Csíkszereda Musings

My life in and around Csíkszereda, also known as Miercurea Ciuc.

Archive for January, 2006

Carpet tax

Posted by Andy Hockley on 31 January, 2006

We, and by “we” here I mean Hox and Erix SRL our hugely successful company, received a registered letter the other day. Actually we received a piece of paper informing us that we had to go to the post office to pick up a registered letter, but the upshot of it all was that we had in our hands a registered letter. It was from the Romanian tax authorities and was a detailed description of our tax debts for the year, by quarter. We had, of course, already paid our taxes, this letter was just to let us know what extra we had to pay. A total of 3 Lei (three quarters of 1 Lei each, and one quarter where we owed nothing). Three NEW lei, I should stress here, not three old lei. (3 New Lei is about 80 Eurocents, while 3 Old Lei would be about .008 of a cent.) Registered mail is not especially cheap here, although presumably the government gives itself a discount, but even so, I’m guessing there is a net loss to the tax people from this letter – adding up the cost of calculating it, printing it out, stamping it umpteen times, the labour of all the signatures, and then collecting and cashing out the money to the cost of sending a registered letter. And apparently (meaning: our accountant said so) more or less everyone gets one of these letters at this time of the year. The purpose (allegedly) is to keep everyone working in the employee heavy tax office, and to make it clear to the outside world that they are gainfully employed and busy.

Temperature update

It is getting warmer! It was only -19 this morning! I wonder if I can find out what the average temerature for January was in Csikszereda this year. I reckon it was probably somewhere between -15 and -20. Average. Roll on February.

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Posted in bureaucracy, romania | Leave a Comment »

Carpet tax

Posted by Andy Hockley on 31 January, 2006

We, and by “we” here I mean Hox and Erix SRL our hugely successful company, received a registered letter the other day. Actually we received a piece of paper informing us that we had to go to the post office to pick up a registered letter, but the upshot of it all was that we had in our hands a registered letter. It was from the Romanian tax authorities and was a detailed description of our tax debts for the year, by quarter. We had, of course, already paid our taxes, this letter was just to let us know what extra we had to pay. A total of 3 Lei (three quarters of 1 Lei each, and one quarter where we owed nothing). Three NEW lei, I should stress here, not three old lei. (3 New Lei is about 80 Eurocents, while 3 Old Lei would be about .008 of a cent.) Registered mail is not especially cheap here, although presumably the government gives itself a discount, but even so, I’m guessing there is a net loss to the tax people from this letter – adding up the cost of calculating it, printing it out, stamping it umpteen times, the labour of all the signatures, and then collecting and cashing out the money to the cost of sending a registered letter. And apparently (meaning: our accountant said so) more or less everyone gets one of these letters at this time of the year. The purpose (allegedly) is to keep everyone working in the employee heavy tax office, and to make it clear to the outside world that they are gainfully employed and busy.

Temperature update

It is getting warmer! It was only -19 this morning! I wonder if I can find out what the average temerature for January was in Csikszereda this year. I reckon it was probably somewhere between -15 and -20. Average. Roll on February.

Posted in bureaucracy, romania | Leave a Comment »

Hunganian

Posted by Andy Hockley on 30 January, 2006

My Hungarian is progressing. Painfully slowly but it is progressing. I attend a Hungarian class twice a week with two Romanians and a German (and for a couple of weeks a Greek bloke), and this is helping a lot. Here are my latest observations about the language: It is not as difficult as people make out. People are very quick to tell you how hard Hungarian is to learn. This is particularly mentioned by Hungarians themselves who are often at great pains to let you know that their language is amazingly difficult. I am not sure if this comes from sympathy for those learning the language and a desire to be understanding of errors, or from a kind of perverse pride in having a complex and impenetrable language (I actually suspect it’s more the latter than the former).

