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Why Romanians Don't Like Romanians

To my knowledge, this national self-loathing is a uniquely Romanian experience. Maybe we share it with some of our neighbours, but I doubt it. I've never seen a people dislike their own as much as the Romanians.
This is going to be highly generalized, but as with most things I write here it's rooted in personal experience and observations. Don't hate the player, hate the game.

1. Romanians like the exotic, to be Romanian is the antithesis of what it means to be exotic.

2. Romanians are often prejudiced. The thought process goes something like this: If you're Romanian you're probably bereft of interesting experiences and financially limited. You're from 'the-worst-country-on-earth', after all. If  you're well off, then you're just a rich asshole (probably a thief, too). Either way, your Romanian-ness ensures you're seen as a person with limited horizons who likely can't offer anything new or different.

If you're Western European or North American you're the opposite of the above. Your life experience has given you a status that many Romanians aspire to; a solid education, an open mind, a passport to the civilized world (ie. America), and the ability to spend money. This places foreigners on a pedestal.  Except if you're African, Asian, Arab, Indian, or South American. Then you're somewhat 50/50. On the one hand you still have the benefit of being exotic, but on the other you come from a similarly poor and  'uncivilized' place. Depending on your pigmentation, there's also the risk you'll be mistaken for a gypsy and that never helps in Romania.

3. Few wealthy Romanians are seen as positive role-models. I mentioned the rich asshole stereotype above. They may own nice cars, but they drive and park like douchebags. They have money to spend but dress in tacky outfits and build tacky houses. Home design is stuck somewhere between ancient Greece or Rome, the 70s, and The Jetsons. My girlfriend couldn't help overhearing a conversation between two pitipoance  in a cosmetics shop. One of the girls was talking about how she had to pay the bouncer 50 RON for the privilege of parking the X5 in front of the 'hottest club in Cluj' and then drinking 'Mumu' champagne all night. I'm guessing she meant G.H. Mumm. Nothing you wouldn't expect from any class of  Nouveau Riche.  This also explains why 'average' Romanians tend to disdain wealth when it is local. For more, see Gigi Becali.




Foreigners by comparison appear less ostentatious about their wealth and less petty about it all. In some cases it's true, but in most, it's a simple misconception that won't be dispelled as long as local barons behave the way they do.

4. Most beautiful buildings in Romania were built by foreigners. As opposed to many of our Balkan neighbours, we're not particularly nationalistic outside of the love for our unity. Rome's (Trajan's) conquest of Romania is considered a past glory and eulogized in the national anthem. The most beautiful buildings in Transylvania were build by the Habsburgs. Bucharest's architecture is either reminiscent of the French Belle Epoque, or an ode to communism.  Personally, I'm much more impressed by the tall, wooden churches of Maramures, but with the exception of the Brancovenesc style (itself multi-faceted), most architectural influence in Romania is not our own. There's an unspoken expectation tied to foreigners in Romania, implying that they can better contribute to the  improvement of Romania than Romanians can.

5. Romanians don't keep their word the same way foreigners do. When a non-Romanian tells you something will be done tomorrow, it's going to be done tomorrow. When a Romanian says it's going to be done tomorrow, it means they might start on it tomorrow - the actual deadline is flexible. This is far more common when exchanging goods and services than in personal relationships where punctuality and the value of one's 'word' are extremely  important. From a purely human to human perspective, it actually makes sense, but if you're doing business in the country it can be a real mess.

6. Romanians are rude and moody to each other. They mostly blame it on other Romanians. "Why should I smile if they're not smiling at me?", "why should I say please and thank you if they don't even offer a greeting?", "How can I be happy if politicians are stealing everything?" Foreigners are highly versed in common courtesy and more 'pleasant'. As with the above, this is more obvious in professional relationships and at the point of purchase.

One of the typical comments you'll hear from Romanians who come back from their travels with stories about people 'outside' goes something like this: "The [insert nationality here] are so much more relaxed [than Romanians]. Everyone is so nice [as opposed to Romanians]."

I'm torn on this particular point. I know how 'nice' Canadians can be. I know that behind the smiles you'll often find daggers and that the tone of the 'hello', 'please', or 'thank you' says a lot more than the word itself. I think that the Romanian directness and casual interaction between strangers is charming in its own way. It's the way families everywhere behave with one another. When a teenager sees his parents come home after work, they don't say, "hiiiii" with a big, fake smile. A flat, "hey" is more like it. At home nobody's offended by a curt, "pass the salt" or "give me the screwdriver." It's just more human to be direct and familiar with one another. I've gotten used to it and I don't mind it. That being said, even if money's tight in Romania, it doesn't hurt to remember that smiles are free. And that they make you, and others, feel better.

