Although I’ve written about politeness and being on the receiving end of unexpected rude behavior, I thought I’d correlate all of this together in a more concise way.
Over all the years I’ve lived here in Romania, traveling everywhere from Bucharest to living in a remote mountain village, I’ve been treated incredibly well. Yet often I hear many stories of visitors who come here and are frustrated or dismayed when they receive (unexpected) rude behavior.
There are two simple things to understand to ensure you receive good treatment in Romania.
This is still a communist country.
Yes, although Romania is both a member of the European Union and NATO and the government might be superficially democratic but many, many of the people who live here are communists.
When I say “communist” I am referring more to a mentality rather than some kind of adherence to dogmatic Marxist literature. The way this mentality most commonly impacts the visitor from a capitalist country is when they find out not everyone cares about profits above all else.
Sometimes people whom you may think are supposed to do your bidding just because you’re paying them will ignore you or refuse you. Maybe an obviously empty restaurant won’t let you in. Perhaps a taxi driver takes one look at you (or your luggage) and says no way. Maybe someone brushes you off when you try to ask for directions, even if they’re uniformed police.
Blondes prefer diamonds and Romanians prefer Romanian
A great number of the inhabitants of Romania do not speak English or other foreign languages. Knowing a few basic phrases will be incredibly useful.
Furthermore, most Romanians who speak English (or other foreign languages) find it extremely stressful to speak it. They are often very hesitant to admit they even speak it.
Therefore, if you stop someone on the street where you’re speaking English, often times it’s the equivalent of asking them to take a quick math quiz, a stressful mental task that may not be all that enjoyable.
It is far better to at least initiate the conversation in Romanian and then bumble your phrases because then the person you’re talking to will feel confident in their own ability to talk to you and feel at ease.
sa nu va deranjati (sah new vah derren-jots) – Excuse me
There are several variants of how to greet a total stranger but this is the easiest one to pronounce for English speakers.
Every time you initiate a non-commercial conversation, you must beg the pardon of the person whose life you are interrupting. This opening phrase is therefore critical in situations like asking for directions.
nu vorbesc romaneste foarte bine dar stiti… (new vore-besk row-moo-nesh-tay fwart-ay bee-neigh dar shteets)
This means “I don’t speak Romanian very well but do you know…” and is a great way to set the other person at ease. It also alerts them (hopefully) to the need for them not to talk back to you at high speed.
…unde (oon-day) – where is/are?
gara (gah-rah) – the train station
autogara – inter-city bus station
centru (chen-true) – downtown/city center
Gruia cartierul minunilor – Gruia the neighborhood of wonders
un hotel – a hotel
un restaurant – a restaurant
un bancomat – an ATM/cash point
…cand (kund) – when?
vine autobuzul (vee-neigh auto-booze-ool) – the bus comes
pleaca trenul (play-ocka train-ool) – the train leaves
deschide (desky-day) – opens
inchide (een-key-day) – closes
…cat costa (cut coast-uh) – how much does it cost?
un bilet (oon bee-let) – a ticket
doua bilete – (dough-ah bee-let-tay) – two tickets
Even if that’s literally all the Romanian you can speak, it’ll be of incredible use to you, assuming you know your numbers.
dreapta (drop-tuh) – right
stanga (stunguh) – left
tot inainte (tote in-a-intay) – straight ahead
Note: Some of what is above is not prestige dialect “100% correct” Romanian but has been compressed for ease in saying and using it. Although slightly butchered, Romanians can understand it.
And far and away the most important thing to remember that regardless of which language you’re speaking, politeness counts a great deal in Romania and is widely respected.
Furthermore, be sure to use the proper greetings whenever engaging in a commercial transaction (you’re paying them) or your friends.
No Over Smiling
I’m making that its own separate heading because of how important it is. For a Romanian, walking down the street and then suddenly being stopped by a total stranger with a big grin on their face is a somewhat frightening experience.
Imagine a fully costumed clown with a rainbow wig and oversized red shoes suddenly stopping you on the street, wanting to ask you questions in super rapid Spanish about how to get to some museum and you’ll start to get the gist of how this comes across.
Smiling is for people you know. It doesn’t mean you frown or scowl at other people, simply just be fairly neutral and dignified in your carriage. I know in many Western countries it’s hard to be polite without smiling at all occasions.
The easiest way I can say this in English is be a gentleman or a lady and you’ll generally be treated as one. Stand up straight, comport yourself with dignity and treat others with courteous respect and accept nothing but the same from others.
Romania has been a deeply hierarchical nation for generations and how you portray your status will have dramatic differences on how you are treated.
And last but not least, this country is an incredibly old land, steeped with powerful forces that sometimes combine in WTF moments, little pockets of chaos. You just have to learn to shrug them off. Sometimes it’s not you and no it doesn’t make sense to anyone else either. It’s just Romania. If you want a manicured land of hermetic uniformity, I hear Switzerland is just the place for you ;)
7 thoughts on “Rudeness”
I don’t think this piece reflects the true rudeness of Romanians to foreigners- even those who haven’t spoken a word to them. Walking home from the beach in constanta, we had someone verbally abuse us for no reason (we had our 7 yo and 2yo with us), our taxi driver got very aggressive at a little dust from or toddlers’ feet on the back of his chair- despite his car being very dirty, a rude note about parking was left on our legally-parked vehicle …if Romania wants to profit from tourists, it may need to look at this. We aren’t coming back!
I feel bad for them though. I see them all wide eyed staring into the LP guide in the most crowded and tourist un-friendly places in Bucharest (like Gara de Nord) trying to figure out what the hell is going on, where they are and what is the meaning of life now that they’ve got to make the acquaintance of the station.
And that’s why I’m annoyed; I don’t know how you felt the first time you set foot in Bucharest but it can be an intimidating place for the faint of heart (even for Romanians who are used to their little towns). Meh, their loss. I know some killer spots that aren’t in the guides. All the more beer for us then ^_^
I agree 100% which is half the reason why I write this damn blog :P Hell I speak English clearly as a native and yet I’ve had tourists shy away from me like I’m about to tempt them into a dark alley to be mugged. There’s just this image of Romania as a chaotic wild west and everyone’s out to rob you so trust no one… it sucks but as you said, more beer for us! :D
Mind if I make a small observation? Rather than saying “sa nu va deranjati” use “nu va suparati” (noo-vah soup-ah-ratzi). It has the exact same meaning, it’s far more widely used and also it doesn’t sound funny as hell though I’m assuming your expression is particular in Cj.
Also as a note on rudeness, as a Romanian I am very often pissed at dumbass tourists who gaze at their dumbass guides and maps trying to figure out where the hell they are or where to go and not only refuse any attempt to help but look at you as some kind of beggar. Now I understand I’m not blonde and blue-eyed but I am far from looking like some cocalar/crook. I understand what it’s like to be lost in a country you don’t know or understand and offer to help but I have to open with “Hi, you guys need directions? I’m not trying to hustle you”. So please, foreigners, if someone approaches you with the intention to help, use your common sense before dismissing them as some sort of crook. kplsthx.
That’s a helpful tip.
As for helping tourists in Romania? Nah, don’t even bother. They’re far too skittish. Most of ’em are looking for the angry villagers with pitchforks :P