What You Should Know About Romanians Before You Travel to Romania

As a tourist in Romania, you may easily feel at home and forget that you are in a foreign country. But the welcoming and friendly spirit of the Romanian people will not help you over-bridge the cultural differences and understand their values. So in order to avoid a culture shock, there are some things you should know about Romanians before you travel to their country. Of course, Romanians are not all the same, but there are some cultural characteristics that most of them share.

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Food Habits

Romanians eat three times a day and dinner is typically their biggest meal. They are used to eating very late at night, so ordering food after 10:00 p.m. in a restaurant is not uncommon. Romanians love dinner parties and they will use every opportunity to gather some friends around their table. If they invite you for dinner, you should expect a copious meal with many courses and delicious deserts. Each course is eaten with bread and is big enough to stuff an average stomach.

The host tries her best to impress you and expects to be complimented for her cooking.  If you like the food she will always insist that you have second and even third helpings. Invoking a small stomach will not spear you the insistence. Many people may find this very annoying, but in Romania this is considered good manners.

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You are expected to eat all you put on your plate. Romanians don’t like wasting food and leaving it on your plate may be perceived as a sign that you didn’t like the cooking. When offered food, the Romanians will first politely refuse. But don’t be fooled. The “no, thank you” only means that you’ll have to insist.

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Punctuality

In Romania, punctuality is considered a strength when doing business, but when invited to a party time seems to have a totally different meaning. If you are told the party is at 7 you are not expected to show up exactly at 7 sharp. In fact, being right on time may be a little awkward and even inconvenient for the hosts who, at 7 o’clock may still be in the shower getting ready for the party. So if you are told 7 o’clock, you should plan on arriving more towards 7:30.

Religion and Spirituality

Romanians believe in God but are very little concerned with their religion. Instead, they care a lot about their religious traditions and are also very superstitious.  Most of the Romanians practice Eastern Orthodoxy and as such participate in very elaborate customs and ceremonies, but they will flock the churches only two times a year: for Christmas and for Easter.

Meeting and Greeting

When greeting a stranger, Romanians may seem formal and reserved, but when they meet with friends will kiss and hug each other. When they kiss a friend they do it twice, on each cheek, from left to right. Doing it only once would seem cold and distant. It is not unusual to see a man kissing a woman’s hand when they meet, but that is not something expected from a foreigner.

Compared to the Western Europeans, Romanians are very talkative and outgoing. They will easily talk to strangers in the street, or on the bus, or in restaurants. And if encouraged, the conversation may soon become more than a general chit-chat. If you are in an airport, or waiting at the train station you may even be asked where you are going, where you are coming from, or even  what you do for a living. What to some people may seem like an intimate conversation, they will consider just friendly talk.

Judging and Complaining

Romanians complain frequently and about everything: politics, government, their economic conditions, or each other. Complaining is part of their every conversation, but is acceptable only among themselves. A similar negative remark coming from someone from another country would be interpreted as an offense.

In Romania you’ll be judged by the way you speak and by your level of education, rather than by your accent, or money. Romanians like to compare themselves with other nations, but they don’t think in terms of different, they think in terms of better and worse.

Humor

Romanians have a very keen sense of humor, rather similar to the English sense of humor: very ironic and directly unto the person. Becoming the subject of their jokes can be quite irritating, as they have no sense of political correctness. They enjoy poking fun even at themselves, especially as a nation and also have a lot of ethnic jokes about the different minorities living in Romania, like the Gypsies, Hungarians or Jews.

What Annoys Them

Romanians are extremely friendly and easy going people, but there are a couple of things that will surely ruffle their feathers and cause them to label you stupid and ignorant beyond redemption. One, is confusing them with Gypsies, an ethnic group that has been living on Romania’s territory for centuries, also called Roma or Romanies, hence the similarity with Romanians. Being a Gypsy in Romania is the worst social stigma and the relationship between Romanians and Gypsies is somewhat similar to the relationship between American whites and blacks. Although Gypsies have never been enslaved en masse, they always formed a permanent underclass throughout their history in Romania, living in poverty and illiteracy.

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The second is confusing Bucharest with Budapest. In the beginning, when celebrities like Michael Jackson and other musicians playing in Romania’s capital come on stage shouting “how are you doing, Budapest?” locals were indulgently amused. But as the trend continued, they moved from amused to seriously pissed off. After all, Bucharest is the 6th largest city in the European Union and a fine cultural and artistic center. It doesn’t deserve to be confused with its neighbor just because it has a similar name.

I think almost everyone experiences culture shock when they travel to a new country. The culture shock doesn’t come from not knowing what to expect or how to do things in the new environment,  but from not knowing what is appropriate or inappropriate. I had my fair share of culture shock when I moved to America. Maybe I’ll tell you about it sometime. What about your experience? I’d like to hear about it.

 

 

 

 

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30 Comments on “What You Should Know About Romanians Before You Travel to Romania

  1. I have always wanted to go to Romania so it was interesting to read about things I didn’t know about the country.

    • Thank you, Adelina. I know you understand better than other people the Romanian culture because of your years spent in Hungary.

