Romania’s Image


Grazie mille to commenter Grumps for providing a link to a blogpost that some American wrote, mostly talking about Romanian cinema.

The discussion then segues into Romania’s “image”, as in what people know about Romania who know nothing about Romania.

This entire topic makes me sigh with exasperation precisely because several different interests are conflicting here, resulting in a stalemate and unchanging condition, which is exactly where we are (in Romania) year after year.

Obviously the Dracula thing is well-entrenched. I used to have a roommate years ago. His girlfriend ended up moving in with us and she was a vampire fanatic. In those days (hey I’m old), she literally had over 60 VHS cassettes, every single one of them a vampire/dracula movie (some of them were pornos). She even went to filing down her incisors to look more like a vampire.

That part is what it is and nothing can be done to change it anyway.

No. What I’m here to talk about is the rest of Romania’s image.

A tiny bit of is (female) gymnastics, both because of Nadia Comaneci as well as the Olympic gymnastic programs. Since approximately 0% of all visitors to Romania ever see any gymnastics in Romania, this is largely irrelevant.

The rest is dirty, run-down, grim, grey, miserable, a “shit hole”, poor peasants or urban slum dwellers. Cold, grey, very “far away” from anything else, harsh brown bread, hideous apartment buildings or animals wandering around trashpits while sad-eyed slum children stare up woefully at you.

And that’s not even counting the gypsies, which let’s be honest, most foreigners can’t tell the difference between a gypsy and anyone else.

That’s it. The link Grumps provided was talking about Romanian cinema and how all the Romanian films foreigners ever get to see are dour and depressing and portray Romania as a horrible place to live.

Why many people in the comments argue over WHY this is so, the answer is clear.

Of course! Ceausescu has been dead for more than 20 years and yet I’d wager a majority of English-speaking foreigners equate Romania with hideously overcrowded orphanages.

What Romanians don’t seem to ever understand is that being a poor place with lots of inhabitants to feel sorry for IS Romania’s image. That’s its “brand” if you want to use corporate-speak. Romania = Overcrowded Gypsy Orphanage Land.

That’s why when you read the blog/tweets from foreign backpackers in Romania, they always act as if they’re in a wild west safari, barely escaping with their lives from gangs of thieves who pour poison gas into train cars and god only knows what else.

Changing Romania’s exterior image is going to require a heck of a change in mindset. A lot of (especially young) Romanians get angry when they constantly see this “negative” image of their country portrayed to foreigners but what they rarely realize is a lot of people are profiting from the “Romania is so poor and miserable” route.

There are literally hundreds of charities, especially religious ones, operating in Romania. A lot of these organizations get funding from western sources PRECISELY because when they say “it’s to help those poor Romanians” everyone knows that yes, those poor widdle Romanians are suffering in their hideous Eastern Europe existence so let’s eat some pancakes and chip in a few bucks.

This image also helps the Romanian government, especially in relation to the European Union, NATO and the United States. This country gets millions and billions of euros worth of military aid, grants, matching funds and all kinds of help. With so much sympathy for the poor and downtrodden here, it’s easy to get lots of good funding and even easier to siphon some of that off.

If Romania all of a sudden seemed like a really cool, modern, easily accessible and affordable place to visit, that would deal a major blow to those vested interests. All that funding for dour movies, starving orphans and trash picking gypsies might dry up.

Instead, tourism brings actual work. Go to any popular tourist city around the world and you’ll see how much effort it is. Signs and information for foreigners has to be increased. Police and other public officials need to start learning foreign languages. Hotels need to be built and staffed by friendly, accommodating people. All kinds of new restaurants and cafes need to be built, also staffed by friendly, knowledgeable people.

Souvenirs need to be created, distributed and sold. All kinds of specialty needs of the tourists need to be accommodated as well, from the kinds of foods they like to eat to the kinds of things they’ll gladly pay money to do. Organized tours need to be organized.

And so on and so forth. A tremendous percentage of the workforce in Romania works for the government on some level. All they want is a steady paycheck and they’re fine. I’ve never once seen a Ministry of Tourism official in Otopeni Airport, the busiest international airport in the country, so god only knows what they’re doing besides filming weird commercials.

