Archive for 6

How to Parse Romanian Culture: Part 1

duminică, septembrie 16th, 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


How to Ride a Bus

duminică, septembrie 16th, 2007

There are three kinds of buses in Romania, each with its own benefits and down sides.

The first is the longer-haul bus, usually either between very big cities in Romania or between big cities in Romania and continuing on to foreign destinations. If you are going to another country, it may now actually be cheaper or more cost-effective to actually fly.

The big buses or coaches (Greyhound style) are called an autocar in Romanian language. These are always operated by private companies and there’s absolutely no way to tell what their schedule is or where they pick up from without asking.

The easiest way to find out, if you don’t already know, is to duck into either a luxury hotel or else a travel agency, which usually are prevalent in most Romanian cities.

The next kind of Bus shuttles between cities, towns and even villages. Again these are (usually) privately owned so their schedules and pick-up points must be discovered either at the company’s office or else a travel agency.

Almost every small town or village can be reached by a shuttle bus from the nearest large town or city, usually for a very low price.

Most larger cities have what is known as the autogara, or "bus terminal" and you can check in there to see if there’s a bus going where you want to go (domestic routes only).

Usually the Romanian term for a large van, "maxitaxi" or shuttle bus is minibus.

You can sometimes purchase an advance ticket for both minibus and autocar trips but quite often you just pay the driver when you get on board.

I will note here that some of the international minibus routes are overnight , especially to the airports. These can be EXTREMELY dangerous due to road conditions, driver fatigue, etc. Travel on these at your own risk!

Last but not least is the city bus, operated by the local government, running closed loop routes to just about any destination within the city limits. The vehicle is known in Romanian as the autobus.

If you’re lucky, the bus will be modern enough to show the name of its route on the display, which will say something like "Cart. Zorilor" (Zorilor neighborhood) or "Str. Aurel Vlaicu" (Aurel Vlaicu Street) but that’s pretty useless information if you don’t already know where you’re going.
Similarly, throughout the city you will often see small little signs with the route numbers posted but this is absolutely useless information unless you know where you are going.

To ride a city bus, you must first purchase a ticket ahead of time and either punch it or insert it into a reader when you board the vehicle. The question is where to buy the ticket. In some cities you can buy them in a variety of kiosks and stores. In other cities you must specifically find the bus kiosk, which have varying hours of operation and are usually located near the bigger bus stops.

But how do you know where you are going? Well essentially you just have to ask. I’ve never once seen a bus route map posted.

If your Romanian is good enough, ask the bus ticket vendor but usually they are quite surly and grumpy. If you’re staying in the town long enough, just walk to where you’re going and you’ll soon figure out which bus goes there because most Romanian buses run quite frequently, starting at about 5:00am and going roughly until about midnight.

With a few exceptions, most city buses stop at EVERY posted stop automatically – you do not have to ring a bell. If you’re not familiar with the route, try to get a spot as close to the front as you can and orient yourself.

When you’re waiting for the bus, there is no line or "queue". If you want a seat, stake yourself out as close to the curb as you can and brace yourself. The bus will pull up and discharge passengers out of all of its doors even though some clearly are marked for you NOT to board or exit through. Forget that, board through any door you want to.

The secret is to sidle up to the door when the bus comes to the stop and stand right next to the bus to the side of the door. That’s my little tip to you ;)

As soon as you get on the bus, if there’s a seat then grab it. Wait until the scrum is over and THEN stand up and punch/validate your ticket. Usually the "rowdier" elements will be crowded more towards the back but watch out if you get a seat in the front – the seniors usually board there and you may have to give up your seat to an old lady.

Be prepared to sweat like crazy – Romanian city buses are usually jam-packed and almost never have air conditioning. Despite this, never open a window unless you see Romanians doing it first. Romanians have a deathly fear/strong dislike of moving air and you could anger a lot of people.

Although officially against the rules in some places, eating and drinking on the bus is usually tolerated and perfectly fine.

The price for a ride of any duration is the same and is now approximately 50 cents per ride. Bus "passes" are available for purchase if you decide you’re going to be a regular rider.