But it’s a myth (or at least an exaggeration). To start with, Hungarian verb tenses and conjugations are relatively simple. There are only three verb tenses, for example – past, present, and future. Contrast with English, for example, and its mysterious and unfathomable present perfect tense, the correct and shifting use of which is seemingly designed to ensure that foreigners remain foreigners and never mistaken for native speakers. Now there is a catch here, in the each verb tense has two sets of conjugations – one when the verb is referring to a defined thing and one when it is referring to something less specific. To give an example from English it would be as if the conjugation of “watch” in “I watched a film last night” were different from its conjugation in “I watched Top Gun last night”. [I’d like to point out that I didn’t, and would never again watch Top Gun – the one and only time I saw it was a waste of enough of my life]. But even with this you are left with a mere 6 separate sets of conjugations. While this results in more verb forms than English, it is many many fewer than most Latin languages. This area is actually the one in which English really shines in the simplicity stakes – in that each verb has very few forms – “watch” can be watch, watches, watched, or watching. And that’s it. I’ve never encountered another language that has this level of simplicity. The most complex verb in English – to be – has a grand total of 8 forms – be, being, been, am, is, are, was, and were, Look at any Latin language and all the conjugations of each verb and your brain starts to melt.

Like most Latin languages and unlike English, Hungarian also has a very clear correlation between spelling and pronunciation. This also makes it easier for the learner. If I hear a word I can spell it (well I’m getting there – I’m still often guilty of mistaking an “a” for an “o”) and if I read a word I can pronounce it (though I sound like a 5 year old sounding words out, especially with some of the long words that exist in Hungarian. Bogi sometimes asks me to read her a bedtime story – not because she likes the way the story sounds in my deeper masculine voice, but because it cracks her up to listen to me struggling through the words).

Where Hungarian is difficult, at least for this learner, is in its cases. Now because I’m a mediocre language learner I can’t just accept cases and immerse myself in them. I have to associate them with something in English. In this instance prepositions. So, rather than prepositions, Hungarian has dense thickets of suffixes. -vol, -völ, -hoz, -hez, -ben, -ban, -rol, -röl, -ra, -re, -bol, -böl, the list is (not quite, but seemingly) endless. I hope that one day my mind will clear and suddenly I will be able to automatically suffixise words like I’ve been doing it all my life. But for now, they just leave me tongue tied and gasping for air. Which word or words should take the suffix, which order should the suffixes come in (you can add more than one onto each word), which suffix it should be, and what the vowel in the suffix should be to obey the rules of vowel harmony. All of these questions have to go through my mind every time I say a sentence. And my mind’s not that quick.

So, I have invented my own hybrid language, which I call Hunganian. This is basically Hungarian but without the suffixes and with Romanian prepositions instead. You see, Romanian, while I’m not actually studying it, is similar enough to languages I have studied in the past for me to be able to pick it up relatively easily. I can’t really produce Romanian, but my listening and reading skills are fairly OK. And here in Csikszereda, if you can’t produce the correct Hungarian, you know what everybody’s second language is and you can try that instead. So, for example I might be in a pizza place and say something like “Kerek egy pizzát cu paradicsom, gomba, es paprika, de fara sajt” This is a Hungarian sentence with two Romanian prepositions in it (and one internationally understood Italian word). It translates as “I’d like a pizza with tomato, mushroom and pepper, but without cheese”, where the italicized words are Romanian. Or I’ll be in the chemist and ask for “D-vitamin pentru baba” which means (as you may be able to guess) “Vitamin D for a baby”, with the pentru (for) being Romanian.

Now, as it goes, this works fine. I can get things done and live a relatively normal life. Sadly however, Hunganian is a language that is only very locally useful. Outside Harghita and Covasna counties in the Eastern Carpathians, I suspect it will prove to be a language of no great value. Unless I set myself up as some kind of bringer of Transylvanian harmony and promote the language as a new kind of Esperanto, uniting people in a gloriously peaceful tomorrow.

[Just to riff a little further on the pizza sentence, I’m still not sure of the correct Hungarian version of my original Hunganian. My instinct tells me that it ought to be a “paradicsomos, gombás, paprikás pizza” which would translate something like a tomatoey, mushroomy, peppery pizza, but that sounds too clunky. There must be a suffix I could add to the pizza rather than to all the toppings. And yes, paradicsom is the word for tomato, and yes it does also mean paradise. The first Magyar to sink his teeth into one after they were brought back from the new world must have been more effusively positive than most Magyars seem to be.]

