Sooner or later in Romania, someone is going to mention the concept of PCR (pay-chay-ray). But what is it? And what do those initials stand for?

Actually they can stand for a lot of things, including Partidul Communist Roman or the Communist Party of Romania (of which I am the sole remaining official member).

In the current sense however, what PCR stands for is Pile, Cunostinte, Relatii.

Cunostinte means literally “the people you know”.

Relatii means “relations” as in your family.

But what in the world does Pile (pee-lay) mean?

It’s kind of a slang word in Romanian, borrowed from the (regular) French word for “batteries”. I think in USA English today it would be something like “juice”.

Pile are the people you know who have “juice”, who are connected, who can get things done, who can “pull strings” and “call in favors” and make things happen.

PCR isn’t just a concept that existed in the Communist era in Romania, it is alive and well today. In fact, just about every single activity in your daily life here is on the basis of PCR.

One of the reasons Romania is so self-reliant and doing far better than, say, Hungary or Poland (or god forbid, Ukraine) at the moment, is precisely because of PCR. A lot of outsiders look at it and call it “corruption” but as I said the other day, there are two forms of corruption.

One is the big kind, the stealing millions of euros from road projects kind of corruption, the newspaper censoring and judge bribing and court case corruption that while awful, is, I believe, protecting Romania from a greater harm.

But the “other kind” of corruption, the “little corruption”, the daily PCR and ciubuc going on is exactly how everything is done in Romania.

Both my blog and my book are, in essence, forms of PCR. Because as I get to “know” you, some of you with (online) “juice” post links and comments, which then brings more visitors here, and so on and so forth.

PCR is also about relationships. It’s rarely a one-way street. While all (or most) of you are linking to me and writing nice comments and Facebook-ing, I’ll be giving away some shirts and copies of my book. I’ll also be appearing quite soon in some Romanian media saying nice things about all of you and this country.

Sometimes Romanians get really bitter when they’re on the “losing” end of all that PCR. A friend of mine passed the test to get into an exclusive university but was bumped when someone with better “juice” got their kid’s name on the list.

But from my perspective, I literally came into Romania at the bottom of the PCR ladder. Even a raggedy gypsy on the street had far more relatii than I did. None of my (blood) family live in Europe, I knew almost nobody in Romania and definitely not anyone with “juice”.

Yet now I do have some juice even myself, not to mention knowing a few people (and literally more every day) who do as well. I’ve got lots of cunostinte and I doubt there’s a service or skill here in Romania that I don’t know someone personally who could help you out with that.

It’s really kind of unbelievable, if you think about it. In America, nine times out of 10 if you want to engage in some kind of commercial transaction, aka “get something done”, you look online or in the yellow pages or in some kind of non-personal way. Very rarely do you know anyone personally that you pay (or exchange something) for some service or “goods”.

And now I’ve also got relatii. Some of the stories on this website which you’ve read involve Romanians I’ve known for years, and who have outright told me I am a member of their family. When I say Romanians are generous, it’s more than words can ever express.

I like PCR. If it came to a vote and I could vote, I’d vote for it. Europe is far too bureaucratic and PCR is how you can get around some absurd requirements.

A famous example from 2008 after Romania joined the European Union was EU bureaucrats up in the hills of Romania, using digital thermometers to measure how the shepherds were making that branza de burduf cheese that gets “packaged” in pine tree bark and left to sit on the side of a mountain until it’s aged.

As nice as regulations and standards are, some things have been done in Romania for so many centuries that clearly it’s fine so por favor just leave it alone. If cheese in a pine bark container was deadly, Romanians would’ve found out about it a long time ago.

In fact, just about every senior citizen as in elderly person in Romania that I know drinks (sometimes quite a lot of) homemade alcohol, whether wine or tuica or visinata or something else. Clearly not a danger ;)

And so on and so forth. I saw an entire four-storey building get constructed by a team of Romanians who wore no hard hats, barely any other safety gear, and drank beer all day long while on the job. Is that the safest thing in the world? Not exactly :P But it is what it is. Heck, I brought a case of beer for those guys one time myself.

In case you’re wondering, the building is in excellent condition and is in the mountains and has withstood years of sometimes brutal winter storms.

As tragic and brutal as a lot of Romania’s history was, especially for the ethnic Romanians, the cold hard truth is that it made Romanians extremely tough people. Anyone who couldn’t fight off a horde of screaming Turks or survive under the lash of a Hungarian noble got weeded out centuries ago.

If (ignorant) Westerners want to jump on the “Woe is Romania” bandwagon, that’s their own choice. But any time I hear Romanians start to complain too much I start praying that Mattias Corvinus will come to life and jump down off his pedestal in Cluj and start showing these whiners a little taste of how it used to be.

Which reminds me, if you haven’t been to Cluj in the last two weeks, they finally finished restoring Corvinus, including giving him a shiny gold crown. He and his horse are incredibly massive and now that he’s cleaned up he truly does look like he’s one Gepetto breath away from beating the apple out of this town. I’m starting to understand why Funar had nightmares about him :P

But back to PCR. What can I say? If you put yourself out there and meet people, life gets a lot sweeter here in Romania. I wish I could say it was the same in America but it only sometimes is.


14 thoughts on “PCR

  1. Yup. “pila” = file, as in “nail file”, you use it to straighten and level things.
    PCR in Chinese is “guanxi”, basically the same phenomenon, now it has lost its primary purpose of securing survival in the dark communist days (I work at the store, I give you meat, and you give me refills for “butelii”; practically an exchange o services). The American networking is still different, although it has some similarities, I’ve seen it at work in the South.


