Exile as Inadequacy
Constantin Eretescu

Inadequacy is the basic state of mind of any emigrant.

From the first day, after leaving the country ?for good? as the expression went back then, I was struck by the lack of adequacy of our co-nationals relative to the space they had gotten to. Everything started from a minor incident, slightly irritating, that kept on occurring every evening. Near the Dina Pension where we were staying and waiting for our entrance visa for the USA, there was a small neighborhood pub. A tavern. Since it was in the summer time, the owner had taken the tables out on the walkway and was waiting on the clients outside. Among the regulars of the place there were a few Romanians. The group leader was a relatively young guy, in his thirties, tall, thin and unshaved. He had an unforgettable face. One couldn?t miss him. He always looked restless, gesticulating in an ample manner, jumping from his chair when he wanted to underline a narrative detail in his stories. He was doing all that while speaking a strange mixture of Romanian and Italian. Romanitalian, I would call it. Or was it Italromanian? It?s hard to tell. His table buddies kept on changing, but he was always at the same table, gesticulating, tossing incomprehensible words to the women passing by, roaring with a piercing laughter. This was happening every evening. He was not from the group we had come with. After a while I understood that he was staying in the Latina emigration camp. That was a place where one could wait for a visa years in a row. Most of them were trying to get by, working on the black market, doing all sorts of things and trying to learn how others were getting by and managing. He was the one who draw my attention to this peculiar, almost indefinable state. It is mostly the lack of the ability to adjust to the generally-accepted behavior of the group. It is very much like being a violinist who plays in a different key while being in an orchestra differently tuned.

After that I had encountered that state many times and in many places, in that period included. I remember our co-national who had probably been told that all Italians were thieves. As a consequence, he decided to take safety measures and he put on a huge padlock on his door. He forbade the cleaning lady to enter. Because of the lock his roommate couldn?t enter and had to wait for the owner of the lock to return in the evenings and let him in. The intervention of the superintendent was unsuccessful, because every involved party was obstinately refusing to speak any other language but its own. I also remember the family who had took possession of one of the two upper floor bathrooms. They forbade anyone else to use it, in spite of the torrid summer. In order to make sure, they were taking turns in guarding the door of the toilette. Among many stories, Paul Miron is retelling the case of an economist who got to Germany. He put on the top of his roof a mechanic doll dressed up in a traditional Romanian costume. Every hour the doll, which was holding a Romanian flag, was spinning and singing, to the astonishment of the neighbors, the Romanian national anthem ? Unity Stands Written on Our Flag. I ended up considering it rather a form of eccentricity, in the sense of estrangement from the center as the standard behavior, than a form of pathology of the spirit. It can be seen as a lack of sensibility in what concerns the way the ones around you evaluate situations, doubled sometimes by the perception that the new language you must express yourself in is a form of servitude. How else can one explain the fact that a comparative literature Harvard professor of Russian origin, a renowned scholar, established in the States for thirty years, has been having breakfast in the same place for years and every time he orders he lifts two fingers and says ?Amliet?. It is impossible to believe that he didn?t have the time to learn the correct pronunciation of the English word for omelet.

            One way or another, the state of inadequacy touches all of us living outside the culture in which we were forged. Some even get to be entirely possesses by this state. I even got to formulate a theory. The first rule of the theory would be this: adult, male, single emigrants established in an alien cultural environment have the tendency to suffer of inadequacy. Up to a point this rule applies to the married subjects as well. Compared to men, women, married or not, have an increased mobility of the mind, higher degrees of flexibility and adjustability to the mental design of the new society. This is the reason for which the number of women in this situation is relatively small. And a sort of a second rule: time is not a cure. Acute inadequacy doesn?t go away as time goes by. It becomes chronic. There are several kinds of inadequacy, in various degrees and which can take the most unexpected shapes. There is cultural inadequacy, but also inadequacy to the climate, human environment, technology or language. The area of inadequacy is so extensive that, in spite of my good-will, it would be impossible to even start outlining the phenomenon. I will just give some examples that come to my mind. Before that, I need to acknowledge the fact that this is not happening more or more often or more intense to Romanians than to other people who had been willingly or unwillingly taken out of the bedrock of their own ethnic group.

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