Time to address the “elephant in the room” otherwise known as drinking in Romania. Also time to explain my “user name” which is drunk police (you knew that, right? YAY) as it all fits in together.
First, we begin with one of my very own patented TRUE STORIES FROM THE ROMANIAN FRONTIER™, to wit:
Literally my first day ever on Romanian soil, I was met by a Romanian couple whom I’d never met and who spoke zero English. This is another entire story unto itself, as to why I was with these people and whatnot but the crux of the matter is that for a few hours I was all alone with them and we were completely unable to communicate.
They fed me lots of nice food (which was great) but they also kept pouring me shot after shot of țuica, which is a very strong kind of liquor. In fact, every single time a neighbor or friend would come over my hosts would say “Aha! Let’s celebrate the welcoming of our newest and bestest American friend!” and they’d pour one shot for me and one for the guest.
Well, the guests all had exactly one shot apiece, so they were fine. I, on the other hand, got completely plowed and was drunker than I’d ever (probably) been in my life at around 3:00 in the afternoon. A German guy then showed up who DID speak English and then later he tried to get me to join his bizarre religious cult, which is a story for another time *AHEM* and me being drunk didn’t help any.
As I’m going back through the stories I’ve already written here, I keep seeing mentions of “well I was drunk” or “oh so then I started drinking” and if you don’t know me you’re probably starting to think I’m some alcoholic bum who wakes up in the morning with shaking hands to crack open another beer just to be able to face the day and “quiet the demonic voices inside my head” sort of person.
No. Categorically no. If I had any inclination, genetically or otherwise, to be an alcoholic then living here in Romania I really would be an alcoholic. That much is true. But the truth is I’m a very healthy person and so on the FEW occasions when I do decide to drink, I can and do pack it away. But those are FEW occasions indeed.
Drinking in Romania is completely different than drinking in America so let me back up and start there.
In America, I’d say about 80% of the population is extremely prudent and prudish about alcohol, rarely touching it, perhaps a beer or glass of wine with dinner and consider slamming shots of hard liquor at 3:00 in the afternoon to be some kind of abysmally shameful behavior and you’re probably a pedophile, rapist and bank robber as well.
The other 20% of the population (in USA) pretty much lives for alcohol, drinks it all the time, is a bonafide alcoholic and quite often does “drugs” along with the alcohol. You wake up at 6:00 am and crack open your “breakfast” and go to work just long enough so you don’t get fired and then race home so you can indulge in your one and only passion in life – drinking some more.
In Romania, it’s much different. The first difference is that “drugs” are basically non-existant, even amongst bums and/or college age kids and so all of the people who might, under other circumstances, be smoking weed or snorting cocaine or popping pills are instead probably drinking.
In fact, making your OWN alcohol aka “moonshine” is not only legal here but extremely common, both wine as well as hard liquor. So men not only drink a lot but many of them are quite proud and involved with the making of their own drink so it’s a big part of the culture.
The other major difference is that in Romania, drinking is pretty much a males only activity. Yes, women do drink here a little and yes occasionally young women out at the club do drink too much wine or champagne but there’s VERY, VERY little of the old “whee it’s girl’s night out and ZOMG I’m so wasted” going on here.
Got it? Women drink here but rarely ever get plastered or pee in their pants or flash their boobies in public and all that sort of “used to be shameful but now it’s ho hum” stuff that goes on in USA or Britain.
For men, on the other hand, drinking is essentially a “code of manliness”. It also is something that is done, more or less, without shame. Except for perhaps your old nagging wife yelling at you, nobody frowns at you for drinking or being drunk, not even if you’re in line at the local store at 7:00 am to be there right when it opens to buy a cheap (plastic) bottle of the local rotgut. That’s considered mostly a “so what?” kind of activity here.
There are also some pretty standard “rules” about when drinking is “necessary”, one of which is when a valued guest comes over to your house for the first time and you’re welcoming him with open arms, etc, etc, as what happened to me. It isn’t like anyone’s going to spit on you or cast you out if you DON’T drink but pretty much they’re going to assume your manliness is in serious doubt so generally it’s better to say yes.
Drinking is also how men “bond” and pretty much all sins are forgiven (amongst men) if you’re one of their drinking buddies. I’ve gotten a lot of flack before for some of my lifestyle choices (such as the fact I’m vegan) and drinking has been a very useful and powerful way to win friends and influence people.
Here’s a sample of what’s happened many *ahem* times in my life.
Me: Yep, that’s right. I don’t eat meat.
Girlfriend’s Dad: What? Not even fish?
Me: Not even fish.
GD: What about slanina? Come on, nothing’s better than some slanina!
Me: Nope, not even slanina.
GD: What about chicken? Come on, it’s not fattening.
Me: Nope, not even chicken.
GD: (Incredulous). What? I’m surprised you’re even alive with this crazy diet. It doesn’t sound too healthy. What about pork? Surely you eat pork.
