Romanian Culture

About a week ago I was talking with one of the staff members here named Ema. She is Romanian and married to Erik, the only staff member here from North America. She lent me a book called The Essential Guide to Customs And Culture - Romania, written by a British author all about Romanians and their culture. Typically books like this are written with all sorts of prejudice and generalizations that don't give a clear picture of the culture as it actually is but Ema assured me that this book is very accurate and suggested that we read it while we're here to help us understand certain aspects of the culture here a little better.


I have finished the book (it's only 150 pages) and found it to be very enlightening. Here are some of the major points made in the book and things it cleared up for me:

- Romanian culture is a Latin culture and so people at typically demonstrative and loud, even if they're not angry or excited.

- Because of the influence of the communist-mindset people here generally have little motivation to gain new knowledge or engage in critical thinking, especially when it comes to health information. It is common here to believe in methods that have been used for generations or to act on superstition rather than scientific fact (especially in the rural areas).

- Men typically don't acknowledge women in public in the same way they'd acknowledge a man (by shaking hands, for instance), but this often doesn't apply to foreign women. A woman's value is largely in her physical appearance (hair, makeup and fancy clothes) although this also doesn't usually apply to foreign women.

- Foreigners are generally very well respected here and receive much better treatment from Romanian people than they would give to other Romanians.

- Also because of the influence of Communism, people here tend to be rather suspicious of one another and tend to assume the worst about another Romanian they don't know (During the communist time it was estimated that between 2 and 4 percent of the population were spies). Nepotism is a serious problem here.

- Romania is still very much a collectivist culture, so bettering oneself is not valued unless it is to gain monetary wealth. It's the "protruding nail gets hammered down" mentality instead of the "squeaky wheel gets the grease" mentality (east vs. west).

- Romanians generally don't understand a westerner's need for personal space or privacy and can often invade personal boundaries without realizing they've done so.

The last point has hit me really hard while being here. Because Romanians love babies (seriously...it's crazy how much attention Miriam gets here) I constantly have people coming up to me and taking Miriam away from me or kissing her all over her face, etc. One of the volunteers here even tried to feed Miriam food from her own plate using her own spoon!! Luckily I caught her in time and tried to explain carefully why that wasn't ok with me. There will always be cultural idiosyncrasies that take some getting used to whenever you're living in a country that isn't your own and this is one that has taken some work on my part. Boundaries are very important to me (especially when it comes to Miriam) and I'm realizing that my idea of boundaries is different from some of the people we interact with here!

While its impossible to write a book like this and not make sweeping generalizations, I found it helpful simply because it helped me understand why some of the Romanian people here act the way they do and therefore what an appropriate response should be. It also educated me on the history of the country and the influence that communism had (and still has) on the mindset of the people here. So, it's a great read AND it's in a series, so if you're thinking of travelling anywhere anytime soon it's something worth looking into.


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