Posted in hungarian, language | 6 Comments »

Hunganian

Posted by Andy Hockley on 30 January, 2006

My Hungarian is progressing. Painfully slowly but it is progressing. I attend a Hungarian class twice a week with two Romanians and a German (and for a couple of weeks a Greek bloke), and this is helping a lot. Here are my latest observations about the language: It is not as difficult as people make out. People are very quick to tell you how hard Hungarian is to learn. This is particularly mentioned by Hungarians themselves who are often at great pains to let you know that their language is amazingly difficult. I am not sure if this comes from sympathy for those learning the language and a desire to be understanding of errors, or from a kind of perverse pride in having a complex and impenetrable language (I actually suspect it’s more the latter than the former).

But it’s a myth (or at least an exaggeration). To start with, Hungarian verb tenses and conjugations are relatively simple. There are only three verb tenses, for example – past, present, and future. Contrast with English, for example, and its mysterious and unfathomable present perfect tense, the correct and shifting use of which is seemingly designed to ensure that foreigners remain foreigners and never mistaken for native speakers. Now there is a catch here, in the each verb tense has two sets of conjugations – one when the verb is referring to a defined thing and one when it is referring to something less specific. To give an example from English it would be as if the conjugation of “watch” in “I watched a film last night” were different from its conjugation in “I watched Top Gun last night”. [I’d like to point out that I didn’t, and would never again watch Top Gun – the one and only time I saw it was a waste of enough of my life]. But even with this you are left with a mere 6 separate sets of conjugations. While this results in more verb forms than English, it is many many fewer than most Latin languages. This area is actually the one in which English really shines in the simplicity stakes – in that each verb has very few forms – “watch” can be watch, watches, watched, or watching. And that’s it. I’ve never encountered another language that has this level of simplicity. The most complex verb in English – to be – has a grand total of 8 forms – be, being, been, am, is, are, was, and were, Look at any Latin language and all the conjugations of each verb and your brain starts to melt.

Like most Latin languages and unlike English, Hungarian also has a very clear correlation between spelling and pronunciation. This also makes it easier for the learner. If I hear a word I can spell it (well I’m getting there – I’m still often guilty of mistaking an “a” for an “o”) and if I read a word I can pronounce it (though I sound like a 5 year old sounding words out, especially with some of the long words that exist in Hungarian. Bogi sometimes asks me to read her a bedtime story – not because she likes the way the story sounds in my deeper masculine voice, but because it cracks her up to listen to me struggling through the words).

Where Hungarian is difficult, at least for this learner, is in its cases. Now because I’m a mediocre language learner I can’t just accept cases and immerse myself in them. I have to associate them with something in English. In this instance prepositions. So, rather than prepositions, Hungarian has dense thickets of suffixes. -vol, -völ, -hoz, -hez, -ben, -ban, -rol, -röl, -ra, -re, -bol, -böl, the list is (not quite, but seemingly) endless. I hope that one day my mind will clear and suddenly I will be able to automatically suffixise words like I’ve been doing it all my life. But for now, they just leave me tongue tied and gasping for air. Which word or words should take the suffix, which order should the suffixes come in (you can add more than one onto each word), which suffix it should be, and what the vowel in the suffix should be to obey the rules of vowel harmony. All of these questions have to go through my mind every time I say a sentence. And my mind’s not that quick.

So, I have invented my own hybrid language, which I call Hunganian. This is basically Hungarian but without the suffixes and with Romanian prepositions instead. You see, Romanian, while I’m not actually studying it, is similar enough to languages I have studied in the past for me to be able to pick it up relatively easily. I can’t really produce Romanian, but my listening and reading skills are fairly OK. And here in Csikszereda, if you can’t produce the correct Hungarian, you know what everybody’s second language is and you can try that instead. So, for example I might be in a pizza place and say something like “Kerek egy pizzát cu paradicsom, gomba, es paprika, de fara sajt” This is a Hungarian sentence with two Romanian prepositions in it (and one internationally understood Italian word). It translates as “I’d like a pizza with tomato, mushroom and pepper, but without cheese”, where the italicized words are Romanian. Or I’ll be in the chemist and ask for “D-vitamin pentru baba” which means (as you may be able to guess) “Vitamin D for a baby”, with the pentru (for) being Romanian.

