I’m something of a connoisseur of other people’s blog posts about Romania as well as something of a raconteur when talking face to face with tourists over the years.
Since I honestly (sometimes) feel like I’ve been here forever, hearing the stories of other people helps give me a Buddhist-like “beginner’s mind” perspective on things.
One of the advantages in writing about Romanian culture is that it is so heterogeneous, meaning that most of what you will read below is applicable just about anywhere in the country.
Crowding and Claustrophobia
If you’re from a culture that highly values a lot of personal space, Romania is quite often going to seem quite crowded and even claustrophobic to you. There are a lot of daily situations where you’re going to be in very tight quarters with a lot of people around you.
Furthermore, Romanians quite often have the tendency to bunch up very close together in situations like lines (queues) and it can be disconcerting to have someone right behind you “breathing on your neck”, sometimes literally.
While there is no physical danger involved in being jostled around a very crowded bus or subway car, it can be quite a stressful experience for people not used to such situations.
It must be said here that the vast majority of Romanians severely dislike being in cramped quarters but it’s just a fact of life that they’ve all gotten used to.
Places likely to be crowded:
- Bus, tram, subway car or any other form of mass transportation, including “minibuses” or “maxitaxis”
- government offices (post offices, etc)
- train stations
- sidewalks in major thoroughfares in big cities
- the piata or marketplace
On a related note, Romanians do not have a strong obsession with germs. Therefore it is quite ordinary to be surrounded by coughing, sneezing, wheezing, hacking, sniffling, nose-wiping people all around you.
Romanians have a completely different theory on the origin of sickness and therefore very few “germaphobe” products are sold here such as hand sanitizer, those multivitamin packs to prevent colds, etc. If that’s your thing, bring it from home.
Also expect a lot fewer “individually wrapped” items, such as straws, beverage containers and utensils. Romania’s policies are a heck of a lot more “earth friendly” but if you’re hyper anxious about germs and other people touching your things, this isn’t the country for you.
Although the following seems complicated, it’s actually not. Shaking hands is an important social act in many cultures so learn it and do it right!
Most important of all: always shake with your right hand.
Always. I don’t care if you’re left-handed or your right hand is wet, always shake with the right hand (just dry your hand off first, :P).
Secondly, if you’re not sure whether to shake hands, just wait for the Romanian in question to initiate it.
If you’re a woman – quite frankly you don’t need to shake anyone’s hands at all. Certainly never initiate one.
If you do get in a situation to shake someone’s hand, simply hold yours out loose and unmoving. You really don’t have to do much more than just barely grasp the other person’s hand and certainly do not give it a squeeze.
If you’re a man – First off, in many situation it’s considered a kind of flirtatious move to shake a woman’s hand so rarely, if ever, do this (unless that’s your intent).
In a few business situations (or innocent goofs) you will raise your hand to shake a woman’s hand. If so, do it lightly and quickly and don’t expect her to squeeze you back in any way.
A much better idea is simply to turn to face the woman in question and give her a very short bow.
If it’s a man on the other hand (whose hand you’re shaking), a mild grip is quite fine. Trying to show how you are quite a fine masculine fellow and demonstrating it with an iron grip isn’t really done in Romania.
Again, it’s usually best to wait for Romanians in question to begin the hand shaking because it really isn’t de rigeur outside of some strictly professional situations.
Since handshakes often accompany introductions, here is how to properly introduce yourself:
Whether shaking hands or just a courtesy bow to the person in question, you say your name and they will say their name to you. You don’t even say “my name is so-and-so”, all you do is just shake hands/bow and say, “Sam R.” and they say “Printesa Ardealului”.
Ok the last one is just a fantasy but a boy can dream! :P
If you’re a “romantic” couple in any way, holding hands anywhere is absolutely fine. No one will give you the slightest trouble over it.
If it is two females, whether little children on up until young adults, holding hands is very common and means nothing more than friendship.
Males holding hands on the other hand is quite rare and usually only seen when it’s involving a father (or male adult relative) holding the hand of a small child.
Again, absolutely fine just about anywhere so long as it is heterosexual, i.e. a male and a female.
