How to Parse Romanian Culture: Part 1

16 septembrie 2007

This is just a small collection of things I’ve come to learn about Romanian culture. Obviously these are my personal observations and not some kind of "scientific" observation ;)

Romanian really, really care what the neighbors think. This means they are HIGHLY conformist in public and almost never "cause a scene" anywhere. It also means that "propriety" in conduct is highly valued.

Never ever make jokes or sarcastic remarks about religion, especially Christianity. Even virtually agnostic Romanians will get uncomfortable if you make anything close to "blasphemous" remarks.

On the other hand, jokes about nuns, monks and especially priests are considered perfectly okay and are no problem.

Displaying, bragging or speaking about wealth is rarely seen as "crass" and in fact is the goal (secret or otherwise) of many Romanians. The more flashy you dress, the more you spend, the fancier your car, watch, jewelry, etc., the better.

Never ever make any favorable comments or even display curiosity about Gypsies or Gypsy culture. This will win you zero friends. Even the most tolerant Romanians are just that, tolerant.

While you are almost never going to be robbed, i.e. divested of your valuables by a show of force, be very careful about people stealing your stuff if you leave it lying around. Especially be careful about pickpockets or open windows if you live on the ground floor, leaving valuables on the table at a restaurant or in your jacket pocket, that kind of thing.

Romanians are rarely curious about anything. Don’t be offended if they’re not curious about you, they are almost never curious about anything.

The vast majority of Romanians are "dog people" and not "cat people". Even if a stray dog bites someone, most Romanians will sympathize with the dog. The vast majority of pets in Romania are dogs.

The genre of music known as manele is considered to be only appropriate for low-class, uncouth people, especially Gypsies and country bumpkins. Most urban or "sophisticated" Romanians will say they hate this type of music. Nonetheless, they all have manele CDs, tapes or MP3 files on their computer .

Romanians strongly dislike direct confrontation and shy away from it. This means that if they dislike you, they will tell you in a roundabout way. They are all big fans of "tattling" and will rat you out to someone in authority before ever telling you to your face that there is a problem.

The one exception is that most Romanians consider all police officers crooked or corrupt. Most Romanians almost never call the police except as a measure of truly last resort.

If you enter a store, building, room, house or door of any kind and the door is closed, it is absolutely imperative that you re-close it behind you. Romanians will often practically shut a door right in your face because they are so concerned that they get the door closed.

Romanians sincerely believe illnesses such as colds, headaches and fevers are caused by three things:

An exposed neck/throat.

Open ears

Moving air or drafts (called curent in Romanian)

In cold weather, they will therefore wear a scarf or something else to protect their neck/throat.

Either to ward off illness or to recover from an illness, Romanians will often stuff cotton into their eardrums. In the winter time, easily half the people you see will have cotton poking out of their ears.

Except in extremely hot weather, Romanians abhor moving air of any kind therefore you will almost never see any fans of any kind. Furthermore, rolling down a window on a bus or in a car or on a train is virtually taboo so never do it unless you see Romanians doing it first.

Romanians believe air conditioning causes illnesses and headaches and so will use it very sparingly, even in the hottest of weather.

Romanians are big believers in natural remedies to every kind of illness or ailment and there are lots of stores which sell these products.

While often surly and grumpy as hell, Romanian doctors of any kind (including psychologists) are held in great esteem and anything they say is considered the gospel truth.

A female of any age, including infants, are all virtually required to wear earrings.

Romanians, even ones who have lived in a given location all of their lives, are absolutely horrible at giving directions. If you need directions to somewhere, always, always ask a taxi driver . Or me ;)

Romanians see certain criminal activities such as riding mass transit without a ticket, prostitution and stealing pirated music/movies off the internet as perfectly justified and barely wrong at all.

That being said, all violent crimes are considered absolutely abhorrent and those who commit them as the worst of the worst.

Alcoholism and alcoholic behavior is only mildly frowned upon and is often tolerated and/or celebrated. Drug use however is considered quite abhorrent and the only drug consumed with even minor widespread frequency is cannabis .

Romanians feel uncomfortable in any public setting unless there is loud pop and/or hiphop music playing at all hours of the day so you better get used to it ;)

Libraries are very rare and not popular but Romanians love to read newspapers, most of which are approximately 20 pages long and meant to be digested quickly and cover every kind of topic from sports to "hard news" to celebrity gossip.

Most Romanians love the news broadcasts which come on most major television channels at 7:00pm. Even if they watch nothing else, they’ll usually watch the evening news and take it as the gospel truth.

Romanians take great pride in consuming homemade and/or home grown products from bread, meat, vegetables and alcohol, especially wine and tuica.

Romanians believe city air is unhealthy and will go to great lengths to get out of the city somewhere even if for a few hours, often to grill meat, drink and most importantly, to get some "clean air".

Similarly, the standard Romanian dream for retirement is a house in the country and growing one’s own vegetables and breathing "clean air".

Regardless of how illogical or strange a fashion in the clothes you wear, what counts is that your clothes are absolutely clean and free from wrinkles and stains. The actual design, logo or fashion sense of what you’re wearing pales in comparison to the need for it to be clean.

If you’re shopping in a store even for a single bottle of water, always use the handbasket or cart provided.

Romanians are extremely fastidious about the expiration dates on perishable products such as milk and bread. On the other hand, you can buy extremely stale cookies, crackers and other "non-perishable" items, often covered in a layer of dust at some stores.

If you buy something, that’s it. Don’t expect refunds or returns.

If a Romanian isn’t from Bucharest, then they will describe it as "loud", "dirty", full or "rude people", "bad drivers" and Gypsies.

If a Romanian IS from Bucharest, they will consider the rest of the country to be full of illiterate, unsophisticated country bumpkins.

If a Romanian is from Moldova (Moldavia in English, the northeast segment of the country of Romania not the nation of Moldova), they will consider their wine the best and their women as the most beautiful and the best cooks.

If a Romanian is NOT from Moldova, they will consider the women to be whores and the men to be illiterate country bumpkins who do all the unpleasant, dangerous jobs in the bigger cities.

Of foreigners living, studying or working in Romania, Arabs and Italians are considered shifty, untrustworthy and "dirty". Chinese are considered extremely mysterious. Black people from anywhere are considered sexy, exotic and intriguing. Americans, Germans and British are considered boring and totally uninteresting.

An ethnic Romanians will consider his ethnic heritage to be EXTREMELY important and will usually be convinced he is a direct descendent of the Romans. Romanians believe that ethnic Romanians are a superior race over all other ethnicities.

Patriotism in the modern sense is almost non-existant. Romanians care more about their ethnicity and regional heritage far more than any allegiance to the country or government.

Practically no one in Romania speaks Russian and never did and never want to.

Romanians view excessive friendliness and/or jocularity as something to be suspicious of. Generosity is also something that arouses suspicion as well. Romanians believe that there is an underlying assumption that all non-family relationships are based on each party somehow profiting or benefiting from the relationship.

If a Romanian can profit from you financially without outright fraud, they will consider that you’re a sucker and it’s your fault for being one. If you’re a foreigner then using fraud to separate you and your money is often considered perfectly okay as well.

The thing a Romanian hates worst is being a "sucker" (fraier) and are often convinced someone or some organization is trying to sucker them somehow.

The most stoic, reserved Romanian will cry their eyes out and become extremely sentimental when separated or reunited with a family member.

More to come later


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