Growing up in communist Romania had its own advantages. I could tell you all kinds of dreadful stories about those times and they would all be true, but not everything was bad. Yes, there were five of us living in a one bedroom apartment (sometimes even more when relatives came to visit); the lines to the grocery store were miles long and food was rationalized; we had only two changes of clothes: one for school and one for playing outside; we only had hot water for a few of hours on week-ends, so on Sundays there wasn’t much going on because it was bath day; electricity was cut off from 6:00 – 8:00 pm each night across the country (saving the energy, they said). Nevertheless, we were content with our lives (or at least that’s how our long-enduring tolerance was interpreted.) And why wouldn’t we be? We had free healthcare and free education, two basic ‘rights‘ that you have to pay for in the ‘rotten’ capitalist world.
Life in Romania was simple, but calm. Everyone had access to the same goods, nobody had anything special, so there was very little envy going around. Everyone had the same salary, regardless of productivity. You didn’t have to work hard and you didn’t have to worry about loosing your job. You didn’t have too make too many choices either: there was only one laundry detergent on the market and the TV had only one channel. Boring? Perhaps, but surely not very stressful. Now that I think back to those years, I realize I that it must have been hope and humor that helped us keep it all together. And speaking of humor, here are a few things that you’ll surely relate to if you were raised communism:
1. Drafts and ice cold drinks can cause pneumonia
If you know any Romanians you must have heard about this health hazard named “curent.” Curent in this context means “draft”, as in a drafty door, or the draught that circulates when two windows are open. If you catch a draft you will develop headaches, muscle soreness, stuffy nose, sore throat, coughing and eventually pneumonia. Even if you’ve never heard about danger of a draft, you must have noticed that Romanians never want ice in their water or drinks. In case you wonder why, let me explain it to you. As children we were under the constant threat of getting pneumonia, so our parents became obsessive about sheltering us from the disease. We were not allowed to eat or drink anything cold. Having an ice-cream in winter was out of any question, but even in summer when we were allowed to eat ice-cream, we had to warm it up in our mouth before swallowing it. Also, drinking cold water when we were hot and sweaty was the surest way to get pneumonia. Not to mention walking bare-foot on cold tiles in winter.
2. Beer and Pepsi caps make a good currency
If you don’t have a lot you learn to be creative. Toys and games were rare when I grew up in Romania, but imported beer and Pepsi Cola were even more rare. So if you could get your hands on some beer or Pepsi-Cola caps, you were a rich child. In my neighborhood you could trade these colorful bottle caps for almost any toy from the other kids.
3. Recycling can be taken to very high levels
We never threw stuff away. Empty bottles could be used a flower vases, or turned into oil lamps. Old newspapers could be used for window washing, to start up a fire, as trash bin liners, or even turned into toys. Cottage cheese containers could be used for storing nails and bolts. Old shirts, socks and even underwear can make perfect rugs to clean the floors and dust the furniture. Rain water can be gathered in buckets and used for laundry. Even potato peels, rotten fruit and vegetables can be used for something, like feeding the pork or to fertilize the garden soil.
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4. You Don’t Need Medication to cure a cold or a flu
Medication was the list thing a pediatrician would prescribe if you had a flu or a cold. Usually keeping your feet in a basin of hot water, a hot tea with lots of lemon and honey, or standing over a steaming pot of water with a towel thrown over your head would solve the problem. For tonsillitis, a gargle with salty water and some hot chicken soup; for high fever a good alcohol rub and for stubborn chest congestion, mustard plasters (also known as mustard packs) applied on the chest. Primitive? Perhaps, but somehow these natural remedies always worked just as well as any pills or shots. We never knew what a flu shot was.
5. Leaving Food on your plate is sinful
Growing up in deprivation you are constantly reminded that food is a gift that not everyone can enjoy. You have to be thankful for it and always finish what’s on your plate. You can put on our plate only as much as we could eat or you’ll be made feel guilty for wasting food while children in other parts of the world are starving. Better get a stomach ache than throw food away.
Do any of these practices sound familiar to you?