What comes to mind when we think Romanians right now is that they are marching against their government (and winning). Or maybe you don’t watch the news and Romania only goes with vampire tales in your mind. Either way, there is more to Romanian culture than count Dracula and political turmoil.
Here are a few things you absolutely must know (for fun or survival) about Romanian culture.
1. Romanians are not gypsies.
Well, technically the Roma are citizens of the country, but they are a different ethnic group. As statistics go, 88.6% of citizens are Romanian, then we have 6.5% Hungarian and 3.2% Roma people. The main language is Romanian, but there are also native Hungarian and German speakers.
2. That being said, it is the Roma people that are often associated with the country…
…since they are notorious for migrating to wealthier Western countries for seasonal work (and yes, sometimes criminal activity). There are also some Romanians that do the same and plenty of kids raised by their grandparents while their parents are away.
It is a practice in all Balkan countries but is particularly visible here as this is still a developing country and one of the poorest in the European Union.
3. Romanian people are generally more private and reserved, not quick to jump into friendship.
That being said, they will value your interest in their country and more often than not go out of their way to help a foreigner or to make their stay more pleasant. There might be a language barrier, too, so consider that they might not be rude, simply confused and embarrassed of their lack of knowledge of English.
Try to speak slowly and in a clear voice, with simpler words if you feel like they might not be understanding you. However, don’t do that to everybody you meet as it comes across as somewhat offensive to people who actually speak decent English.
Bottom line, bear in mind that language might be an issue with the Romanian culture, but only if you suspect they don’t understand you.
4. Manners and respect go hand in hand.
Older people, as well as those with advanced degrees or with higher-risk professions (doctors, engineers, policemen), are treated with utmost respect for their experience and knowledge.
In Romanian culture, a lot of value is placed on titles, so addressing others with their proper title+last name is the proper way to go about when interacting.
5. Since it is there are some patriarchal values that Romanians still hold dear, they sometimes come across as backward and bigoted.
At the same time, they are also very friendly and polite (as we already mentioned), so as long as you respect their views, they will respect yours (minus some of the old ladies, they are judgmental).
In any case, while I am not excusing it, expect a certain degree of homophobia (not as much racism, though) and refrain from PDA regardless if you are straight or gay. This is simply a more conservative society and it is always better to be on the safe side.
6. Hospitality matters a lot to them, especially to the women.
It is often regarded as a housewife’s duty to take excellent care of her guest and thus present her family as good as possible. This is why sudden, surprise visits are not always welcome – you don’t know what state the house will be in and you might put your hosts in an uncomfortable situation.
7. Apart from properly preparing the home, Romanians are also big on food.
Meaning that portions will also be big and you will have to insist on not receiving a second helping. The initial refusal is seen as a part of etiquette and this is why your hosts will not take it seriously. The same goes for alcohol and dietary preferences such as veganism.
You would have to be very firm to convince your hosts that no, you don’t want that third glass of wine/won’t eat their pork stew. For vegans, gluten-free folks and such it’s always a good idea to say it in advance, but still double check and don’t get offended if they forgot or even remembered and still decided to offer meat (just in case).
It’s just part of the Romanian culture 🙂
8. Traditional patriarchal roles have been disrupted by the years spent under the communist rule, as well as by the economic situation which obliges women to also contribute to the family budget.
Most Romanian women have successful careers AND do the majority of the house chores. The way this is balanced out is that some areas are considered a man’s job – for instance home improvement and car maintenance. Be prepared, if you are a male, for a certain degree of mockery if you can’t work a power drill, and if you are female – if you can’t prepare basic dishes. The other way round is not true – women are perfectly fine not knowing how the engine works, men don’t need to learn to cook. I am not saying this is correct, but it is what it is. Once again, if you respect their views, Romanians will respect yours, too.
9. On the topic of women, they are treated with respect almost equal to that shown to senior citizens.
In the public transport, it is expected of men to give up their seats to ladies, and of the young – to give them up to the older. While this is common etiquette for most Western countries, in Romania it is near obligatory. Expect some angry stares if you forget to do it, maybe even some confrontation (it has happened to me more times than I can count, and sometimes just because I didn’t notice the elderly lady that has entered).
10. With so many conservative values, you will be surprised at how ok it is to drink and smoke in public.
In the hot summer nights, parks are the place to be and everybody drinks beer, some even hard liquor. Drunkedness, however, is way more frowned upon than in Western countries. Romanians are easily shocked and disgusted at drunk people, even if they are just a bunch of 20-something’s making their way home from the club. In general, you will notice that while Romanian people drink quite a lot, they don’t really get blind-drunk and throwing up is actually rare, even at disco bathrooms.
11. The booze of choice (apart from the universally popular beer) is called tzuica…
…and you better know how to hold your alcohol, since this one is 40% and usually you have it with salad or appetizers, as an apperetive. In a way, Romanians see the spirit as an appetizer in itself as it is said to increase your appetite for the rich, greasy dishes to follow.
12. Superstition is a real important part of Romanian culture, and for good reason.
While not all weird rules are followed by everybody, some superstitions are so popular that you might have a hard time convincing people that they are untrue and don’t really matter. Black cats come to mind, but also not leaving your bag on the floor, not sitting at the corner of a table, not whistling inside a building (which means you invite evil spirits inside).
13. Romanians are humble people and highly dislike those who boast with their wealth or achievements.
You will notice they even downplay their qualities, so as not to come across as too full of themselves. Self-irony and sense of humor are essential as they demonstrate both humility and cheerfulness. Romanians love to laugh at themselves first.
14. In comparison to Western, non-Balkan countries, prices in Romania are almost comically low.
With minimum wage at just above 200 EUR, this is understandable and you will enjoy a new-found sense of wealth while travelling around the country. In the eyes of locals, your foreigner status might be equal to rich person status. This is both good (respect) and bad (higher risk to be mugged or defrauded), so keep your guard on.
15. Romanian cuisine might not be the most vegetarian-friendly, but everything is delectable.
For some dishes, you will need to gather your courage and I hope you have a strong stomach, too. Examples include tripe soup and a sort of meat-jello with pork and plenty of garlic (Piftie). A way to ease into it are all the different yummy breads, as well as their national dish made of boiled corn meal (Mămăligă). The mămăligă goes with various different toppings, cheese and butter being the classic. Try it with bacon as well — corn goes surprisingly well with it.
Romanian Culture: Conclusion
Romania is large and also largely undiscovered. It is great alternative for travelers on a budget that still want to have the European experience or for Westerners tired of the usual Greek beaches they visit for their vacations.
With all the peculiarities of the social norms, the national character and even the food, it might be intimidating to try communicating with Romanians. I promise, though, it is worthy. The Romanian culture is naturally humble, down-to-earth and friendly, so please, promise you will try making some Romanian friends on your next trip.