The following is my translation into English of my Romania Libera article which you can find here. Any mistakes or errors are mine and mine alone. Links inside the article go to older articles of mine explaining various terms and concepts.
Sam, The American In Love With Romania
From Hamburgers and Whiskey to Mamaliga and Tuica
He was born in America, the land of possibilities, but for the last 5 years he’s been living in Romania and wants to spend the rest of his life here. Sam R. is so in love with our country that he wrote a guide book for tourists visiting Romania. He learned Romanian by reading newspapers and listening to manele music. Not only that, he considers himself, “More Romanian than Romanians” and declared himself “The King of Romania”.
The first time he and his family moved to another country, he was only 3 days old. He left his birth town of Orlando and lived in Italy, Spain and English. Sam is 37 years old and 11 years ago he knew nothing about Romania besides Nadia Comaneci. In 1999 he met a Romanian (woman), learned a lot about Romania and saw some photographs (of Romania).
A year later he was planning on going on vacation in Spain. At the last moment something happened and he had to switch his plans, spending a week in Bucharest and Cluj.
He recalls his first impressions of Romania, which weren’t that good. “I was very frightened. I landed in Otopeni airport and 50 meters away was an old rusty plane. I didn’t understand why they’d leave such a plane on the tarmac of the country’s biggest airport. Near me was an American who told me, “Watch out, buddy!” When I exited the airport, I was quite nervous. There were lots of dogs, it was dirty, chaotic and very different than how it is today,” says Sam.
That year he learned his first word in Romanian – opt (the number 8). “I didn’t know the language at all. I was on the train to Cluj and someone came by with a tray of coffees. They told me the price but it might as well have been in Chinese. I just opened my wallet and they took out the right money. In fact, I think 8 (lei) might’ve been the price of the coffee,” remembers the American.
How vacations/holidays in Romania make you want to move here
Despite the first negative impressions, the time spent on vacation in Romania was the “vacation of his life” according to him. He liked it so much, he kept coming back here year after year for vacation.
“In 2004, I realized that if I keep coming here so often, I should just go ahead and move here. It was then I decided to move here,” says Sam. “I had no job, I had nothing planned out, I didn’t speak Romanian at all but I felt great. Honestly, I don’t know what I was thinking,” he admits.
He first lived in Timisoara but he didn’t like it too much. Then for three months he lived in a village near Cluj where he has many happy memories. “It was there that I learned Romanian because nobody there spoke English. I was staying at a friend’s house and had nothing to do. Sometimes I’d drink with the two local police officers, who got rip-roaringly drunk to the point where they could barely drive their brand-new ATV,” says the American.
Then he moved to Cluj, where he lives today. He remembers how different the city was in the past than how it is today. “Back then there were just three ATMs (Cash Points) in the entire city and almost nobody used them,” says Sam.
After living for a few months off of his savings, he decided to find a job so he could remain here in Romania. Because he’s not a Romanian citizen and because Romanian salaries are quite low, he decided to work online for the legal system in America.
“I could work at any time I liked, from home, wearing my pajamas. On the other hand it was a job where I felt quite lonely because I had no work colleagues. But I wanted to spend some time in Romania to decide if I truly wanted to live here. That meant learning to speak the language, interacting with people, being able to talk with them and making friends and going out on dates,” relates Sam.
Guide Book for Foreigners in Romania
His entire life changed earlier this year. He was waiting in line at the American Embassy in Bucharest and a (Romanian) employee mistook him for a (real) Romanian. “I was shocked but afterward it made me realize I do know a lot of things about Romania and that I’m one of the few foreigners who has assimilated into the Romanian culture,” said Sam with pride.
“A large number of foreigners come to Romania. Some move here, some are here for work or for travel while some come for a vacation. The moment they arrive here they are quite confused. All of these people keep asking me questions and it always seems like I have the answers. I am the person who knows everything because I’ve gone through it myself and learned through my experiences here,” explains Sam.
In April he decided to make a website to give advice for foreigners and to write a guide book about Romania. Three months later he quit his online job and dedicated himself full-time to writing, both on the website and for the book.
His website is named “King of Romania” (in English) as Sam describes with pleasure. “Everybody is waiting for Vlad “The Impaler” Dracula to come back and he isn’t coming back. Plus the old king isn’t doing anything. Therefore I thought hey somebody needs to step up to the plate,” he says.
“The Complete Insider’s Guide to Romania” is written in English. It has vocabulary, pronunciation and practical advice: how to ask for directions, how to order a glass of water, how to buy a bus ticket and how to order a shawarma sandwich. “This book was also written for Romanians because I realized just how much they enjoy reading about their country from a different perspective,” says Sam.
