Culture Shock :: Romania 2

27 06 2008

Since Romania was our first international stop on this globe-trotting adventure, we happened to notice a fair amount of cultural ‘differences’, if you will. Unfortunately we decided to write on this topic a little late in our tour of the beautiful country and now we don’t have the time, or the memory, to go into detail on every difference. Instead, we’ve chosen the stand-outs to mention in the last Culture Shock post for Romania.

:: Rules of the Road ::

Starting in Bucharest helped us to realize the beauty that is Romanian driving. This capitol city had it’s fair share of traffic and then some, but what caught our attention wasn’t necessarily the amount of cars on the road, but all the cars off the road.

In Romania, not only do you need to look both ways when crossing the road, you also have to watch your back while on the sidewalk. In Bucharest especially, drivers have decided that bike paths and pedestrian walkways are fair game and that driving up behind people and honking their horn is not only safe, but quite well accepted. And of course after they’ve successfully dodged all the obstacles on the “road”, they’ll then triumphantly park right in front of you, on the grass, or even right in front of the door of the retail shop they were looking for.

Romanian Parking

The funny thing is that it is much harder to get a driver’s license in Romania than in the US, even though I couldn’t tell if there were any agreed upon rules of the road in the country. In fact, Bucharest was the only city where we saw many traffic lights. From what we could tell, if there isn’t a traffic signal, the car going faster has the right of way and the drivers use a system of honks to communicate with other cars. The smaller cities were much better about not using the walkways as the HOV lane, but as you see in the photo above, they still can’t resist turning them into parking lots.

:: Grocery Shopping ::

In the United States, shopping is an art. Not only do we have a wide variety of cultural tastes filling our grocery store shelves, we also have to choose between all the different brands of each specific product. We have to compare the options based on price, taste, brand, nutritional value, design, etc. The consumers in Romania have a much easier shopping experience.

While walking through a large grocery store chain in Bucharest, CarreFour, we could still see the influence of communism sitting on the shelves waiting to be purchased. Picture each aisle filled with only a few products and only 1, maybe 2 brands per product. As you walk up to the shelf to select your item, you don’t need to stand their in the aisle trying to decide which brand to buy. You just select your item, which happens to be one of hundreds of the same item sitting on all six shelves from the top to the bottom. No running out of that product. No choosing the bad brand, or the expensive brand, or the wrong flavor. No worries.

Some people may think this sounds like heaven and some people may think this sounds like their version of hell. For us, at first it was just different and funny. Then it became a joy not to have to spend unnecessary amounts of brain power on choosing our food. Then, as time went on, it started to drive me a little crazy for a few reasons. As a designer, I thought the packaging was boring, probably due to a lack of competition. As a spicy food fanatic, it drove me crazy not to have the option to buy things like hot sauce. As a health nut, it was frustrating that all the usually healthy foods were either non-existent or somehow turned into junk food.

Somehow, even with the lack of choices, the Romanian people manage to live life to the fullest. They don’t have a wide variety of foods to choose from, Romanian and Italian mostly, but the food they do have is typically great (I prefer their traditional foods to their imitation of Italian). They don’t need to import much of anything and most of their food is free of chemicals and hormones. So in the end, I don’t really think they are missing much of anything because they have their good food and as for the good food of other cultures, well, you can’t miss what you’ve never had.

:: Smoking/Breathing ::

In Romania, the only person who doesn’t smoke is a child who is underage and dreaming of the day he/she can smoke. That’s only a slight exaggeration which was told to us by native Transylvanian. In reality we did meet 2 non-smokers in the month we were traveling in the country. Therefore, avoid any poorly ventilated restaurants, bars, hostels, etc while in Romania if you’re sensitive to smoke.

From what we can tell, this habit is still in place from the years of communism when life was predetermined by your government, so the only excitement one had was to smoke, drink, and eat great food. Let’s hope democracy breeds more health awareness.

:: Beware of Dogs ::

Romania is a safe country with really friendly people (outside of the service industry of course). In most guide books they don’t even mention any dangers of traveling to the country… well, almost. We did read about the stray dog problem the country has while on the plane flying into Bucharest. Apparently they have over 1million homeless dogs wandering the capital city which have the tendency to form packs at night and may become violent if provoked. Kind of like the gangs in New York or LA but with wet noses and waggly tails.

Romanian Stray Dogs

The rumors are actually true, maybe exaggerated, but true nonetheless. We didn’t see any homeless people, but we did see many homeless dogs and some very adorable homeless puppies, none of which seemed violent. So how did this happen? The story goes that canines we’re the preffered house pet and when communism threw everyone into big block apartment buildings, the dogs were released to live on the streets because their owners didn’t think the noble animals should be forced to live in such confined quarters. The dogs then became outdoor animals, but all was not lost. They all became the responsibilty of the community. So, like the good communists they were, the people took care of all the dogs and most have survived the years. The only problem is that these wild dogs are not spayed or nuetered and therfore, the population grows and the breeds become very, very mixed, resulting in over 1 million homeless muts.

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5 responses

27 06 2008
Rhonda

Love the cultural comments Gage. And I think your writing skills are great. Jen can paint a beautiful picture of the area & you can talk about the details. Very designery. That’s f*in’ teamwork.

27 06 2008
Dana

for me, the “culture shock” really sits in when I get back to the states. watching americans take for granted everything we have, without a clue nor a care for what it’s like in the world, can make one’s stomach turn a few times.

glad you guys are having such a great time. keep exploring and updating, we’re definitely enjoying the posts.

28 06 2008
gageam

Dear Readers,

We’ve received a negative comment regarding our culture shock observations that was posted by an Anonymous reader. To avoid any backlash directed at our critic, we’ve chosen not to make this comment public.

Rather, we would like to apologize to anyone that we offended through our comments on Romanian culture. The comments we made were brief notes on subjects that could have warranted a novel. Therefore, our critic pointed out that we misrepresented the culture by blaming everything on past communism instead of on other issues such as the current relative poverty.

We would like to thank the anonymous writer for reading our blog and taking the time to critique our comments. In the future we will do our best to explain our comments better. Thank you all for reading about our adventures.

Best Regards,
Gage

28 06 2008
Romenian

I am a Romanian and this was just lovely. I mean not only did I not feel offended, but it’s so refreshing to see Bucharest and Romania described by a foreign set of (candid) eyes!

The comments on driving on the sidewalk seem a bit exaggerated to me, but I guess even the rares of occurrences looks weird to a visitor. Hope to see that changed in the future as more parking space is build, just like the stray dogs problem was reduced in the last years… yes! Bucharest used to have even more dogs on the streets…

I remember my ex boss, a Briton, being amazed upon seeing such a urban canine waiting fora green light to cross the street in downtown Bucharest! 🙂

29 06 2008
Kathy

I continue to thoroughly enjoy both of your posts. Thank you for keeping us abreast of the sites, sounds, aromas (of all kinds!), cultures and colors of your travels!!

Love,
Kathy

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