The rest of the private workforce doesn’t even know how to understand modern commerce, much less a high-level of interaction with foreign tourists. Business here is conducted as if the gods themselves dictated who will walk in the store and the concept of pleasing the customer so s/he will return a thousand more times is almost unknown here.

This isn’t my call to massively modernize and hyper-commercialize Romania or even Romanians, not at all. I like the way things are done here, but then again I understand how things work here, and foreigners don’t. That’s because all they see and hear is about the misery and the urban decay and gap-toothed peasants in horses and carts.

I actually have several concrete ideas about how to bridge this gap – between Romania as Europe’s “poor widdle cousin” and Romania as the sparkling, Disneyworld National Vampire Amusement Park, which seems to be the only idea the government can grasp. God knows, if you know someone to talk to about getting some real progress accomplished in shaping Romania’s foreign image, let me know.

Thirty-second flashes of green hills and waterfalls or castles and all is not gonna cut it. It’s nice but it isn’t having any impact. People still think Dracula and Nadia and orphans and it’s going to require some serious effort to update that image.

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17 Comments Add yours

  1. Risty says:

    I don’t know where is this picture from.in last wientr (a very cold wientr), every evening, many people protested: Basescu down! But there was no fight.People are discontent of Basescu in many ways. Romanian people didn’t ellect him, but the votes from abroad gave him advantage.If you see him speaking , you can see that he is not a serious man, he lies with a cinic smile, he is surrounded of noncompetitive ministres, but of the corrupte ones Please forgive me, I’m not the adequate person to juge the politics, bat I don’t like Basescu at all

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  2. Mina Jade says:

    It is so interesting what you just wrote. However, this is an exact description of not only Romania but the whole Eastern European region like Hungary, Ukraine, Russia, Czech Republic – and I love this Eastern European heritage so much more than a Disney-like polished plastic image.
    I have never lived in Romania, I have never visited the country – I have been living in Hungary, and the words that you call clichés (grim, grey, miserable, eerie) are the very words I use to describe my place. I do not wish to change it, I like it this way. True that I write neo-noir dark fantasy/horror, which would sound odd in happy surroundings.

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    1. jhuitz says:

      Whoa, I lived four years in Slovakia, have my permanent residence in the Czech Republic, Poland for two years and for the past 12-months, Romania. Yes, some parts of Eastern Slovakia could be confused with Romania if one were suddenly dropped there, but there is no confusing most of CEE with Romania. OKAY, fine, Poland’s lack of highways is similar to Poland, but it’s a stretch.

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  3. Filozofu says:

    I must agree with Mircea. I am in Paris now and I am not all that impressed. Maybe 10 or 20 years ago, yes.

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  4. Mircea Laslo says:

    I will say this – you are an excellent analyst, you have clear, crisp perception of things and I admire your passion.

    As far as I’m concerned, the only way for Romania’s image to improve is on an individual level. It’s already happening.

    Patience and perseverance in one’s own work, in one’s own creative pursuit and social interaction, especially with strangers, a constant, levelheaded confidence from individual to individual will eventually develop and it will be the basis for a sustainable, true, non-corporate and not artificially created or inflated image.

    I’ve been to France, Norway, The Czech Republic, Sweden, Germany and it hasn’t been any monument or landscape or any sort of incidental highlight that made me like any of those places. It’s always about the people. I’ve been to dull places from a tourist’s point of view, which have charmed me just as much as the major tourist destinations because in all of those places, the people were ready to receive guests, were able to cope without needing to constantly compare themselves and coming up short.

    I don’t think any government, any president can possibly fight one’s individual battle with an inferiority complex. But, slowly, we’re winning, I’m sure of it.

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  5. Andrew C. says:

    Unfortunately, and not to sound too negative here, you can’t build a brand on top of nothing; at this point in time Romania doesn’t really have much to show and brag about, and until that is fixed (starting from infrastructure to culture, tourism, politics) there isn’t much to do about it, from a pure brand specific.

