endriu’s romania – the good, the bad and the very disturbing :)
so very british by birth and sense of humour, Andrew LePoidevin (endriu, for friends:) is more of a romanian than many people i know and even has a birthday to prove it – january, the 24th:). he runs the marathon for charities, goes to major public events, protesting social injustice and, well, stupidity, refuses to live the expat bubble of a life and every now and then casually drops into a conversation some romanian expression – dracii te găsește! is by far my favourite:)) it was only natural, you see, that i asked him to write some 25 random things about his romania. here they are:
25 Personal Perceptions of Romania
Originally from the UK, I’ve been living in Romania for nearly 12 years now. I expected to stay just 20 months, but you know how these things happen.
When I arrived in April 2006 it wasn’t the first time I had visited Romania. From 1984 to 1988 I came here 7 times. Obviously things have changed immensely both from 1988 to 2006 and from 2006 to now. One thing that has not changed is Romania’s ability to be constantly surprising.
So I thought I would share with you my 25 personal views of Romania. That’s almost two views for every year in the country. Being a slave to my need for order, I have divided them into categories.
Danube Delta – the stunning jewel in Romania’s crown. This unique environment should be on everyone’s must see list because…….you must see it! Beautiful and fascinating. I took a boat ride around part of the delta and then in someone’s garden in Sulina ate fried fish with garlic sauce (mujdei). The memories stay with me even longer than the garlic from that very strong sauce!
The Black Sea coast. What can I say – just a few kilometres south of the fabulous Danube Delta is a disaster area full of communist looking hotels, crowded dirty beaches and for this pleasure you will pay far too much. Go to Bulgaria’s coast, go to Greece, go to Spain but please don’t even contemplate this ugly side of Romania.
“The Mountains”. In summer and winter Bucharest empties at weekends as people go skiing or hiking in the mountains. There is good reason for this, they are stunning. The Carpathians curl through the country providing a wealth of beautiful scenery, activities and peace.
Transylvania. Almost every human being on the planet (with the exception of an isolated tribe in the depths of Papua New Guinea) will think of Dracula and vampires when you mention Transylvania. It should be equally famous for its medieval walled cities, stunning countryside and warmth of the local population. So many places in this region to visit – take a couple of months off work and tour the area. You won’t go back to work!
Food and Drink
Mothers. Before talking about the gastronomy of Romania, let’s pay homage to the providers of most of the country’s food and drink – mothers. A Romanian mother is programmed to feed you until you explode, they can’t help themselves. They love to cook. And they love to cook in enormous quantities. Inevitably not only will you need a crane to lift you from the kitchen table, but you will have a lorry outside full of packed up food “for the journey home” (which is 400 metres away). Every Romanian believes their mother makes the best food….and they are right, every mother does. There should be a statue in every village, town and city in the country to them.
Smoked meats. Whether it is costiță afumată, Kaiser or any of the hundreds of smoked meats or sausages, there is something hypnotic about the smell that draws you in. And you are rewarded with an oral orgasm – they all taste fantastic. Love them!
Mămăliga. This may be where I lose some people. I can only think that if hell exists there is an area where all you eat is mămăligă all day every day. It is not that it tastes horrible, it just doesn’t taste of anything. To say it is bland is an understatement. Watching grass grow is infinitely more interesting than eating this soft concrete.
Palinca. When I first came to Romania, this would have been in my list of the “things to avoid”. I tried it. It burned its way down my throat and tasted strange. Then it was paired up with the smoked meats and smoked pork belly (slănină). You Romanians know what you are doing – that combination is amazing. Now I can’t smell the smoked meats without automatically thinking about palinca.
Characteristics of Romanians
Queuing. OK, here we go! I put my hand up now and admit that the British are obsessed by queuing. We queue for everything and anything. And we wait in line. And we get very frustrated or even angry when others do not observe this obviously best way of doing things. I spend a lot of my time in Romania getting frustrated or even angry. It is chaotic with no-one believing they should have to wait at the back. The result? The ‘queue’ resembles a rugby scrum with people coming in at all sides, over your heads, between your legs or parachuting in. I still can’t cope with it.
