How to Negotiate and Survive the Romanian Bloc


In the Communist days, there was a tremendous frenzy to house people in cities in apartment buildings, each one known as a bloc (blawk).

There is a classic Romanian film called The Death of Mr. Lazarescu. Totally worth seeing. There’s a line in there that I absolutely love, where Lazarescu’s female neighbor says “totuşi suntem la bloc” which translates to something like “we have to maintain appearances because we are, after all, dwellers in an apartment building”.

Despite their often decrepit appearances, living in a bloc is considered a step up above peasants and other “lower-class” human beings. Only living in one’s own house in town is considered to be better in terms of social standing.

Unless you are very lucky, the outside of the bloc is going to look like a hideous, gray Communist structure that seems on the verge of falling down. There may or may not be a street sign in close proximity but look above the door and at least find the street number.

Note: Which street the building is on and what its official address are often have little to nothing in common.

If it is one massive, continuous line of buildings, then be sure you’re at the right stairwell (Rom: scara), which should be displayed prominently somewhere.

Entrance is either through an unlocked main door or else you have to use an interfon, a kind of “buzzer” system (which if you’ve seen enough Seinfeld episdoes, you will understand). If you’re a resident, you will be given a barcoded “key” that will unlock the electronically “secured” door(s). Otherwise buzz the number next to the person you’re coming to visit.

Note: Talking back and forth through the interfon speaker is generally unintelligible anyway so if you’re caught in a pinch, just mumble and you’re probably going to get buzzed in.

Note: There is a master entry code you can type in to unlock most interfon doors even without a key. I won’t tell you what it is though ;)

If it’s nighttime, there will be a completely dark stairwell that will make you think “ghetto” and “mugger’s paradise” and “did I wear my kicking shoes today?” and various other scary things. Be heartened, intrepid traveler! Nothing of the sort will happen to you even if there are a collection of bored teens hanging out in the vicinity.

Somewhere, probably almost impossible to find, is a switch which will illuminate a series of bare bulbs on every landing. Whatever you do, don’t confuse this with any of the nearby doorbell switches, which often look exactly the same.

The light switches are on an extremely short timer so if you are going up several flights, make sure you note where the switch is on every floor so you can press it again when the lights switch off without warning. Run as fast as you can to avoid getting caught halfway down a staircase when the light goes off!

But… don’t run so fast that you fall to your untimely death.

If there is an elevator (a rare but occasional occurrence) the words “death trap” should be properly displayed somewhere in or about the cabin. Unless people tell you that you “eat like a bird”, take the stairs instead.

Any talk of leaving the damn hallway light on all night, using an energy-efficient bulb shall be considered degeaba by the powers that be, especially the “president” of the bloc.

Your destination inside the bloc will likely be a stout metal door that looks as if it could repel a SWAT team. Ring the buzzer and be prepared to drop your jaw.

The inside of the apartment will be clean and modern, completely incongruous to the hideousness of the bloc‘s exterior and stairwell. Quite simply put, it will be beautiful, clean and very tidy inside.

Congratulations, you made it inside the bloc. You survived!

Got something to say? Try to be nice!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.