Now, as it goes, this works fine. I can get things done and live a relatively normal life. Sadly however, Hunganian is a language that is only very locally useful. Outside Harghita and Covasna counties in the Eastern Carpathians, I suspect it will prove to be a language of no great value. Unless I set myself up as some kind of bringer of Transylvanian harmony and promote the language as a new kind of Esperanto, uniting people in a gloriously peaceful tomorrow.

[Just to riff a little further on the pizza sentence, I’m still not sure of the correct Hungarian version of my original Hunganian. My instinct tells me that it ought to be a “paradicsomos, gombás, paprikás pizza” which would translate something like a tomatoey, mushroomy, peppery pizza, but that sounds too clunky. There must be a suffix I could add to the pizza rather than to all the toppings. And yes, paradicsom is the word for tomato, and yes it does also mean paradise. The first Magyar to sink his teeth into one after they were brought back from the new world must have been more effusively positive than most Magyars seem to be.]

Posted in hungarian, language | 6 Comments »

Random musings

Posted by Andy Hockley on 28 January, 2006

I’m told that the “cold snap” is reaching its end. This morning for example at 8am it was a mere -30. That’s a full two degrees warmer than the day before. One morning at around 6 (I think Wednesday) it got down to -36 which, as far as I know, is as low as it has got (so far). My inner masochistic lover of symmetry kind of wanted it to get down to -40 as I know that’s the temperature at which the centigrade and fahrenheit scales coincide, and I could have told everyone I know that it was -40 without having to explain. Rather like the way that I always tried to pay my bills in the US on the 7th of July or the 10th of October or whatever, so I knew I was signing cheques (or “checks”, I suppose)without having to think about which way round to list the date.

So cold was it that on the news there were pictures of the Black Sea at Constanta with the ice sheet extending 1km from the shore. Yes, that’s the sea which froze over. It was 50cm thick too.

The US marine who killed a Romanian rock star (I mentioned at the bottom of this post) is being court martialed back home, and might get a slap on the wrist, or possibly even a clip round the ear, or if he’s really really unlucky a good ticking off. This article (from the US military paper Stars and Stripes) says that he’s charged with not only negligent homicide but also adultery. Who knew adultery was a crime? The best bit? The maximum penalty for negligent homicide is three years in jail, and the maximum penalty for adultery is one year. Wonder if they’ll throw in a bit of torture too? Or does the US Military reserve that for foreigners held without trial?

I kind of want to write a long piece about how Hamas’s election victory is a direct result of the brutal and vicious occupation and that it’s exactly the kind of epitaph Sharon would have wanted, but I know whenever one writes about Israel/Palestine all these extremist psychos come out of the internet woodwork and accuse you of terrible things (the extremist psycho pro-occupation wing will tell you that you’re condoning terrorism or an anti-semite or no better than Hitler for even daring to suggest that the occupation should be ended, while the extremist anti-semite wing of the internet will come out and condemn you to death for even daring to suggest that Israeli civilians ought to be able to go about their daily lives in safety). It’s quite interesting in a blackly comic way to see the US govt tie itself in knots trying to big up democracy while simultaneously condemning the victors in what seems to have been an extremely well conducted election. “We respect the will of the people, but urge Mahmoud Abbas to keep Hamas in opposition” is one I heard yesterday. The endgame of this is that now Sharon has begat Hamas, Hamas may beget Netanyahu. And then we’re all finished. In the meantime I will link you to this commentary by Gerald Kaufman in today’s Guardian, who says it better than I ever could. (For non-British readers unfamiliar with Kaufman, he’s a Labour MP whose been an MP for as long as I can remember – ie he predates Blair by many years – and is Britians most prominent Jewish MP. That last fact shouldn’t matter or legitimise his views at all, but sadly in a world where criticism of Israel is painted as anti-semitism it does).

Posted in news | Leave a Comment »

Random musings

Posted by Andy Hockley on 28 January, 2006

I’m told that the “cold snap” is reaching its end. This morning for example at 8am it was a mere -30. That’s a full two degrees warmer than the day before. One morning at around 6 (I think Wednesday) it got down to -36 which, as far as I know, is as low as it has got (so far). My inner masochistic lover of symmetry kind of wanted it to get down to -40 as I know that’s the temperature at which the centigrade and fahrenheit scales coincide, and I could have told everyone I know that it was -40 without having to explain. Rather like the way that I always tried to pay my bills in the US on the 7th of July or the 10th of October or whatever, so I knew I was signing cheques (or “checks”, I suppose)without having to think about which way round to list the date.