Enjoy your travels in Romania!


Viktor Bout

vineri, septembrie 14th, 2007

Well I don ‘t deal with this anymore, but if you’re still interested in Viktor Bout , I highly recommend this link.


How to Understand a Telephone Number

marți, septembrie 4th, 2007
Someone, at some point, gives you a telephone number. How to understand it?

There are two kinds of telephone numbers in Romania , known as "fix" (landline) and "mobil" (cell/mobile). The prices for calling these are different with the rule of thumb being that calling a "fix" number from another "fix" number is cheaper, a "mobil" from a "mobil", etc. And usually international calls to "fix" numbers are cheaper.

Note: ALL incoming calls in Romania are free to the recipient.

There are two kinds of "fix" numbers and 4 kinds of "mobil" numbers. First the most basic thing though: understanding the number itself. A "complete" Romanian number will look like this:

40 264 555 123

If you are calling from outside of Romania, the above number is perfectly valid. But if you are INSIDE Romania, the number you dial is:

0264 555 123

Every single Romanian number (dialed internally) begins with a zero. Everyone knows this and yet by god they will strike you down with lightning if you fail to SAY the zero when giving the number. Again the number:

40 264 555 123

The 40 is simply the country code for Romania (40).

0264 555 123

Any number that starts with a "2" or "3" means a "fix" line. The ones that start with a "2" are usually Romtelecom, the former government monopoly . The ones with a "3" are "fix" lines from another company, most often RDS.

0264 555 123

The two digit code, in this case "64", indicates the city of the "fix" line, in this case Cluj-Napoca. Right now every single "fix" number in Cluj is "64" so if you see a six digit number without a prefix in Cluj, the "0264" is assumed. If it’s a "0364" number, the RDS prefix will be written.

0264 555 123

This is the actual "number". All Romanian numbers, "fix" or "mobil" are six digits in length.

"Mobil" numbers are slightly different in the sense that they do not reflect which city the subscriber or user lives in. Instead they are based by prefixes. ALL mobile/cell numbers begin with "07". Therefore if it begins with:

072, 073 = Vodafone
074, 075 = Orange
076 = Cosmote
078 = Zapp

So let’s look at another number:

0740 555 123

The first part "0740" tells us that it’s an Orange number. The "555 123" is of course just the subscriber number. The reason why it can be important to know the name of the provider is because calls within the same network are often cheaper, i.e. Orange to Orange calls are cheaper than Orange to Vodafone.

Note: A long time ago, Orange was called "Dialog" and some people still refer to it like that. Vodafone likewise used to be called "Connex".

But wait, it gets trickier. Romanians use a specific style to write their phone number. Usually it goes like this:

(07 40) 55 51 23

This is important to remember because if YOU ever give out your phone number, they’re going to want it like that, in pairs of two. Sometimes the first four are grouped together (0740) but the rest, never.

Again, god help you if you forget to say the "zero" at the beginning. The Romanian you are speaking to is likely to have a cerebral hemorrhage.

Never ever give out your number in terms of three’s (555) (123). Don’t do it!

That leading "zero" is very important and screws up a lot of people when it comes to understanding how to dial a Romanian number from inside the country versus outside. This is the number as dialed from OUTSIDE of Romania:

40 264 555 123

This is the number dialed from INSIDE of Romania:

0264 555 123

The only different is the leading "4" is removed. Got it?

By the way, even if you are inside Romania and wish to dial it "40 264 555 123" it will go through just fine.

How to Understand the Bloc

joi, august 30th, 2007

In the Communist days, there was a tremendous frenzy to house people in cities in apartment buildings, each one known as a bloc (block).

There is a classic Romanian film called The Death of Mr. Lazarescu. Totally worth seeing. There’s a line in there that I absolutely love, where Lazarescu’s female neighbor says "totu?i suntem la bloc" which translates something like "we have to maintain appearances because we are, after all, dwellers in an apartment building".

Despite their decrepit appearances, living in a bloc is considered a step up above peasants and other "lower-class" human beings. Only living in one’s own house in town is considered to be better in terms of social standing.