Queuing. No, I’ve not made a mistake, this has a second entry in my 25. The chaotic aspect of queuing in Romania is one thing. The complete disregard for personal space or privacy is another thing and breath-taking at times. I’ve been in queues where I swear I was penetrated by the man standing behind me. I even feel their breath on my neck they are so close. And then when you get to the counter at the front of the queue, they move beside you and listen to every single word you say. Naturally they will also put in their views, thoughts or ideas to your conversation. Or if they are bored, start telling the shop assistant what they want, ignoring the fact that the assistant is still supposed to be dealing with you. It drives me crazy.
Post Office. This is linked to the queuing subject. If ever I had state secrets and you wanted to get them from me, just put me in a Romanian Post Office, after 5 minutes I will crack and tell you anything you want to know. The people going to the post office are vicious, particularly the old man and women. Of course they fight their way to the front of the queue (see above) but when I say fight I mean fight. Hitting you with their sticks, bruising you with their elbows and if necessary spitting at you. How the actual post office works is a complete mystery with 5 counters each apparently dealing with a different aspect of their work, but only 3 have somebody sitting at them. When I say ‘someone’ I should clarify – it is almost inevitably a woman with a stunningly bored look on her face devoid of any emotion. But then again if I had to deal with that situation day in day out I too would stop being a human.
Proud of their country. I know this is not unique to Romanians, but I love seeing and hearing Romanians talk about their country in this way. Romania has a huge amount going for it – see many of the things mentioned in my 25. That YouTube video “The World without Romania” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dZGDy45ZeI expresses this well (and has over 1 million hits). Proud to be Romanian.
Embarrassed by their country. In equal measure to being proud, Romanians also love to run down their country. They are very ready to point out all the negative aspects. Let’s face it, Romania is not perfect, but then again apart from Britain, which country is?! (I’m joking, Brexit has demonstrated to the entire world how monumentally stupid Britain is.)
Foreigners are caught in between the pride and pain. When we foreigners make a positive comment about Romania, inevitably point 13 above kicks in and the response is “Yes but we…..” and a negative comment is made. I can’t count how many times I was asked “Why did you leave the UK and move here?”. Any positive comment was countered by a negative. However if I ever agreed with the negative comment or mentioned something bad, point 12 kicks in. “So you think the UK is so great? You are drunk most of the time, throwing up in the streets and fighting” etc. It’s very difficult for us foreigners!
Inventive. Linked to the “World without Romania” video, Romanians are a very inventive, pioneering people. It seems that almost everything has a Romanian link from the Eiffel Tower (it was developed by a technology discovered in Romania, by Romanian engineer George Panculescu) to aviation: (Rodrig Goliescu built the avioplan, the first fixed-wing aircraft with a tubular fuselage and the “Aviocoleopter”, the first vertical take-off and landing aircraft). It is said the second language of Microsoft is Romanian. In every generation Romania’s talent to invent and develop is evident. (And I can hear the Romanians using point 13 again – “Yes but we don’t make any money from this, we sell our inventions to others and they make the money” etc)
Incredibly generous. Not only are Romanian mothers generous with the outputs from their kitchen, a Romanian friend will do anything for you. They will help you in any way they can.
Selfish. In contrast to friends, the general population doesn’t give a flying you know what about you or each other. They will climb over each other to get what they want (see point 9 queuing). If they want to park there (disabled spot, blocking access, on a zebra crossing etc) they will. If they want to do something, they will regardless of the impact it has on anybody else.
Will believe anything, love conspiracy theories. Just watch PRO TV and you understand how what is a minor news item somewhere else is blown up to a sensational scale here. A great example is CERN the European Organization for Nuclear Research. When they started up the particle accelerator this was a small paragraph on the BBC news website. On Romanian TV they had it live with a countdown to it starting. With dramatic music and a graphic showing the whole of Europe being consumed by a black hole formed by the particle collision they waited for doomsday. Still waiting. When the planets aligned Romanian news was full of apocalyptic predictions. Still waiting. Meanwhile real news items tend to be tagged on to the end of the programme as an afterthought.
