On the Power of Wilful Willingness

I had been intending to call this piece “You are not Special”, but the trope is already overdone. Most of us at some point figured out long ago that we’re not special, that we all have our ups and downs, sometimes very, very downs… But presumably most of us who have managed to survive past the age of, say, 27 figured all that out a while ago. No need to re-hash the trope.

My problem, though, is that there is a certain contingent of people out there, cross-industry, who seem to believe that somehow they are. They seem to believe that there is some law of the universe in which if you think happy thoughts, good things will happen. Strangely, they seem to also be telling us this by saying very negative things about those of us who maybe have a little more of a reasoned outlook… But that’s not the point I want to make here.

No, the point I want to make in this post (we may revisit the negative thing at some point) is going to be a bit odd for a translation blog, because it has very little to do with translation. But do bear with me.

I first encountered this strange “think happy thoughs” mentality in the fall of 2013. I had moved to Romania for an in-house translation job, and I was still relatively naïve in retrospect. Heck, I moved to a different continent on two week’s notice for a job. As much as I am forever grateful that I did, let’s just say I didn’t put too much thought into the whole thing. But I had a good job at a good company, and I had total faith that everything was going to be just fine and dandy.

Well, one day, a little more than three months in, the company sent me to Greece. I told them, as you do, that I was a little over my 90 days, and they said that was the reason why (there was basically no reason for me to go to Greece at all, they told me it was a performance bonus or something). I (and the other Americans working there) had supplied them with large quantities of personal information over the previous three months, ostensibly for our residency permits, and so I (quite ridiculously, in retrospect) assumed everything was in order and that I was a legal resident. They implied much the same.

Well. Imagine my surprise, then, as I was at pass control at Otepeni airport and was pulled aside to a chair outside a small office. There were about 12 border guards watching me, most of whom were actually quite nice and clearly felt quite badly for me, and one mean one in the office. I’ve written about the whole incident before, so I’m just going to hit the highlights here, but at some point, it became clear that I was being deported. In disbelief, I told the mean guy that my company had taken care of everything; he erupted with anger, tore my phone out of my hand, and demanded to speak to my office manager.

Well, after retrieving my phone from him, I got her on the phone and stammered to her that it looked like I was being deported. He snatched the phone away again and spent about 20 minutes screaming at her in Romanian within my earshot (I have no idea what was said, my Romanian was non-existant at the time). I started to cry a bit, and the nice border guards told me everything would be fine. At some point, the mean guy gave me the phone back while writing out my fine, and my office manager was still on the line.

“Are you OK?” she asked.

“Well… Yeah… I guess… I mean, I’m being deported?!”

“It’s fine,” she said. “Just think happy thoughts.”

“…Um… What? They’re escorting me to the plane.”

“Don’t worry, just think positive, it will all be OK.”

“But… But they said I can’t get back in on Saturday.”

“Don’t listen to them, they don’t know what they’re talking about. Just think about good things.”

“…But… They said if I try to get back in on Saturday that I might get banned forever.”

“They don’t know what they’re talking about. Just think happy thoughts.”

“Um… They’re walking me to the plane…”

“Just think happy thoughts, it will be fine. Focus on work.”

 

Well, since I’ve actually written an entire piece on the incident before, I’m not going to re-hash all of the details, but the too long/didn’t read version is basically that I spent three days at a four-star hotel in Athens trying to convince her that maybe I should just CHECK with the Romanian Embassy in Athens. Which became a production in and of itself… For some reason, they didn’t realize I didn’t speak Romanian, and sent me to the wrong line (in spite of the fact that I still have the sheet of paper I filled out as a keepsake – “Kicked out of Romania, need to get home”). One of the embassy employees had to be pulled aside to speak to me, and made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that if I got on the plane on Saturday, very bad things would happen. He helpfully offered to call my office manager to explain to her when I told him that she just kept telling me to think happy thoughts and it would all be ok.

So you would think that that would be enough, right? That the positive office manager would finally understand the gravity of the situation after I’d been sending her excerpts from the legal code and this guy from the embassy actually called her? Oh gosh, you’d be wrong. No. I got back to the hotel room, the phone rang, I repeated exactly what the embassy guy had said, in no uncertain terms – and she told me he had told her the exact opposite and it would all be fine if I just thought positive and that I should definitely get on that plane on Saturday. I thought I was losing my mind. Oddly, though, this time, I could tell she was starting to break – she offered to meet me at Otepeni Airport at 11:30 on a Saturday night “to make sure I got back OK”.

Since this is the too long/didn’t read version, I won’t even get into all of the other crazy stuff that happened from there, I’ll just let you know that I got a deus ex machina call right when I was about to check out from the hotel from the owner of the company, and I ended up spending a month in Germany while we sorted it all out (and still not completely by the book, but this is the TL/DR version). But the point is, thinking positive just doesn’t always work. Like when things like logic and facts and laws and stuff get in the way. And I actually like that office manager very much and consider her a friend on a personal level. But I guess I’m just trying to say why this kind of thinking is not only bad, but poisonous.

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