Unless you are very unique, the outside of the bloc is going to look like a hideous, gray Communist structure that seems on the verge of falling down . They still do have collapses but luckily those are still rare.

Entrance is either through an open door or else with an interfon , a kind of "buzzer" system which if you’ve seen enough Seinfeld episdoes, you will understand. If you live there, you will be given a barcoded "key" that will unlock the electronically "secured" doors.

Note: There is a code you can type in to unlock most interfon< doors even without a key. I won’t tell you what it is though ;)

If it’s nighttime, there will be a completely dark stairwell that will make you think "ghetto" and "mugged" and various other scary things. Be heartened, intrepid traveler! Nothing of the sort will happen to you even if there are a collection of bored teens hanging out in the vicinity.

Somewhere, probably almost impossible to find, is a switch which will illuminate a series of bare bulbs on every landing. These are on a timer so if you are going up several flights, make sure you note where the switch is on every floor so you can press it again when the lights switch off without warning.

If there is an elevator (a rare but occasional occurrence) the words "death trap" will come into your mind, probably for a good reason. Take the stairs you lazy git!

Your destination inside the bloc will likely be a stout metal door that looks like it could repel a SWAT team. Ring the buzzer and be prepared to drop your jaw. The inside of the apartment will be clean, modern and so completely incongruous to the hideousness of the bloc‘s exterior and stairwell. Quite simple put, it will be beautiful, clean and very tidy inside.

Note: A few years ago there was a domestic comedy TV show called La Bloc that dealt with urban life in the apartment building (bloc) setting. I’ve met one of the principle actors from the show, the guy named "The American " and he’s incredibly nice. Horrible show though ;)


How to Choose a Train

joi, august 30th, 2007

You are in one Romanian city. You wish to travel to another and do not have a car or for some other reason decide you wish to use the rail network to facilitate your journey . May the Lord bless you and keep you ;)

Option 1: The Sageata Albastru or Blue Arrow. This is an extremely modern train, complete with air conditioning, Muzak and everything else you might ever desire should a peaceful journey in an ass-mangling hard plastic chair be your preference.

Note: There is absolutely no way of knowing which train is indeed a Blue Arrow train. You simply have to know somehow through osmosis. All of the Blue Arrow trains are listed as "Inter-City" trains everywhere, including the CFR website. Good luck!

Option 2: The "Inter-City" train, thusly named because it travels BETWEEN or "inter" different cities. Yeah stupid name I know ;)

Use the website and find out whether there’s a dining car. It’s totally worth it. Not only can you get a hot, fresh meal there but you can sit sideways and truly enjoy the countryside whizzing by.

Option 3: "Acelerat" or "Rapid" trains. There’s literally no difference between these two except technically "Rapid" trains are slightly slower. You won’t even know the difference because neither one is either rapid or accelerated ;) .

The upside: Slightly cheaper than "Blue Arrows" or "Inter-City" trains.

The downside: Prepare for a freaking circus. Maybe that’s a plus, I certainly think so ;)

Prepare for legless bums begging for money, deaf/mute kids trying to sell geegaws and pictures of Orthodox saints, Gypsies hawking everything under the sun from Rambo commando knives to perfumes, other people selling everything from coffee to beer to sandwiches, lost illiterate peasants who cannot figure out their seat assignment, people having their babies shit/piss into bags in the hallway, goons blasting manele music, people smoking everywhere, impromptu parties with beer and/or homemade wine or alcohol, babies crying and screaming, incredibly hot or cold temperatures, snow/rain/hail blowing into the compartments, unspeakably horrible bathrooms, endless stops in towns that barely are big enough to have a name, inexplicable delays, etc.

Option 4: The Personal, which is a Romanian word for "all the horrors of an Acelerat or Rapid train plus even MORE stops at even SMALLER villages ;)

Good luck, intrepid CFR traveler!

Note: Do NOT try to make sense of anything. It will just hurt your brain ;)

Note to the lost American tourist I saw a few weeks ago: Do not try to understand why the train’s door was open as we raced along at 60 miles per hour, endangering everyone in the hallway. Give it up, foolish one!