  2. The Romanian PCR is somehow synonym with the English expression of “I know someone that knows someone that’s connected to someone which can help you out but don’t forget I’m doing you a favor”.

    It’s not quite a form of bribery, better see it as a chain of trust; I am willing to help you because I trust you. Therefore, I agree to connect you with someone that I trust also, who eventually will help you or connect you with someone else. And so on :)


  3. In my opinion, PCR is really very similar to the “networking” that Americans are so familiar with. Knowing the right people makes it easier to get what you need.


    1. Well I’ll have to disapprove with you. I’ve lived in USA for about 6 month, and for an average American there is no equivalent for “pile”. You have to be able to do everything by yourself. Nobody is going to tell you: Hey I got a friend there! I could talk to him for you! At most they will tell you: You can Google it! And tell you about a similar story! American people are not bad people, they just don’t care as much! Which sometimes it’s a good thing (gossiping).

      And about PCR well let’s just say it’s bitter sweet! Because everybody use them but sometimes someone has better PCR, so you have to find another way!


      1. Well, I’ve been living in the US for almost 10 years now, and I was able to achieve much more through networking, than just by myself. A trivial example would be looking for a job. One might send 100 resumes to various job sites and never get a callback. Or, one might know someone who already works for a company, and that someone could forward the resume to the recruiting department.


  4. Sam – connections get the job done many times.
    Unfortunatly they also sometimes get the same job done wrong 2-3 times . I work in IT and trust me I’ve seen this kind of behaviour raise the costs of a project 2-3 times over the real value.
    As a general ideea the fact that romanians create conections and get the job done is something that is appreciated alot about them in western countries in many jobs. But in our own country where most people do this is not such big deal. This abillity coupled with the fact that many romanians are rather well educated makes them valuable employes in the west. Even in countries where the national feelings are rather high ( as germany and france ) there are a lot of romanians working because is more efficient and cheaper to have a good and organised worker rather than 3 not so good ones but with the same nationality. I have coleagues from school, high school and university ( more of them than I like) who live and work there and have advanced in their careers quite fast compared with their local born colleagues.


  5. I have to agree with Daniel on this one. I mean, I still can’t wrap my had around what seems to be a somewhat romanticised way of seeing how some things actually work in here.
    PCR is in fact the bane of functionality and will most of the time ensure that those that deserve less get more. In other words PCR is the exact polar opposite of a meritocracy.

    PCR will not help you i.e. the average citizen to find a way around bureaucracy because you don’t have the P, C or the R.

    Those were set in stone back in the day when some people used to hold key positions that enabled them to obtain the three mentioned elements.

    These people will always be able to circumvent bureaucracy and obstacles (obstacles such as a university exam) because they already know ther right people with whom they have real politik like relationships.

    The remaining “fraieri” will always be left on the sidelines and will have to fight their way through the system.

    The PCR syndrome also bring about a brutal level of hypocrisy, because if you’re a Romanian kid, you will be taught from early childhood to ALWAYS cling to your relationships, ALWAYS make a call, send a gift (“o atentie”) because you never know when you might need someone.
    That’s why in many occasions you will see people that hate each other but will dilligently kiss each other’s butts… just in case. And this is not mutual help or cooperation because if one of your “Pila, cunostinta or relatie” will help you they’ll expect to have that returned two fold and they’ll come up to claim their “reward” when you least expect it and also don’t give a rats ass if you actually are in the position to help them. They will always DEMAND to be served because once they served you. This is how it works.


  6. “Romania is […] doing far better than, say, Hungary or Poland”

    I know, I know – I’m one of the stereotypical negative Romanians who don’t appreciate how good they have it.

    But really ?? Much better than Poland ???


    1. Just to make myself clear – unlike the people who posted below, I am not passing judgement on “pile, cunostinte, relatii”. Mainly because I lack the proper outside perspective.

      I just disagree with your assessment that Romania is doing far better than its neighbours – by all metrics, the only European countries doing worse than Romania are Albania and the former Soviet republics (minus the Baltic countries, of course).


  7. Pila was a long time ago. Not it’s connection.
    Difference and explanation :

    Pila : you get the job because you are someone’s cousin, or you paid for that.

    Connection : you get the job because from 3 candidates of equal skill, your name was mentioned to the guy’s ear. As simple as that.

    There is also a small difference between mita and bacsis ( backshish, exists in all turkish languages ).
    Mita is paid before, and refers to a huge amount of money, in general. Can get one to jail.
    Bacsis is paid afterwards, and it’s a small thing.


  8. PÍLĂ1 píle f. 1) Unealtă de lăcătușărie, formată dintr-o bară de oțel călit, având pe toată suprafața crestături ascuțite, cu care se prelucrează prin șlefuire piese metalice. 2) Instrument mic în formă de lamă, prevăzut cu crestături și folosit la netezirea unghiilor (după tăiere). [G.-D. pilei] /<sl. pila
    I think the word Pila from Pile Cunostinte si Relatii comes from this definition and it referes to "smoothing" the way.

    And Funar is an idiot, cause Matei Corvin is an important reference to romanians also, just by beeing half romanian and the son of Iancu de Hunedoara.

    Funny the reference of the PCR concept, of course if you are not at the bottom of the ladder


  9. I think that that worldwide PCR has an innofensive name: “lobby”. It sound professional, bussines but basically it’s the same for me.


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