Understanding Romanians: 7 paradoxes to handle with care (part 3)

6. We have a low community spirit (higher in villages) but solid family ties and values. We care a lot about our families. Couple and family relations are authentic and tight. We are willing to make sacrifices for our dear ones, unlike for the community we are part of. We love our children deeply and to my mind we are doing a great job at raising them. We make wonderful grandparents. Probably the institution of grandparents is one of the most functional and rewording in Romania. Each time I touched on the subject with a foreign student, they usually complained about a bad relation with their mothers or families in general. Whereas when you talk to Romanians they will tell you they had a happy childhood, that their parents did the best they could at raising them and that they miss their grandparents. I reckon the (16) 18 old western discourse “No matter what happens I am your mother and I will always love you but I am kicking you out now because you need to learn how to live on your own and take full responsibilities of an adult life… but you will always find a place here” is not helping much.  Also that thing with taking responsibilities since the age of 4 might be a bit overrated… as it is underrated in Romania. “A survey conducted by the research department of the Discovery Channel says that of all young people in Europe, those in Romania, although they want to spend as much time as possible with friends, are at the same the most attached to their families, more concerned about the role of <<head of household>> (about 75% answered that “the most important thing is to support your family”, against a European average of only 26%). Researchers called this <<pressured provider>>, but it was translated in Romanian as <<traditionalists>>” (translated from here).

Photo credits: Veronica Cioboata

7. We are impolite but we are kind. Bucharest is next to being the less polite city in the world. It is true that we never hold the door for the one behind us (I’d say quite the opposite, based on a an unconditional devotion to Tom and Jerry) and that we have a unique set of driving rules (these times they are real Rules) essential for the ones who want to get out of their cars alive. We use excessively the horn, we spit, we don’t give priority neither as pedestrians neither as drivers, traffic lights are just some colored lights, we throw things in the street, we are loud, we don’t respect the environment, we don’t respect each other’s intimacy, we stare at people, we scream, we shout, we gossip, we smoke everywhere, yet… we are capable of feelings. I am not even going to find us a justification and say that probably 90% of our intellectuals were killed during the communism. I will just admit that we are controlled by our instincts, greed and appetites rather than rational thinking and appropriate social conduct. Instead of worrying me, this reassures me of our inner human qualities (and of our membership in the Regnum Animalia).

I will again illustrate this by the help of two short stories. In the ‘90s, a friend of my family’s was getting happily back from work after being paid that month’s salary. The money (it was cash at that time) were in a white envelope in a pocket of his jacket. Our friend was in the tram. At some point he felt a gentle hand caressing his jacket and the money were gone. Without losing his calm he addressed to the person standing eccentrically close to him (and I would recommend this British approach to anyone who encounters the same difficulties): “Excuse me Sir, but I do believe you are trying to rob me”. And then with a desperate crying begging face: “You see Sir, these money are meant for my family. I have a little girl and a wife”. (Already the sound of the word “wife” should lower the guard of the nice gentleman).  When they got off the tram, our friend followed the nice gentleman in order to place his knock-out blow (generally we avoid violence): “And you see Sir… I also have a sick mother in the hospital”. Then the inevitable occurred. The nice gentleman looked back and took our friend for a walk until they reached the headquarters of all nice gentlemen. There, all the white envelopes were sorted and counted. Our friend was given a free guided tour of the establishment and some unselfish recommendations on what to do to avoid these kind of situations. At the end he was given his envelope back… with twice the sum he initially had.

Photo credits: Liviu Mihaiu

In Mesendorf, one of the people I started to interview wiped tears from his eyes. He started talking about a family of tourists who visited his village and whom he fed with Romanian cheese, butter, honey. Their son used to spend each evening with him in the stables looking at the cows and drinking milk just after it was milked. He was crying because their holiday was over and they were preparing to leave. “He did not speak Romanian but he was like a nephew to me. Just after one week. But they said they will be back with the boy next summer, just for me to see him again”.

There is no recipe on how to deal with your Romanian employee, husband/wife, colleague, or student. For those who are into astrology, Romania is Aquarius, ascendant Cancer. As I enounced in paradox 1 we are a country of individuals, so you will find among us many different personalities and typologies. There are of course, like everywhere else, big differences between educated and non-educated people, between rural and urban communities. Just don’t think that if we are doing stupid things we are stupid. I would like to end my post by suggesting potential foundations that would like to get involved with Romanians, to support the building of social capital above all, for the rest we have.

PS: Additional case-studies that could round our “behavioral” identity are: behavior when waiting at the traffic lights; behavior when experiencing draft that is blowing in the houses, offices, metros; the symbolics of the Christmas porc: objective of national security, subject of debate on the social arena and its role within the family.

2 thoughts on “Understanding Romanians: 7 paradoxes to handle with care (part 3)

  1. “Our friend was given a free guided tour of the establishment and some unselfish recommendations on what to do to avoid these kind of situations. At the end he was given his envelope back… with twice the sum he initially had.” – It’s improbable that you are even remotely serious about this reflecting the general state of the “establishments” in the 90’s. You mean that our friend got robbed of his clothes, watch, shoes and so on, before being beaten just for fun, right? In the neighbourhood where I grew, I’ve seen plenty of that, but none of the “more money on your way back home”.

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