Me: Look, I’ll keep it real simple. If it has eyes, I don’t eat it.
GD: Nothing with eyes, eh? Hmm… (strokes chin while thinking deeply).
GD: Well beer doesn’t have eyes, does it? You like to drink beer, don’t you?
Me: Yep. Alcohol is fine.
GD: Well alright! (hearty pat on the back). You’re alright, son. You’re a real man. I had my doubts about you but now we’re super cool buddies for life. Come on, let me pour you a drink. Welcome to the family! I love you forever.
Girlfriend’s Mom: (big frown) oh don’t you get him sloppy drunk, you’re always a pain in the ass when you drink.
GD: (whispers aside) Ah women, always bitching about a man having a teeny, tiny sip, am I right or am I right?
Girlfriend: (super big frown). What are you doing?
Me: What, honey? I’m bonding with your dad! (evil naughty grin)
LOL something like that.
During big parties, such as at a wedding or on New Year’s Eve, Romanians take their drinking very seriously and do it similar to Russian style, which means a round of food/snacks in between rounds of drinking so the party can last a long, long time.
Unlike in America and other backwards countries, clubs and bars stay open until whenever, so there’s no need to slam 50 drinks in the two hours before “last call” so you’ve got to pace yourself. A few years ago I was outside of Oradea during a New Year’s Eve festival and by 4:00 am I was both plastered and tired as hell and I looked over and even the young kids were scoffing at me for being a “light weight” and I just felt totally ashamed and embarrassed so DON’T LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOU, my friend.
So where was I? Oh yeah the “drunk police”. Well years ago I found myself unexpectedly living in a small village in the mountains (don’t ask – it’s a story for yet another blog post) and in that village were exactly two police officers – both men. I myself was living in the basement of a hotel (again, saving that for another post) and every morning, right as rain, the two officers would show up at the beginning of their shift for a little “sip”, aka vodka or something else quite strong.
The hilarious part was that the Romanian government had kicked in some money and bought an ATV for the police and so that was their mode of transportation. We were way up in the mountains where it snowed a lot so the ATV (as opposed to a car) made sense. But there were TWO officers and only one ATV. So every day, these two guys would get super drunk and plowed and then flip a coin to see who would be the one driving the ATV and who would be riding super close behind, crotch grinding the driver.
In case you’re wondering, I asked them one time what would happen if say, I don’t know, some kind of actual crime or something happened and they’d need to be ahem sober enough to handle it. And they laughed and patted me on the back like an idiot retarded kid and told me there was no crime there. It’s a small village, what crime could there be? Someone stole someone else’s chicken or what? And of course they were right LOL.
So these officers would start drinking early in the morning and zoom around on their ATV doing their “rounds” and come back for another “refreshment” and then go off somewhere and then come back and “top off” and I ended up spending many happy hours talking with them, learning jokes and hearing the local gossip and those guys were truly cool. And none of our fraternal fun and merriment would’ve been possible if I too didn’t drink along with them. As I said, it’s a male bonding thing. Yeah sure sometimes they got so drunk they fell OFF the ATV and one time they let me see their gun and dropped it due to being clumsy drunk but hey, nobody ever got hurt, so it was fine.
And despite their (somewhat) comic ineptitude, no chickens ever got stolen and things went on just fine, as they are wont to do in a tiny village where everyone knows everyone. In fact, the closest thing to being a serious incident happened when *I* got drunk one time at an Army base and a colonel came in there and yelled at me. But hey, that’s a story for yet ANOTHER post, don’t you know *big promising grin so you don’t hate me*
Probably the coolest story from my time in the village with these police guys was when it came around to being Easter time. They took me down to the local church (in their personal car as they weren’t on duty) and Easter is a really big deal in the Orthodox church so I wanted to see it because I’d never seen it before. So we did some chanting and carrying a candle around the church 13 times and then the priest knocked on the door and asked that Jesus be admitted (it’s a ritual). And I was about to go inside with everyone else when the police guy pulled me aside.
He explained to me (and he was right) that the Easter service is INCREDIBLY long and there are no pews inside an Orthodox church so you have to stand up the whole time and wouldn’t it be more fun to sit inside his car and have a little drink? Heck yes it was! And that’s exactly what we did. And the guy from the Army base got in the car with us and so we exchanged many fine anecdotes and jokes and local gossip and got pretty well plastered while being toasty warm inside the car while the suckers had to stand through a very long and tedious sermon about Jesus coming back to life and whatnot. GOOD TIMES!
So, there you go. If you’re a woman in Romania, you won’t be expected to drink so if that’s not your thing, it won’t be any problem for you at all. If you’re a man however, be aware that drinking is something pretty much everyone will expect you to do on numerous occasions and it’s kind of hard to get out of without looking like a total pantywaist and effeminate girl. Just saying…
BOTTOMS UP! :D