    We don’t have amazing beaches like Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, we don’t have impressive monuments like Egypt, we don’t have great cities from an architectural standpoint (maybe except Sibiu and Sighisoara). What we do have is a couple of castles that are already been reduced to a high level of kitsch and that’s about all.

    Don’t tell me about Delta as the infrastructure there is severely missing even for promoting it as eco-tourism, and the same stands for the great mountainous regions.

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    1. Sam R. says:

      Well I agree with your factual assessments. On the philosophy part – “can’t build a brand on top of nothing” – I will have to heartily disagree. Shuttling a boatload of tourists around all wearing traditional Romanian clothing ISN’T what I’m rooting for :P

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    2. patrickdh says:

      ‘can’t build a brand on top of nothing’ – I agree with Sam – this is not correct.

      Building a ‘brand’ is not about the stuff you don’t have – it’s about creating meaning that’s unique to your identity.

      The beauty about it, is that once you have your brand created – then you can use it to facilitate to getting or fixing the stuff you need to support your brand.

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      1. Anuj says:

        Well, I see a little deiferfnt what’s going on in Romania these days. It’s true, I’m not living there but from my perspective, I only see how the new majority in Parliament tries to change some of the directors and leaders of institutions that are politically dependent of the old majority, some of them incapable to do their jobs. So, I personally see how the old majority’s people are replaced by the new majority. The bad thing is that, in the first place, leaders and directors of so called independent’ institutions were politically installed by the party of Basescu. Now, as Basescu’s power is going down, those politically installed chairmen, directors, judges are revoked. In my opinion the new ones should be let to start their jobs and see the way they’re doing it instead of accusing them before. Everyone has the right to presumption of innocence.

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    3. Andrew C. says:

      patrick, I agree that building a brand is about creating something that represents your identity in an easy to grasp way and which covers most of its aspects. On the other hand I don’t see how this is achievable, especially when it comes to the brand of a country, when you have almost nothing to present to the world.

      I mean, if we look at advertising in general, you don’t really see people selling their products; sure, it may seem like that at a glance, but if you look closer you notice that they’re selling the fear of you having to live without their products and this also applies to brands in general.

      People aren’t missing much by not visiting Romania, it’s a sad truth but a truth nonetheless.

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  6. Mihaela says:

    Great post! I’ve been struggling to understand for years now the lack of will to change Romania’s “brand”. I think what is needed is a true leader ( president?) who thinks about what is best for the country before thinking of his/her own small interests, OR a strong “grass-roots” movement that will inspire and make the change. Your ideas are probably more realistic, I have been too far away for too long…

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    1. zergu says:

      You’ve just made the most common and biggest mistake most Romanians make: expecting a strong leader which will bring us to light.

      This idea is stupid and ridiculous. No single man can do anything. The thing to be done is to do YOUR part in the grand scheme in spite of others might say or think. If you’re going to wait for an almighty leader you’ll fall for the worst scumbags and totalitarian leaders.

      Stop dreaming and face reality. Get involved and stop waiting for free rides and benevolent dictators.

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  7. Dumnezero says:

    Actually the orphans are now the old retired folk. That’s going to be hard to see, since most of them live in small apartments and many of them are malnourished, so if you visit a shelter (cantina sociala) you can find dozens of old folk chowing down on food provided with donations from many sources (especially Rotary clubs). There are a lot of old romanians, they’re orthodox and they’re not going to change…

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    1. Dumnezero says:

      I’m just saying that the most valuable image is actually the real one; realism – it’s missing.

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      1. Sam R. says:

        Oh believe me, I know.

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  8. ike says:

    “most foreigners can’t tell the difference between a gypsy and anyone else.”

    i totally understand and agree with you on that statement. i was telling a friend of mine about the gypsy problem and why we are often mistaken with gypsies (with the name and stuff)….and he was asking me: “is there any difference ,look wise, between romanians and gypsies?”….i was infuriated….but i brushed it off, and i showed him pictures of “caldarari”…and he was shocked at the difference…..i think the problem is that foreigners aren’t reminded enough of how real romanians, with real problems and merits look like, and act….

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