Monday, March 1, 2010
Backward Romania/Forward Romania
A guy I interviewed for a piece I'm writing told me a joke about Romania: "Worried about 2012? Then come to Romania, because we're a hundred years behind." But in some ways Romania is ahead of the United States. Odd as it sounds, sometimes Romania is even enabled by its backwardness.
For example, the United States has twice as much land line saturation as "backward" Romania. But in part encouraged by this very lack of land lines, "forward" Romania's cell phone market has, like the United States', reached saturation. On average, everyone in Romania has at least one cell phone (the country's telecom companies are very generous about handing out phones to people who sign up for their plans). And in Romania old people really are using those phones. In fact, they're yakking on them during long bus rides all the time. And their ringers are cranked up to deafening levels because they are nearly deaf themselves. I digress.
Romania introduced a "cash for clunkers"-type program (wherein one exchanges one's old and fuel-inefficient car for a down payment on a new car) in 2005, several years before the U.S. tried its own. This program is what contributed to the near-extinction of Romania's classic (and extremely ugly) early Dacia models. Since 2007 I have not seen a single Dacia 500 anywhere (the photo above is of me in 2004 in front of a Dacia 500).
Most Romanians used their "clunkers" money to buy used cars, because new cars are as expensive in Romania as they are in the United States despite Romania being a much poorer country. Used German cars were particularly popular. Germany's used cars entered the Romanian market in part because of Germany's own "clunkers" program. In Germany the "clunkers" were not required to be destroyed as they are in most other countries, so many German cars went from the junkyard to Eastern Europe, where they are being driven by Romanians today.
Unlike the short-lived U.S. program, the Romanian program continues to this day.