In fact, I almost punched out an American traveler I met in Otopeni last time I was there because he passed a couple kissing their last goodbyes and tossed off the sardonic remark, “get a room!”.
No. As long as you’re heterosexual, kissing someone romantically in public is both tolerated and welcomed as a good thing because duh, it is ;)
That being said, homosexual romantic kissing in public, especially between two guys, would probably start an incident that would end up on the nightly news.
Hello/Bye Cheek Kissing
Otherwise known as the “Euro” kiss, although in Romania it is done slightly differently than in other parts of Europe.
How it’s done:
Put your cheeks squarely together and then curve your lips toward their face and give them a “sideways” kiss. Aim right at the extreme outside corner of their lips. Make sure it is a solid kiss though, as in definite lip to cheek contact.
Then switch sides and do the exact same thing on the other side.
If you’re a woman – first off, you always give the Euro kiss to any female relatives.
Secondly, concerning other women, you’ll be doing it primarily with your female friends as a sign of closeness and friendships. Basically you Euro kiss your “BFFs”.
As a woman Euro kissing a guy, you only kiss either extremely close relatives or else about a handful of guys whom you count as friends as well.
If you’re a guy – well you won’t be Euro kissing any other guys except perhaps your very closest male relatives.
Concerning women however it is mostly a sign that you’re good friends with them, so probably someone you’ve known for a while. It really does not have a sexual component to it and rarely if ever means she’s “into you”.
The frequency of whom you kiss also determines how close you are to the person in question as it is never mandatory to kiss the same people every time or on every occasion (both coming and going).
It is much more common to Euro kiss people on “special occasions” such as their birthday or after you haven’t seen them for a while.
Since this is generally a kind of “friendship” kiss, it is usually reserved for non-professional situations (ie not at work).
All of the above being true, sometimes you’ll get involved in a Euro kiss unexpectedly. Enjoy it, it’s quite fun!
I’ve been around to a few countries in my long and storied life and seen a lot more places with a higher ratio of gropers than Romania.
Very, very rarely, even in the most crowded of situations, will you get a lot of groping or unwanted squeezing or touching, which is nice if not somewhat deflating to the vainer amongst us :P
Hugging is extremely rare in Romania, even in cases of close family members or romantic couples. It’s not something “natural” to the ordinary way of life for most Romanians.
Never, ever initiate a hug with a Romanian! There are a few huggers out there but wait for them to reveal themselves to you first. Furthermore, the “bear hug” is almost never welcomed so if you do hug, hug gently.
The last thing you want to do if you’re flirting with a girl is to give her a surprise hug.
Called parfum in Romanian, referring to both the male and female varieties, the truth is that Romanians wear a heck of a lot of perfume. In fact, I can almost guarantee you that just about every Romanian female aged 14-50 that you meet will be wearing some.
It’s also quite a mainstay for men as well to be spritzed with some scent or another. Therefore in crowded situations be aware you might be getting a megadose of perfume in your nose.
Public Displays of Affection (PDA)
Again, like the romantic kissing above, it’s understood that two people feeling good about each other are going to like to touch their partner in intimate ways. And yes sometimes that happens in public, particularly if you’re young and don’t have a place of your own to go.
I find it all quite natural now but if you’re unused to seeing young people dry humping on a park bench, then steel your jangled nerves before coming here.
Farting, Burping and Belching
No, no and no, never permissible in public or in the company of others and considered extremely rude.
Last but definitely not least, whenever you are exchanging cash money with someone (i.e. at the store buying something, etc) it is very important that your hands do not touch their hands.
Near every cash register is a small plastic dish. Set your money down on the dish and wait for the cashier to pick it up. She (sometimes he) will then lay down your change on the same dish.
If there’s no dish, set your money down somewhere near the register and let her pick it up from there and return your change to you in the same manner.
If for some reason you’re exchanging money hand to hand, do it in some way possible that your hands do not ever touch. Goodness!
38 thoughts on “Touching, Kissing and Other Physical Contact in Romania”
Last month I went to Targoviste with a friend to meet the family. The father was the spitting image of Telly Savales, was uncanny. I shook his hand and was like a vise grip handshake, but then he did live in a village north of Targoviste.
