Expression of the Day – Pofta Mare/Buna


At some point in your travels in Romania you’re going to need to eat something and you’re going to hear a few phrases that would be useful to understand.

Just like my post on drum bun earlier, these are phrases that are obligatory. This means they aren’t “oh hey use ’em whenever the mood strikes you”. No! You must say these at the right time and if you don’t you’re in big, big trouble, mister.

Today’s mandatory phrase is pofta mare (poe-ftah mah-ray), sometimes known as pofta buna (poe-ftah boo-nah). They’re identical in meaning and you can use either one.

pofta means “appetite”, as in “an instinctive physical desire, especially one for food or drink”.

mare literally means “great” while buna means “good”.

Therefore pofta mare/buna means “great/good appetite”. Again, Romanians will scowl at you and whack you on the head with a rolling pin when you tell them, yes truly and for rilly realz, the way to say this in English is “bon appetit” and yes we KNOW it’s a French expression, okay? Calm down, Romanians!

Whenever you are about to eat, whether that’s at your friend’s house or in a restaurant or standing on the street or whilst riding your unicycle on a high wire, before that first bite goes into your mouth, all Romanians in your immediate vicinity (waiters included) are required under Romanian law to wish you pofta mare/buna.

I’ve asked Romanians over the years why this is so, as in why is it so obligatory to wish me this and for a long time they would attempt to change the subject and distract me with colorful, blinking lights or by removing their clothes or in some way prevent me from finding out! But I’m very stubborn and I finally captured an old and weak Romanian and got him pinned in a headlock and was giving him wet willies until he relented and let me in on the secret behind pofta mare/buna.

Apparently, a long time ago, back in the foggy mists of ancient history, Romanians were all very sickly and weak creatures, mostly from lack of appetite. They were sort of like people in chemo, all nauseous and weak stomached and unable to dig down deep and get a good, honest raw hunger going and thus consume their proper rations of turnips and pickled beets. That is UNTIL one Romanian (whose name is lost in the misty, distant past) figured out that urging fellow eaters a hearty pofta mare/buna would give them that extra “oomph” to get over the hump and re-connect with their basic desire to eat and thus allow them to clean their plates and ingest sufficient amounts of food and thus health and verve and vigor was restored to the Romanian people. Yay!

Likewise, when you’re finished eating, and your host (or waiter/waitress) comes over to take your plate, he/she is obligated to tell you sa fie de bine (sah fee-eh day bee-nay). This literally means “may it be all right” and is the second half of the magical eating incantation. Because after a sickly and weak Romanian manages to eat their fair portion of a nutritious and delicious meal, their traitorous stomach may decide to heave and convulse at an inopportune moment and then all that hard work would be wasted! So one’s stomach must be wished a salutatory “may it be all right” and then all is good with the world and the sun shines and the birds sing and no Romanians ever fall down in the traces ever again from lack of proper appetite.

NOW YOU KNOW! BON APPETIT, ME HEARTIES!

12 Comments Add yours

  1. Nice way to build an argument against “pofta mare”, which is a legit expression. Wish you made more posts like this one, and maybe illustrate them as well, like here: fb.com/tedoaremintea because it is a very rich, and picturesque language, with many hidden gems.

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  2. actually it is “să vă fie de bine”, or “să-ți fie de bine” (depending if polite talk form or casual); and “poftă bună” should be preferred to “poftă mare” (this should be restricted to a family setting, it sounds a bit too casual elsewhere)

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  3. jessiec says:

    Can you tell me what the phrase “daca si cu Parca se plimbau peso barca. Daca nu era, parca s-ineco” means?

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    1. bercenicity says:

      It’s a rhyme that may be used to make fun of people that use “dacă” (rom. for “if”) and/or “parcă” (“that may be../it may (have) happen(ed) that…” about an action/person) excessively. It’s relatively old-style and a rather poor joke IMHO.
      Lit. translation:
      “If” and “Maybe” were on a boat/”If” wasn’t there, “Maybe” drowned (“If” and “Maybe” are the names of two supposed persons)
      The last part is a word play that can also have the meaning: “If it (the boat?) wasn’t there, Someone(?) may have drowned”

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    2. “Daca si cu Parca, se plimbau cu-o barca / daca Parca nu era parca Daca se-nneca” => “If and Seems were in a boat / if Seems wouldn’t have been there, seems If could have drowned” (“If” and “Seems” being the names of two persons)

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  4. Anca Hotineanu-Stoina says:

    I’ve never heard that story! :)) And I think it’s idiotic, but hey, for the love of anecdotes…

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  5. First of all, I’ve got to tell you that I haven’t been laughing so hard in ages, possibly since I saw “In the Loop” (the British spoof movie, highly recommend it). So thank you! I’ve started reading your blog from the very first entry and I keep sending people links to it (the “riding the train” story! the description of the odious Vadim! The “How I learned Romanian” – esp. for my husband and friends who are trying to learn Romanian! Absolutely hilarious and TRU). I had to pace myself w/ the comments though.

    So, I just wanted to let you know that I think there’s more of a nuance to “să fie de bine,” mostly because I know it as “să-ţi fie de bine” or “să vă fie de bine.” The added pronoun implies “May this meal be (of) good to you.” Without the pronoun, yes, it would be a general kind of good, but I rarely heard it this way. (Of course, I’m from Bucharest, not Cluj, so who knows, maybe it’s a local nuance!)

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    1. Sam R. says:

      Aha! You’ve found one of my oldest posts. You are absolutely correct, it is “sa-ti fie de bine”, at least that’s the only way I’ve ever heard it.

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