I recently spent a few weeks driving through Transylvania, a spectacularly beautiful part of the world that is most famous for Dracula and the historical figure than inspired him: Vlad the Impaler.
While Romania’s capital city, Bucharest, felt like any other European Capital City, Transylvania was very different. Many of the secondary roads were simply dirt roads, and I passed some villages where people would still pump water from the main town well. As we drove into these small towns, locals would stare at the car’s Bucharest number plates while kids would run alongside the car.
If you were joking or being negative about it, you would call it backward. Although that’s an unfair thing to say, it was clear that rural Romania lagged behind most of Europe.
It was strange to see poverty like this within Europe but, as strange as it was, something about it also felt very familiar. For some reason, I felt like I’d seen these houses and people before.
I took out my phone and began Googling, and it soon began to make sense. I had see these villages before. I’d seen them in the opening scenes of the 2006 movie Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious.
Apparently, the people of Glod were unaware of how they were being portrayed in the film. Many claim they were only paid 3 lei each (just over $1), although others claim they were paid closer to $100. Regardless, after seeing Borat, the people of Glod have since taken legal action against the producers. A follow-up documentary by the BBC caught a little of that anger on camera.
The thing is many Romanians speak perfect or near-perfect English, so it’s surprising that Sacha Baron Cohen was able to get away with calling the people of Glod prostitutes and rapists within earshot. Presumably at least some people knew what was going on, especially the person who played Borat’s sister, Natalya.
A few days later, driving through Snagov Forest, I came across Castel Film Studios. Castel have been involved into the production of hundreds of films including Cold Mountain, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Chuckys Baby, and, you guessed in, Borat. At least one Romanian was in on the joke anyway.
The funny thing is, as much as Kazakhstan was offended by Borat, it has boosted tourism to Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan actually banned the movie from being shown, but the movie’s international showings actually resulted in a 10-fold increase in visa applications. Foreign Minister Erzhan Kazykhanov even ended up thanking Borat for putting Kazakhstan on the map. Romania on the other hand has received no such boost.
Of course, It’s great that a small country like Kazakhstan is getting this boost in tourism. It’s just a shame that the people going there probably should be going to Romania instead.