Curent. Yes, you knew this was coming at some point. The Romanian obsession with draughts (also spelled drafts). Here I cannot improve on the marvellous description given by J.S. Bangs in their article on this subject https://jsbangs.com/2011/12/13/draft-romanias-silent-killer/ This extract is perfect: “However, there is a serious health hazard that stalks Romania, one which foreigners rarely think of. If the reports are true, then this epidemic is responsible for numerous illnesses, hospitalizations, and even deaths. It is little publicized in official sources, but nearly any Romanian on the street will be able to tell you all about it. I’m talking about curent. In this context means “draft”, as in a drafty door, or opening a window to let in a draft. People from outside Romania may believe that a draft is a nuisance (if you’re cold) or a welcome relief (if you’re too warm), but the Romanians will set you straight. If you catch a draft, you are in mortal peril. The early symptoms of catching a draft include a headache, toothache, soreness of the neck, stiff joints, stuffy nose, sore throat, coughing, or sneezing. If untreated, the draft will continue to worm its way into your system and metastasize into pneumonia, arthritis, polio, and dementia. People have died from catching drafts.”
“Spuneți”. The one word that when uttered by a shop attendant, emotionless post office worker or anyone in the supposed area of customer service, drives me mad! It literally translates as “Tell” and means “What do you want?” but for me it sounds so abrupt and rude. “Hello, how can I help you?” “Good morning, is there anything you are particularly looking for?” This is all summed up with ‘Spuneți’, with the person inevitable not looking at you but on their mobile while serving you.
Invitations. “Would you like to go for something to eat?” “Fancy meeting up this evening?” This can get you into so much trouble as a foreigner in Romania. The Romanian concept of invitation. If you invite someone out, that means you are paying. In the UK it is understood that you will split the costs. In our household we have to clarify – is this a Romanian or British invitation? Getting this wrong can lead to you having to take out a bank loan in order to pay for everyone ‘invited’.
Weddings/Baptisms. Connected with the point above is the bizarre concept in Romania that unless you can give money to the married couple/parents of the child, you don’t attend the event. I’ve heard so many people say they are not going to the wedding because they can’t afford the 100 euro per person ‘gift’ that is expected. These occasions should be where you are surrounded by the people you love (and family who may or may not fall into this category) and share the happiness with you. Instead they stay away or only one of the couple comes because of financial considerations. Madness! I’d rather the British tradition of receiving crappy gifts including 27 toasters and various useless articles but at least the people I want to share the day with are there.
The Orthodox Church. Their control over the population is horrible. From schooling to the major events in your life and eventually death, the Orthodox Church casts its controlling, money grabbing, intolerant and manipulative shadow. You might have gathered I’m no fan of the Church! I am democratic in my dislike, in my view all religion is dangerous and the world would be infinitely better without any of it in whatever form.
Moaște (relics). Following on from point 23 until I came to Romania I thought this sort of thing had died out at least a century ago. The displaying of saints’ bones. Huge queues form, mainly of old baba, but some indoctrinated young people are there, waiting to kiss the coffin, wipe a cloth over it and generally practice some voodoo that has no place in a modern society. But what I love about this is when this mixes with the earlier mentioned Romanian characteristics, that of queuing and being selfish. The result? Old baba fighting, pushing, screaming at each other to get to the bones first. It is undeniably entertaining to watch but sad in the 21st century.
Driving. You thought this might not appear? Of course it does! Romanian men in particular seem to feel that this is one area where they can be kings. There are very few rules for drivers, in their mind. Correct that – in their minds there are no rules. If I want to go here, I go. If I want to park here, I park. In my first few weeks here a taxi driver picked me up and almost immediately went the wrong way down a one way street. I think he saw in his mirror my expression. “Don’t worry, it OK” he said. “Before this road up and down, now they make it just down but I disagree”. Well that’s alright then!
Thank you for reading my meandering thoughts and reflections on ‘Romania, the land of all possibilities’.