7. Check out this joke:
Satan is carrying out an inspection of hell. His admin-devil is pointing out who's roasting where and how his minions are keeping it all in check. "That's where the politicians go" the admin says, pointing to a sulfur pit surrounded by devils with pitchforks. As soon as a head bobs up near the edge, one of the pitchfork-wielding minions pokes it back under. A large cauldron hosts the lawyers. On its rim, the demons are busy poking away as the lawyers try to escape. It's hard work. And on goes Satan, surveying his kingdom of darkness until they come up to a lonely cauldron. "Why is nobody guarding that one?" he asks. "Oh, right, those are the Romanians, we don't need any demonpower there." Satan raises an inquisitive eyebrow. "It's simple," says the assistant, "when one tries to escape, the others pull him back in."


Finally, there's my very personal experience with moving back to Romania. Throughout the first several months it was almost useless for me to speak Romanian. Once, near the Parliament in Bucharest, I asked for directions in Romanian and the guy started explaining in English. I insisted on Romanian, he insisted on continuing in English. In other places in the world, they turn their back on you if you don't speak the local language, go figure.

It's not even so much about being friendly. What stands out in these cases is the willingness of Romanians to draw from otherwise invisible reserves of benevolence when it comes to accommodating foreigners. This is likely derived from  Romania's long tradition of hospitality. It's a personal point of pride for most to be a welcoming host to one's guests. The trouble is, other Romanians aren't interesting guests, they're the annoying family.

Comments

  1. Hey Matt,

    I stumbled on your blog when the folks at Transylvania Hostel posted a link to something you wrote a few weeks ago.

    This was a fantastic post, I've experienced the whole refusal to speak Romanian thing on a number of occasions. I would stubbornly continue on in my broken Romanian while they would stubbornly continue on in Romanian. The rest of your post matches a lot of my personal experiences as well. I've often been taken by surprise at forward or seemingly rude things done by Romanians, but I've also been continually surprised at their willingness to help strangers welcome visitors into their homes.

    Anyway great post and I'll be watching for the next one. Seems like your living my dream so I'm very interested in your experiences over in Klausenburg! ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh yeah, tell me about it, every non-Romanian I talk to is on the same page when it comes to this. A big reason why most foreigners really like Romania.
      Glad you like the blog - I don't write as much as I'd like to, but there'll be more!

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  2. Some parts of what you say are true, but they can't be applied for all the population. As it happens everywhere, the bad parts are the ones that come out first (like weed). But the true Romanian people are not the way you describe them.

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    1. I haven't quite figured out who a "true Romanian" is yet.

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    2. Oh but I'm a romanian, born and raised and I truly agree with everything you said. People are huge assholes to each other and less assholes to foreigners. I've travelled to both US and China and I can't wait to leave romania again, for good. But good luck on your endeavour, hope you're happy wherever you'll live.

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  3. Hello. Great blog! I was sent over here by Calin from Romanian Experience who is on vacation and too lazy to post to his blog. I am a German-American who "discovered" Romania back in 1998, fell in love with it, taught myself the language and visited maybe 15 times. I usually went with a group of Germans who were renovating some Saxon buildings and acted as their translator. Last time was in 2003, though. I too noticed how friendly Romanians were to foreigners. I had a couple of annoying experiences that I now think I understand better from having read this blog entry.

    I once complimented a Romanian, who was a local in the village that we often visited, on his homemade wine. Knowing I was a frequent visitor, he immediately offered to make me some wine if I bought one of those giant bottles in a basket that are used for that purpose in Romania. He already knew exactly where I could get the bottle for a good price. We got the bottle together and I had to buy some sugar too. Before I left, he invited me down to his basement where I saw the bottle was filled with slowly bubbling, fermenting grape juice. I left with a great feeling and many a night after that, I fantasized about drinking delicious wine on my return. Well, when I returned to the village in the spring, I made a beeline for the friendly villager's house. He was friendly enough but wasn't sure exactly what it was I wanted. I explained to him again the agreement we had entered into the previous fall. "Oh, that wine! The Germans who came at New Year's drank it all." He was incapable of admitting he had done anything wrong. "These Germans, you just can't please them," he muttered as he turned his back on me and closed the door in my face.

    A similar experience occurred when a fellow German asked me to negotiate with a woodcarving artist on his behalf. The German had a photo of his favorite horse and had heard that this woodcarver could render the exact same image in wood. Well, we met the woodcarver and soon everyone was in agreement on price and when the carving would be ready, a date two months later. So, two months later we showed up at the woodcarver's shop. My German friend had cash in hand. Again, the artist had a tough time remembering who we were. I explained to him our agreement again. "Oh, yes, now I remember! That was a really great carving and a German who came into my shop said he would buy it on the spot, so I sold it to him." I got very angry and said WE had an agreement, not some other German who just wanders in off the street. The woodcarver just sniffed and basically said a German in the shop with money is worth two Germans who say they will come back in two months.

