When visiting 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. Each culture is different, so in order to avoid a culture shock, there are a few things that you should know about Romanians before you travel to their country.
Of course, Romanians are not all the same. Nonetheless, but there are some cultural characteristics that most of them share. Characteristics that actually define the Romanian culture.
Things You Should Know About Romanians and the Romanian Culture
1. Food Habits in Romania
Romanians eat three times a day and dinner is typically their biggest meal. They usually eat 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 big enough to stuff an average stomach.
The host tries her best to impress you and expects compliments 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 the insistence very annoying, but in Romania this is good manners.
When offered food, Romanians will first politely refuse. But don’t be fooled. The “no, thank you” only means that you’ll have to insist!
2. Punctuality in Romania
In Romania, punctuality is considered a strength only when doing business. But when invited to a party, or a social gathering, 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 inconvenient for the hosts. Is not unusual to even find them in the shower at 7 o’clock, getting ready for the party. So if the invitation is for 7 o’clock, you should plan on arriving more toward 7:15 or 7:30.
3. Religion and Spirituality in Romania
Romanians believe in God but are not a religious people. They are not preoccupied at all with their religion, but rather with their religious traditions. As a result, they participate in very elaborate customs and ceremonies when it comes to births, weddings, and funerals. They will flock the churches only two times a year: for Christmas and for Easter. 90% of Romanians are Christians and the vast majority of the population practices Eastern Osthodoxy.
4. Meeting and Greeting in Romania
When greeting a stranger, Romanians may seem formal and reserved. But when they meet with friends, they 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’s not unusual to see a man kissing a woman’s hand when they meet. That’s a sign of deep respect and it’s practiced especially by the older generation. It’s also common when a young man meets a much older woman. However, this is not something that Romanians expect 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 a train station, you may even be asked where you are going. Or where you are coming from. an if the conversation continues, you may even be asked what you do for a living. To some people this may seem like an intimate conversation, but Romanians consider it just friendly talk.
5. Judging and Complaining
Romanians complain frequently and about everything: politics, government, their economic conditions, or each other. Complaining is deeply embedded in the Romanian culture and is part of almost every conversation. However, it’s only acceptable only when Romanians talk 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 you express yourself. NOT by your accent, but rather by your level of education. 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.
6. Romanian Sense of Humor
Romanians have a very keen sense of humor. Quite 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! Romanians have a lot of ethnic jokes about the different minorities living in Romania, like the Gypsies, Hungarians or Jews.
7. What Annoys Romanians
Romanians are extremely friendly and easy going people. However, there are a couple of things that will surely ruffle their feathers and cause them to label you stupid and ignorant beyond redemption.
One thing that will annoy Romanians is confusing them with Gypsies. Gypsies (or Romas) are an ethnic group that has been living on Romania’s territory for centuries. Because of the name similarity – Romas and Romanians– some people confuse the Romanians with the Romas (Gypsies.) That’s a big offense because being a Gypsy in Romania is the worst social stigma.
The relationship between Romanians and Gypsies is somewhat similar to the relationship between white Americans and black Americans. Although Gypsies have never been enslaved en masse, they have always formed a permanent underclass. Throughout their history in Romania, they always lived in poverty and illiteracy.
The second insult is confusing Bucharest with Budapest. In the beginning, when celebrities like Michael Jackson come on stage in Bucharest 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.
Do you know any Romanians? What do you think about them?