  2. What a cool article! I think I would fit in just fine, especially with whomever was drinking the Becks beer haha. I agree with you, when I go to another country I worry about offending people because I don’t know or understand the customs. Would love to read your article on the difficulties with coming to America, sounds interesting.
    JP recently posted…13 Surreal Places You Won’t Believe ExistMy Profile

    • Thank you, J.P. I’ll try to pull myself together and write that post about trying to adapt to the American culture. It’s going to be a little difficult…

        • I think I’ll have to take on the challenge Linda. It will take a little time to put all my memories together. After all it’s bee so long since then… 25 years!

  3. I may have to contradict you – lunch is the most important meal here (most restaurants will have special 3-course offers), I was talking with a Dutch friend and she found this so strange, because their most important meal is dinner. Usually, we have a bigger dinner on special occasions (guests, celebrations, Christmas, Easter).

    It’s funny, I know about the punctuality “rule”, but I’m always annoyed when my guests show up late, I end up telling them to come earlier, to make sure they come when I want, haha. 🙂
    Vlad recently posted…Thursday Tidbits: At the end of the worldMy Profile

    • I agree about lunch being the biggest meal of the day… I was surprised since I am a born Romanian myself.
      And yes, I always invite people half an hour earlier to make sure they arrive ‘just’ in time 😉
      And the complaining part?!? Wow, interesting… My American husband doesn’t understand it quite… He is too polite and sometimes politically correct… And the Romanian humor doesn’t help him much either. Gotta love it!

  4. I must correct you on one thing: the gypsies have indeed been enslaved “en masse” in Moldavia and Wallachia. Even in the 19th century, gypsies were slaves:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavery_in_Romania

    There were up to a quarter of a million slaves (according to some estimates) and that is indeed mass slavery. Pure slavery. It can’t get any more real than that.
    Slavery was abolished in 1855 and 1856 in Moldavia and Wallachia, respectively.

    • Thank you for your comment. The interpretation of the Gypsies’ slavery in the so-called Danubian Principalities (Wallachia and Moldavia) always provoked various disputed views that can be argued endlessly. The bulk of historical references suggests that the Roma population has not been enslaved on all the Romanian territories, even that in some parts of Wallachia and Moldavia slavery was wide spread.

      • It wasn’t exactly slavery… it was mostly like a “liberal slavery” kind of thing… basically there was white & gypsy slaves. Slavery was mostly like a job, but you had that job for 10-20 years.

  5. I studied abroad in Romania this reminds me so much of that year. The food was so good but it was definitely hard to convince people that I really was full…. and confusing them with gypsies definitely would not have gone well
    Rebekah recently posted…Sichuan Food: Some like it hotMy Profile

  6. I’m bookmarking this post for when we visit Romania in 2016 or 2017. I agree that a large part of culture shock is not knowing what is appropriate or inappropriate, and concern that you will commit an error. Many people talk about culture shock as something you experience when visiting a third-world country or a culture that’s vastly different from your own, but you can experience it even with cultures not so very different than your own. I experience a bit of “culture shock” when visiting the New England states as compared to my home-state of Virginia. And after becoming accustomed to Germany’s ways, I had a bit of culture shock when visiting Italy this past summer.
    Katrina Elisabet recently posted…Strasbourg, Up Close & PersonalMy Profile

  7. Catching up a little late with my reading here! Very interesting post as Romania is still very high on my list and we are hoping to cycling there this summer.

    I wonder how much French people speak?

    It would also seem that the gypsies originally came from India.

    I shall feature this very relevent post in my weekly blogger round-up tomorrow.
    Rosemary K recently posted…A-Tisket A-Taskat and Tea for ThreeMy Profile

    • Thank you, Rosemary. It’s always good to hear from you. The older generation in Romania speak pretty good French, while the younger generation speaks English. I believe you can get by in French there.

  8. Pingback: Weekly Blogger Round-Up: All about Romanians – Mediaeval Slovenia – Travel Safety in Albania | Aussie in France

  9. What a great post! Whenever I visit Romania I will definitely have to keep this bookmarked and check back to it. It’s always wonderful to know the different cultures and learn the different ways people act and even eat.

  10. Makes it a wonderful read! I can relate to the part when people serve you food two to three times. Happens back home in India as well. Is it true that food in Romania is cooked with no salt?

  11. Just to correct the author, the gypsies WERE enslaved en masse in Romania until early 20 century.
    They were born slaves by law of the land.
    The recent movie Aferim! can help people too lazy to read history 😉

    • Thanks for your comment, Alex. Well, you can argue that most gypsies were slaves (“robi”) on the territory of Wallachia and Moldavia, but in Transylvania for instance, they weren’t. Besides, slavery was abolished in 1856. I wasn’t arguing their status, but just compared their situation to that of the blacks in America, which by all accounts could be considered mass slavery. As for history, I wouldn’t base my research on movies. They never proved to be a reliable source of information, but rather some people’s opinion about different historical events.

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