How to Understand the CEC

joi, august 30th, 2007

You’ve seen it everywhere, the decrepit little offices of the CEC (check), scattered all throughout whichever Romanian town you are currently visiting or residing in.

But what is it? What does the full name Casa de Economii ?i Consemna?iuni mean? What goes on inside there?

Is it a bank? Is it a government office ? Is it a place to get paperwork stamped? Is it a place to deposit savings? Is it a place to get a loan? Is it a place to pay fees?

Give it up. Nobody understands the CEC and what exactly it does ;)


How to Keep Your Clothes Clean in Romania

joi, august 30th, 2007

Whether fresh off the plane or fresh from your laundering, you are walking the streets of Romania with some clean clothes.

However to keep them clean? It’s something you probably never gave much thought to, but here in Romania it is an absolute must. Dirty clothes will make everyone think you are a cercetor, a homeless bum. Don’t let it happen to you!

Never ever lean against anything. This means don’t lean against a building, a wall, a fence, a pillar, a storefront, nothing. Everything in Romania is extremely dusty and dirty and covered with a unique powder that will stain your clothes.

Bring along a newspaper if you ever sit down on anything outside like a bench of stadium seat . Failing that, bring along a Kleenex or tissue and thoroughly wipe off the seat before you sit down. Do it!!

When walking in the streets, be careful never to brush up against anything, no matter how slight.

When on a train or other mode of transport, wipe off the bench or seat first as well.

Never ever stand on the edge of the curb, especially after it’s been raining. Stand well back from the curb edge while waiting for a green crossing light.

When walking on the street, beware of puddles that a passing car, TROLLEY bus or other vehicle will splash through and soak you.

If the cuffs of your pants leg come within 2 inches of the ground, fold them up until they don’t. Don’t worry about the fashion sense of it, just do it!

Carry anything that’s in a bag well away from your body.

When walking through congested areas of pedestrian traffic, be extremely alert for those who are around you, especially those carrying lit cigarettes or anything in their hands. Be also wary of actually touching anyone else’s body.

Never ever sit down on any “unofficial” place, i.e. not a bench or seat designed specifically for sitting upon. This means no ledges of buildings, walls, train stations or anything else. If you absolutely must rest your feet then squat or “hunker down” with your butt above but not touching the ground.

As soon as you are home, change to your “inside” clothes. Be prepared to switch clothing 2-5 times per day.

Follow the above instructions and you may get to keep your clothes stain-free for as long as 3 months ;)


How to Anger a Romanian Instantly

joi, august 30th, 2007
Interested in angering someone in Romania in an instant ? Want to lose all traces of hospitality, generosity, friendliness in every single Romanian you will ever meet?

It’s simple enough : say anything kind about Gypsies or show any curiosity or interest in them whatsoever.

Don’t do it ;)


How to Understand Prices

joi, august 30th, 2007

Oh you little intrepid traveler, somehow you have made your way to a Romanian store and stand bravely with your purchases, waiting for the cashier to total them up so you can pay and be on your way home.

But wait! There is no cash register, or else it is standing there unused and the feckless cashier lady simply speaks aloud the total. Whatever shall you do?

Short answer: ask her to write it down. Abandon all hope for anything else ;)

Long answer: Two years ago the Romanian currency was devalued by four zeroes, meaning 100,000 lei became simply 10 lei . Should be simple enough, but in Romania nothing ever is.

To begin with, some people still refer to the new denominations with their old names. Therefore 10 lei is referred to as 100,000 lei. Except nobody actually ever said 100 thousand, they just said o suta which means “a hundred”.

So if the old total would’ve been 114 ,000, the cashier will tell you “one hundred and 14″. Except the real total is now 11 point 4 lei.

Converting 110,000 lei (110 in the old speech) to 11 lei is simple enough. Except that there is yet another complication, which is that often the cashiers will tell you the lei part in new currency (i.e. 11) and the bani (equivalent to “pennies” in U.S. currency) to the OLD currency.

So again if your total is 11.4 new lei (114,000 old lei), they will tell you “11 and four thousand) or 11 new lei and 4000 old lei.

Don’t even try to understand it ;)



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