The book will be for sale in Romania by Christmas and then later in England and Australia. In America it was published on December 1, Romania’s national holiday, which Sam celebrates.
Sam the (Most) Romanian
“I celebrate Romanian holidays. I’m more Romanian than Romanians. Even on Easter although I’m not Romanian Orthodox I went to the church services. Some Romanians stay at home watching Seinfeld re-runs on TV but I respect the traditions,” says Sam. He even has (Romanian) Orthodox icons displayed at home, inherited from when he rented the apartment.
The American does a lot of things in the Romanian style. “I speak Romanian. I wrap sandwiches in a pink napkin and do lots of things you (Romanians) do. People think I’m a Romanian who has learned English.” For example, he doesn’t buy American [food] products. “I eat raw natural honey, I like (bee) pollen, I drink homemade wine and I get pears from the countryside,” explains Sam.
He also likes traditional Romanian foods. The first time he tried salata de vinete he liked it a lot. Now he’s crazy about mamaliga, vegan sarmale and roasted red peppers.
Not only that but he loves going to the piata. “This is the most wonderful thing I’ve ever seen in my life. You go there, you meet the people who actually grew the food, you bargain with them and you get it at an incredible price. One kilogram (2.2 lbs) of apples costs 2 lei (70 cents US) and they’re delicious. Meanwhile in America each apple costs 3 lei (1 US dollar) apiece and tastes horrible and is full of chemicals.”
How Sam learned Romanian
Sam speaks Romanian quite well. Even though we were speaking in English, every two or three sentences he’ll use a Romanian expression. He said it was quite helpful that he spoke Italian and two other similar languages.
“I learned Romanian from friends and neighbors, on the street and on television. I used to watch really crappy Romanian shows but they were quite useful. I bought a dictionary and every day I’d translate an article from the newspaper, writing down the words I didn’t know. Meanwhile I had a big problem. My dictionary was written in the old style and it took me a year and a half to understand the difference between the letter “î” and “â” because nobody ever explained it to me. Not to mention that declinations in Romania were extremely difficult to learn,” relates the American.
Sam also learned Romanian from listening to manele songs. “A lot of Romanian words aren’t in the dictionary, such as naspa and paispe even though everybody uses them. I also learned a few more colorful phrases. I think it’s important to be able to understand everyone: gypsies, manele people, old people with no teeth in their mouth, people speaking different dialects,” he says.
He doesn’t like manele above all else but he thinks that Nicolae Guta has a wonderful voice and, in a sense, he (Guta) is preserving Romanian traditions with his versions of folk songs. “Gypsies have been making money by singing and playing music for hundreds of years because they’re talented,” explains the American.
Sam’s opinion on gypsies is one of a great deal of tolerance and quite different than the view usually held by foreigners. “Gypsies do things in their own way and they’re not going to ever be like other people. I don’t think they need to be formally educated because they don’t want it and they don’t need it. Gypsies are survivors and they’re never going to change even if you try to force them to. They never tell Romanians what to do so why do Romanians try to tell them how to be?”
For and against Romania
“When I think about home, I think about Romania. I don’t live in a fantasy land with my head in the clouds. I don’t say we’re all going to be friends and live happily together forever and ever. What I am saying is that this country is wonderful, which is exactly why I decided to live here,” says Sam.
He likes people in Romania because they’re so friendly and will help you out when you need it. “A few years ago I was in Bucharest for a blind date with a woman I met online and I got turned around and lost. I stopped a group of young people and asked them to help me. They didn’t just tell me where to go and how to get there but actually came along with me to show me the way. We ended up talking and laughing and ended up hanging out all night together at a local bar,” remembers Sam.
Personal relationships are another reason why Sam likes Romanians. “If I go to the corner store that’s 3 minutes away by foot from my house, for sure I’m going to be there 20 minutes just gossiping with the neighbors. One day I went to the store and accidentally left my money at home. The store clerk knew me and told me not to worry about it and just bring the money the next day. That never happens in America,” he says.
What kind of tourism Romanians should practice
Sam believes Romanians need a new image. “When Romania is brought up, people only know about gymnastics, vampires and gypsies. Official tourist campaigns are launched year after year yet tourists still have no idea why they should come and visit Romania. They should abandon futuristic ambitious projects like Dracula Park and focus more on what can be done right now,” argues the American.
A few Romanian suggestions from Sam: “Foreigners can dance in the club until 3 am because Romania has some of the best clubs in Europe. They’ll discover very beautiful people, natural food that’s extremely delicious as well as artisan handicrafts and traditional products. Tourists would be extremely interested in learning how to sew, to carve wood, to drink tuica made at home and to ride in a wooden horse-drawn cart. Rich people would pay a fortune to get a taste of the the old traditional world that you can find here in Romania.”