You might believe the entire European space is pretty much similar, and all countries are equal in rights and obligations, but this is just not true. Spending a longer period of time in both the Eastern and the Western part of Europe, the differences become more and more obvious. Even if the imaginary borders are dimmed by the existence of the EU, it’s interesting to see how distinct the two geographical areas are.
Cultural variety is always welcomed in any community, but when the differences make it all the way into every detail of the life of an individual, I can’t help but wonder why there’s such a huge gap in the quality of life, in two countries separated by only a few thousands of km.
Communism, which was strongly present in Eastern Europe pushed the development of the countries from the former communist block further back, with quite a high number of years, but the differences aren’t limited only to development, but they go much further than this.
I know it’s said that Romanian dishes are absolutely amazing, tasty and people come back from all over the world, just to taste more, but what I mean by quality, is the quality of the products which make it in the supermarkets and are available to a large number of the country’s population. This aspect you don’t really notice on a short trip to the other corner of the continent, but only after you live there for a while, and you are faced with a few serious shopping and cooking sessions.
In the west, with the presence of so many food safety associations which actually do a good job at monitoring the market, every fruit and vegetable has a very beautiful smell, the colors and alive, and the taste is right as it should be. The supermarkets can’t allow bad looking or expired products to make it on the shelves, and every such product, in case it makes a person sick, can turn into a serious lawsuit, and a drop into reputation, which is not that easy to recover from. The salami is made out of actual meat, the meat in the stores looks healthy and colored, and the cheese goodies smell delicious, and look like they are made in accordance with the right procedures. Besides, the butter won’t go bad in a few days, even if kept outside, like I was used to and the chocolate with milk, does taste like milk, and no extra sugar is added on top of what’s needed, in order to distract from the real taste.
In the east, most of the time, the fruits and vegetables and not ripe enough, or are well passed their best by date, but are still kept on the shelves (after the date is illegally changed), and you can see flies having a party in the middle of the supermarket, especially during very warm summers. The color is faded, the taste is not present, and the smell is nowhere to be found. Sometimes you can’t even tell the difference between cucumbers, tomatoes and pears. Also, buying fruits and vegetable with fungi is quite common, but because the food safety associations are not present or way too corrupt, such products stay legally on the shelves.The salami is 3/4 fat and other animal remains, and only 1/4 meat, and the meat looks quite suspicious and sick. Even if you want to pay more for a good product, you can’t find any type of cheese which isn’t processed and processed again, and processed again, until you are left with a white ‘sort of cheesy’ block.
Bad quality products combined with low wages means access to a limited amount of vitamins and minerals, and a very poor, heavy diet, which leads to medical issues. And you wonder why you still get sick, even if you have a balanced diet, exercise, and you do all the right things. What you buy simply doesn’t have the right properties, in order to keep your body healthy. And when you get sick, you face an even bigger issue.
Medical Treatments – Inefficient Medication
It happened to me quite a few times so far, to get sick during my travels, and I must say this is quite a serious issue, if it happens in the wrong location. Buying medication which doesn’t work, is quite common for the east. You go to the doctor/pharmacy, they prescribe a bunch of pills, you take them for days/weeks on end, and you barely recover, slowly. Every now and then a new very powerful medicine comes on the market, which gets you well in a few days, and causes cancer, if used long term. Eh?! But, yet again, if you did this all your life, then it seems quite normal.
Getting sick in the west, means buying the medicine, taking 3-4 pills, and you feel like a new person. Wow, they actually work!? The same medication looks different in the west, than it does in the east, even if it’s the same brand, and the ones you buy in the west actually do what they are intended to do.
If you get really sick, there’s no worse place to be than in the East, as besides not getting access to the right medication, you might not get access to any treatment at all, as the hospitals don’t have pills or basic hygiene supplies (they often send the patients to go buy them themselves – quite useful when you can’t get out of the hospital bed), and the best doctors already left for the west, looking for better paid jobs.
For a traveler, this is quite an obvious deciding factor when it comes to the level of development of a country. Better roads (highways) and public transportation means better access to all locations of the country, better people flow, which leads to the workflow moving where the jobs are. The better the access, the better the development, as even the less developed areas improve gradually.
Driving around Europe, I must say, you can travel everywhere from everywhere in about 1 day, up to the border with the east, where only one country, from one end to the other, takes you just as much as the rest of the continent took you.
Poor road quality and the absence of highways dictates the access of the population to a better paid job, or to a job at all. As in Romania, even a 30 km distance from the towns around the capital, is too much to do, by public transportation (which sometimes works, and sometimes it doesn’t, because of personal reasons of the company’s owner, or legal issues, when they get caught by the police, operating the cars without licences) development outside the big cities is slow, if present at all.
Poor roads means less tourists, and less investments from abroad. Less contact with the outside, means the mentality stays the same, the education level doesn’t improve, the financial situation doesn’t get any better. And this reflects into everything, especially traffic. Compared to the west, in the east the traffic changes dramatically, and frustration, selfishness and carelessness takes over, turning the roads into a constant circus performance. For a driver, going from west to east, it can become very confusing, and your civilized driving style changes, when you’re constantly bombarded with stressful and absurd situations on the road.
Financial Situation – The Deciding Factor?
And, it all comes down to money. Again. You are poor, you can’t compete with the west, so you can’t expect better from the food you eat or the treatment you take. So you get the remainders from the richest countries in the EU.
Worse part is that living in the same location for too long, you begin to feel that’s normal, and you can’t understand that there’s actually something very wrong with the picture described above. Even if local smaller producers sell better quality products, not everyone has access or the financial power to actually buy those products. So they settle for what’s available in the supermarkets… In the end, if you can’t afford better, you can’t sue them either, right?
Companies, legally, are under no obligation to market an identical product under the same brand, in the European space, which means that the newcomers into the EU, receive the lower quality products.
You might believe this is all, but no. Bad financial situation means less access to education and medical care, less education and treatment means no chance at improving the current condition. Not improving the condition, means the mentality of the people won’t change, the stress level won’t reduce, and the society won’t evolve. And it only gets worse, for countries which are already behind in terms of medical care, education, infrastructure.
Being poor is a state of mind, and is constantly fed by the environment and the society. Not fighting for better, not making the right investments, not caring for own health, not being united as a community, brings down the quality of life, and the hope of it ever improving.