    I guess some Romanians are just too eager to please foreigners, and in their minds, foreigners (well, those from wealthy countries) are all interchangeable, like they are related in some strange way, so if you please one of them, you will please all of them. Oh well, thanks for reading this. La revedere.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. I enjoyed both stories Stuart, they could not be more Romanian at heart if you invented them. Indeed, it's strange how these annoyances occur given that the 'perpetrators' mean no harm at all -on the contrary!

      I think you're right, there is a sort of prejudice attached to foreigners here and it's not always beneficial (although in many cases, it is). There is a mentality, amongst the older generation at least, about foreigners. Something along the lines that "they have money, therefore they're always happy, and therefore they have nothing to worry about." In their eyes, having somebody expecting them to stick to their end of the bargain is an unreasonable expectation.

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    2. While I agree with your point of view Stuart there is also another factor that comes into play. There is a saying in Romanian that goes something like this: don't free the bird in your hand for the one sitting on the fence. So the artist carved the horse with the hope that you will come back and pay for it. But most people in Romania have to worry about making ends meet and another buyer came and offered him a sure sale.

      The rest goes for Matt. I really appreciate your blog and some of your social commentary is spot on. Having said that, it's true that we Romanians aren't particularly nice to each other. But there is a type of social cooperation that I haven't yet seen in the West, or at least not in Spain, which is were I have lived almost half my life after being born in Cluj. Two weeks ago one of our old neighbor from Cluj died. And I was sitting with my mom in our kitchen crying like crazy after we found out the news. We were remembering all the times as a child I was left in their care, all the times his wife constantly brought us the Sunday cake she used to bake, all the times we helped them and they helped us. The truth is my neighbors from Cluj are family. When you're not at home and the postman comes to collect bills, they will pay for yours, even when you are not home, without asking. When they will cook something good and special they will bring you a plate. In autumn they will help you collect and make your wine, and you will help them. When you'll make the traditional pig slaughter for Christmas they will be there helping you and if they can't be there, either way you will bring them a nice chunk of meat and șoric and a few weeks later smoked sausages and slanină. They will gift you with free flowers, free vegetables, free fruit and alcohol from their small garden in the city or from the countryside many times during the year. The older sons and daughters of your neighbors will help you with your math problems free of cost. If you run out of sugar or eggs, don't worry. They will give it to you and not exact it back. If you have money problems they will lend it to you free of interest and with all their heart. If someone gets married or dies they will help you bake, cook and they will support you all the way.

      Here in Spain I don't know my neighbors, they don't know me and I've being living in the same flat for more than 12 years. When we cross each other we just say hola, and that's it. The only people that were really nice and were somehow like my neighbors from Cluj were a seventy years old couple that unfortunately died. Maybe they were old fashion and not like this "modern" type of European that we Romanians have to emulate just to look good in the eyes of the sanctimonious West. Tell us Matt, because I remember you saying that you lived in the USA. It's that typical American pie people bring over a one thing or something they will do at least once a moth?

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    3. To each his own I would say. I've been friendly in the many countries I've lived (including Spain, although for a shorter while , as well as Fla- USA, the Midlands - UK, Denmark, Greece , Cyprus, and a few others.

      I ALWAYS am the one to extend my hellos or friendliness as I believe this is what every expat should do. You CANNOT expect the locals to mold their way to suit you.

      Regards,

      Laurentiu

      Delete
  4. You judge us based on what?your experience?not all Romanian are like this but to fallow your logic I should say that your peoples are rapists,criminals,child molesters based on the fact that this thinks happen verry often in your country.But I don't judge you for the mistakes of few,but you do.thank you very much for another stupid example of your education superiority of yours civilized world. There is an old Romanian saying for you: Before you look at the speck in your neighbour's eye better look at the log from your own eyes.

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    Replies
    1. What a wonderful example you serve Ancalex, You ironically display the intolerance and ignorance that you are trying to criticize. Better go work on that education of yours, idiot.

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    2. I try not to judge, but to observe. I also agree that the Western "Developed" word is far from perfect (as some would have you believe) and that's why I prefer life in Romania. As for my people...good people are my people, wherever they may be.

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  5. I would like to express my protest about point 7:

    Why are you Romanians copying Bulgarian jokes? :)

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    Replies
    1. Apparently the Poles, too, have this joke :)

      Delete
  6. The history part is not correct. See Guirescu, Cantemir, Fontes Istorie Daco-Romano, Iorga etc.
    Other then that, fair points.

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  7. Everyone hates Romanians and want to rid them because of the fact of gypsies. Yet those are in lots of actual European countries and lots of people forget that it is not just one or two countries that they are coming from. Even then many people don't know that those arn't even native to the Balkans. One guy mentioned it although another guy didnt believe what he had said although I get what he means

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