So cold was it that on the news there were pictures of the Black Sea at Constanta with the ice sheet extending 1km from the shore. Yes, that’s the sea which froze over. It was 50cm thick too.

The US marine who killed a Romanian rock star (I mentioned at the bottom of this post) is being court martialed back home, and might get a slap on the wrist, or possibly even a clip round the ear, or if he’s really really unlucky a good ticking off. This article (from the US military paper Stars and Stripes) says that he’s charged with not only negligent homicide but also adultery. Who knew adultery was a crime? The best bit? The maximum penalty for negligent homicide is three years in jail, and the maximum penalty for adultery is one year. Wonder if they’ll throw in a bit of torture too? Or does the US Military reserve that for foreigners held without trial?

I kind of want to write a long piece about how Hamas’s election victory is a direct result of the brutal and vicious occupation and that it’s exactly the kind of epitaph Sharon would have wanted, but I know whenever one writes about Israel/Palestine all these extremist psychos come out of the internet woodwork and accuse you of terrible things (the extremist psycho pro-occupation wing will tell you that you’re condoning terrorism or an anti-semite or no better than Hitler for even daring to suggest that the occupation should be ended, while the extremist anti-semite wing of the internet will come out and condemn you to death for even daring to suggest that Israeli civilians ought to be able to go about their daily lives in safety). It’s quite interesting in a blackly comic way to see the US govt tie itself in knots trying to big up democracy while simultaneously condemning the victors in what seems to have been an extremely well conducted election. “We respect the will of the people, but urge Mahmoud Abbas to keep Hamas in opposition” is one I heard yesterday. The endgame of this is that now Sharon has begat Hamas, Hamas may beget Netanyahu. And then we’re all finished. In the meantime I will link you to this commentary by Gerald Kaufman in today’s Guardian, who says it better than I ever could. (For non-British readers unfamiliar with Kaufman, he’s a Labour MP whose been an MP for as long as I can remember – ie he predates Blair by many years – and is Britians most prominent Jewish MP. That last fact shouldn’t matter or legitimise his views at all, but sadly in a world where criticism of Israel is painted as anti-semitism it does).

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-32

Posted by Andy Hockley on 25 January, 2006

-32. That’s it. That’s all I have to say. -32. Minus bastarding thirty two. Who turned off the Thermahaline?

The window in Bogi’s room:

Posted in csikszereda | 4 Comments »

-32

Posted by Andy Hockley on 25 January, 2006

-32. That’s it. That’s all I have to say. -32. Minus bastarding thirty two. Who turned off the Thermahaline?

The window in Bogi’s room:

Posted in csikszereda | 4 Comments »

Gratuitous Plug

Posted by Andy Hockley on 24 January, 2006

Regular readers need look no further. (I know I say that quite often in my endearing/irritating* self-deprecating way, but this time I really mean it. *Delete as appropriate)

This post is an merely attempt to use this blog’s relatively high google profile, to mention that if anyone wants to come to Romania to learn to teach English, or take a one-month intensive training course in English language teaching, something like the CELTA, but actually the SIT TESOL Certificate, and to do that course in Transylvania with a highly qualified trainer, then I might suggest the following website.

This has been a public service announcement with entirely self-serving goals. I thank you for your time.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Gratuitous Plug

Posted by Andy Hockley on 24 January, 2006

Regular readers need look no further. (I know I say that quite often in my endearing/irritating* self-deprecating way, but this time I really mean it. *Delete as appropriate)

This post is an merely attempt to use this blog’s relatively high google profile, to mention that if anyone wants to come to Romania to learn to teach English, or take a one-month intensive training course in English language teaching, something like the CELTA, but actually the SIT TESOL Certificate, and to do that course in Transylvania with a highly qualified trainer, then I might suggest the following website.

This has been a public service announcement with entirely self-serving goals. I thank you for your time.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »