He slipped his hand underneath my sweater. It was the most action I had gotten in two months.
“Just make sure you speak into the microphone.”
Cluj-Napoca was only a large city by Romanian Standards. By all other standards it was modest, tucked away in the Carpathian Mountains, deep inside Transylvania. Due to its small size and even smaller airport, it never hosted more than a few Americans at any one time, most of which were older citizens and academics. Since we were only twenty, American, and arguably adorable, we were considered a novelty and as with all novelties, it was time to make our television debut.
The station was nothing like how I imagined. There was no glitter or glam, no free food or lighted vanities. There were only two cameras, one cracked mirror and an old coffee maker in the corner. One wall was bright orange and had Cluj painted in purple graffiti. The couches, which I assumed we’d be sitting on, began to show their age with tattered corners and springs fighting hard to pierce the pleather.
We walked into the main room with caution, unsure where to look or whom to speak to. A small man shuffled over to us in a hurry. He was relatively young, perhaps thirty, with a shaved head and a collar shirt.
“Andre.” We shook his hand before he shuffled back to a producer.
“That was Andre, he’s the host, very nice boy, you’ll love him.” Before we could say anything, Nicolescu turned away and headed towards the free coffee. Ellie and I, still unsure of how to respond, cooled our heels next to the camera waiting for our cue.
“Sit!” a female producer grabbed our wrists and dragged us to the worn couches.
“They’ll just ask you a few questions about your time in Romania, America, and culture clash.” Dr. Nicolescu had promised us the previous day.
“Relax girls; it’ll be fine, just like a chat.” The host, Andre.
I looked over at Ellie one last time before we went on air, her posture was perfect. Bitch.
“Ellie! How do I look?”
“Totally hot, me?”
“I’m sort of nervous, what if we fuck this up?”
“Relax; just be super American, they’ll love us.”
The morning music began to play and Andre was off, speaking a mile a minute in Romanian. Two months of Romanian and I could only catch every tenth word or so. Our translator drifted over to the corner and began drinking coffee and chatting to the camera guy.
It was another minute before Andre had finished his introduction and turned to us. Ellie and I had drawn straws before we arrived and I was to answer the first question. I looked at the camera, then at Ellie then, at Andre, unsure where to rest my eyes, thinking back to all the interviews I had ever seen. I should have watched more C-Span and less MTV.
I heard my name. Finally my translator chimed in. My ear-piece pinged before I heard him speak,
“Kristen, tell me about the recent debate about health care in the United States, how do you feel about it?”
My stomach felt heavy. An impossible question. A question I had not been prepared to answer, a question that the vast majority of U.S. congressmen could not answer.
“Well it’s sort of a complicated issue. I haven’t read the bill so it’s hard for me to give a good answer.”
“Well isn’t it true that your government lets civilians die in the streets?”
“No, not really, but like I’m from the suburbs…”
I shot a look at Ellie. Her mouth was open and her chin was practically on the floor. Andre turned towards her. Her skin gradually changed from a summer tan to a strawberry red as the blood filled her veins in panic. Her left hand grabbed her right.
“Moving on, now Eleanor, recently the U.S. has announced her plans to build a missile defense shield in Romania. How do you feel about this?”
We had heard about the shield, but we hadn’t cared enough to form an opinion on it. We were too busy drinking Tucia and spending our grant money on shoes. Another regret to add to the list.
“I’m worried it will hurt our relationship with Russia?”
“Do you even have a relationship with Russia at this point?”
“Uh yeah, I think so, I’m pretty sure.”
“Even after the recent conflict in Georgia?”
Andre was off again, speaking to the camera in Romanian. The generic morning show music began to play. A commercial break, thank god.
“Andre, what the hell?” Ellie leaned off her seat; her upper body extended looking like a cat ready to pounce.
He shrugged his shoulders and looked up at the make-up person giving her easier access to his baggy under eyes.
“You’re doing great girls.”
I raised my hand to summon Nicolescu. He was distracted by a young female producer, and obviously annoyed by my gesture. He rolled his eyes before dragging his feet over to the couches.
“Dr. Nicolescu, what the hell is this?”
“Oh girls, they just want to know about America, it’s fine you’re doing great.”
“No, no we’re not. We didn’t do any research for this. He was supposed to ask about like the mall and stuff.” Ellie looked away, her eyes were turning red. Andre had no idea about the consequences of embarrassing a spoiled white girl on TV.
“You’ll do fine.” The music began to play again, the make-up artist rushed off and the producer gave the signal once again.
Andre began speaking, the translator ten seconds behind in broken English.
“Welcome back, we are here with American students working at Romania Peace Institute here in Cluj. Now Kristen, prior from the break we were discussing the could be nuclear shield and its effect on your relationship with Russia, Do you think that the American politics is just using Romania or that it is trying to invest in us?”
Ask any politician and they will tell you that being diplomatic requires years of practice, it takes rehearsal, and an incredible amount of bullshit.
“Eleanor, what does the American public know about Romania?”
“I guess like, Dracula, and that whole gymnastics thing.”
I looked past the camera towards Dr. Nicolescu. He was smiling with his thumb extended up. The most inappropriate gesture given the circumstances.
“Now you’re both here on an EU grant in order to better relations between the EU and the U.S. Do you appreciate the Union?”
“For sure.” Ellie.
“Even though the general thought in the United States is that the Union is weak?”
“I don’t think that’s true.” I looked back towards Nicolescu as I spoke. He was still grinning and giving us the thumbs up. I was still unsure if he was intentionally being a prick.
“And what about the war in Iraq, how is that going? Do you think Obama is doing a good job?”
My turn again, “Well I mean it is a difficult war, I think he is doing OK I guess.”
“Better than George Bush the second?”
“Well I mean…”
The music began to play. The new unofficial swan song of Romania. The female producer began giggling along with the cameraman. We had sufficiently embarrassed ourselves. The most I could ever hope for now was local infamy.