You forgot to add an important warning regarding the Euro kiss — check a mirror soon after, as auntie/granny might have left a lipstick smudge on your cheek!
“whenever you are exchanging cash money with someone it is very important that your hands do not touch their hands.”
Have you found out why this is? I don’t think I’ve heard of it before. Is it common throughout Romania? I mean, I guess I wouldn’t want to touch strangers either, but this seems rather strict if it’s really a “never, ever do it” thing.
“an iron grip isn’t really done in Romania”
Tell that to the Romanian expat friend of the family who crushed my hand on at least one occasion!
I’ve been browsing through your posts and it looks to me like you live somewhere in west Romania, there are rules/expressions that you don’t encounter elsewhere.
As for the Euro kiss, you’re not going to encounter it outside the big cities, in small towns/villages we usually kiss our relatives when we haven’t seen them in a while or at birthdays, holidays…
You didn’t mention the hand kiss (although again, in big cities, it may appear obsolete), it’s considered polite for a man to kiss a woman’s hand when greeting her, especially after a certain age.
I am Romanian, I discovered your blog today and I’m pretty impressed at how accurate your notes are. It’s nice to see a foreigner who’s able to take things for what they are (and with some sense of humor) instead of freaking out or looking to confirm his/her stereotypes about the country.
That being said, I wonder about your “never touch someone’s hand if you exchange money”. Where did you get this from? I know of no such rule. It’s true that we generally don’t touch hands in such situations, but only because it’s not necessary, not because we specifically avoid it. I might be less Romanian than you indeed :)
A small addition to your rules on shaking hands among men if I may. If your hands are dirty/overly wet it’s ok if you extend your right arm’s wrist. The other person will grab it for a second, shake and release. Also, always take your gloves off when shaking some one else’s hand. It’s considered rude, even more so if the other person does not wear gloves to begin with.
wow, this is a cool post :) I have just discovered you. hehe! I had a lot of problems with Spanish kissing, you have to kiss every person you meet and when you go to a place where several people know ya, you must kiss them all, because it`s kind of ruse to kiss only some of them. Very exhausting :)
Interesting….sfweofwefiwhfofifwfw…maybe I’m too young/immature, but I don’t think I’m comfortable w/ PDAs and things like that….not that I think it’s a bad thing….I don’t like perfume/parfum either…it makes me dizzy…the rest seems interesting, though. =)
“Farting, Burping and Belching – No, no and no, never permissible in public or in the company of others and considered extremely rude.”
Exactly why most Americans would EPICALLY FAIL in Romania as farting and belching have become national icons in American culture. Look at shows like The Family Guy where it is sensationalized to fart on someone’s head. Ewwwwwwwww………
One thing that does gross me out about Romanian culture is guys SPITTING EVERYWHERE. No matter where I go, there is spit on the sidewalk like it is some sort of territorial marking by some hopped-up hormone induced male looking for a Romanian mate.
“Holding Hands – If it is two females, whether little children on up until young adults, holding hands is very common and means nothing more than friendship.”
My first night in Romania I had no idea about this facet of culture. I left my hotel after a shower to go about town, and saw many beautiful Romanian women holding hands with each other. I thought I had stumbled into the Land of the Lesbians………sigh……..
My first time in Bucuresti I was faced with the same thing, a lot of women (usually younger) holding hands and I made the comment to some friends, “You sure have a lot of lesbiana aici”:P
I have a question pertaining to the Euro Kiss!! :D
Is there a set ‘way’ to go first? Like with handshake, you use your right hand no matter what so that avoids any awkward shifing around of hands. But what if (in a Euro kiss) you accidentally both went the same way and ended up doing one of those ‘you try to move the other way but the other person does too so you both awkwardly move your heads at the same time until finally ending up embarrassingly apologising and starting again’ maneouvers??
Ok I may be overanalyzing it… but I do still wonder. The gymnasts do it all the time and it’s the first thing I think! How do they know which way to go?
Yep! Good question. Usually you go to your left first but if the other person initiates it, you just turn your face to match theirs.