Romania is the land of myth and legend, made beautiful by its rolling hills, verdant plains and foreboding mountain peaks, and refined by its rich culture and history. Besides being the only Latin country of the fractured Balkans, Romania has also managed to survive the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, and, following the fall of the ruling communist regime, has succeeded in reinventing what it means to be Romanian.
Romania is located in South-eastern Europe, though you’ll rarely hear a local agree with that notion – they wholeheartedly believe they live in Central Europe. The country is bordered by Bulgaria to the south and Serbia to the southwest, Ukraine and Moldova to the northeast, and Hungary to the northwest.
In recent years, Romania has managed to create a new cultural identity for its people. A vast community of amateur singers, actors, painters and all-around artisans are making a name for themselves and for the country they live in, putting their own spin on Westernised art. Over by the north, deep in Transylvania, are villages and monasteries hundreds of years old, which have managed to cling to the old ways, retaining the unique charm that has been lost by their more civilised southern cousins.
Horse-drawn carriages, courtyard parties held by both the old and the young, market stalls selling homemade chocolate and effigies of Orthodox saints are common sights in the region the Romanian natives call Ardeal.
But a rich culture is not the only thing Romania can boast of. The Carpathian Mountains wind across the heart of the country, their snow-capped peaks hiding thousands of tall evergreen pines, the eternal sentinels of the land.
Droves of deer roam the untamed forests, wolves and brown bears hunt for prey and blueberries, while the myriad of birds flying above the treetops stop every so often to dip their beaks in the crystalline rivers flowing down the mountains.
Facts and Statistics
Capital: Bucharest (1,883,425)
The capital of Romania is situated on the banks of the Dambovita River. Its residents have taken to nicknaming it Little Paris, or, more grandly, the Paris of the East. It is the most prosperous city in the country, and is renowned for its elegant architecture, vibrant nightlife and museums.
Population: 19,511,000 While most of Europe has undergone drastic urbanisation, the Romanian populace is much more spread out, refusing to prioritise urban population centres. Cities exist and prosper as expected, but a large number of families still live and thrive in the countryside.
Ethnicity: 88.9% Romanian, 6.5% Hungarian, 3.3% Romani, 0.2% Ukrainian, 0.2% German, 0.2% Turkish, 0.7% other Transylvania is the heart of Romanian multiculturalism, being host to both native Romanians and Hungarians, as well as the descendants of Saxon immigrants, which make up the German population. The Roma people are more common in the south, especially in the capital.
Religion: 81% Eastern Orthodox, 6.2% Protestant, 5.1% Catholic, 7.7% other Ever since the Middle Ages, the land that is now Romania had been under the wing of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Modern Romania, however, harbours a modest number of Protestant and Greek Catholic adherents. In recent years, a large amount of youth has taken to adopting militant atheism, though it does not signal any decline in Orthodox Christian belief.
Language: 90% Romanian, 7% Hungarian, 1.5% German, 1.5% other Some of the inhabitants of Transylvania are able to speak both Romanian and Hungarian, while those raised in German households or former Saxon cities are taught German in school. Other languages, like Russian, are a relic of a bygone age, though most of the elderly are able to understand, if not speak, the Russian language. French used to be seen as the language of the civilised west, and is held in high regard.
Etiquette and Customs
Romanians are a hospitable people who do not shy away from small talk. Expect to talk about things like the well-being of your family, recent travels or interesting events before getting to the business at hand.
What gets you far anywhere else will do so in Romania too. A firm handshake and maintaining eye contact is the proper way to greet one another. Hugs are reserved for friends or relatives. First names are freely given, though it is polite to address acquaintances not of your age by an honorific title (such as Mr. or Ms. – ‘Domnul’ and ‘Doamna’ respectively) and the family name.
Women are usually greeted by kissing their cheeks, starting with the left. On formal occasions, such as weddings, when visiting relatives or the elderly, or seeing someone you have not seen in a long time, cheek kissing is expected. Young people tend to consider the act of kissing a woman’s hand as outdated and overly refined, though most certainly appreciate the act and consider it gentlemanly.
Most Romanians tend to be honest and open about themselves, freely sharing private information, even with acquaintances. Their reaction to criticism or hostile opinions is quite varied – it can be ignored or taken very seriously. When talking to people, it is a good rule of thumb to maintain direct eye contact. Looking in another direction while someone is talking to you could be construed as you ignoring them.
It is acceptable to be drunk or to smoke in public, up to a certain point. Being excessively drunk will undoubtedly bring ridicule, as Romanians can be very judgemental. As of 2016, it is illegal to smoke indoors.
Gifting and Dining
When invited to a dinner, it is polite to bring a gift, though not expected. Romanians are fiercely protective of their home, and being uncourteous when in someone’s house is seen as a grave offence.
Gifts of alcohol and flowers are usually the most common, and you can never go wrong with those. However, make sure to check that the flowers are odd-numbered – even numbers are reserved for the dead. If you do bring a gift, make sure it is wrapped. Nine times out of ten, the gift will be opened as soon as it is received.
In Romanian society, it is most polite to deny the gift you are offered. While reactions can vary, some will refuse the gift altogether, while some will offer to pay you for it. Nevertheless, most will be deeply moved by the act. In Romania, it’s the thought that counts.
You should dress formally, unless invited to dress in a more casual manner, and should be told where to be seated, though this is no longer the case in the southern part of the country, where you can choose your seat. In almost all Romanian households you are expected to take off your shoes when entering. Table manners are continental. Keep your wrists on the table, leave the napkin there too, and hold the fork in your left hand while the knife is in your right. As usual, do not rest your elbows on the table. After finishing eating, expect to be offered a second helping. Refusals are not taken seriously, as Romanians feel obliged to be a good host. If you do not want to eat a second helping, you should insist you’re full. Do not forget to be courteous and complement the food. Even if your soup is hot, do not blow on it. Let it cool by itself. While sopping up leftover sauce with your bread and eating it is acceptable around friends or family, it is ill-mannered around people you do not know as well. It is considered impolite to not finish what is on your plate, though an apology will address the issue.
Culture and Society
Romanians tend to be relatively introverted and shy, though once they open up, you are guaranteed to form a lasting friendship. First impressions count, and most choose to be silent rather than risking saying something impolite or foolish. Meeting someone’s gaze in public is not as taboo as in other countries in Europe, though, unsurprisingly, staring is.
Despite their shyness, Romanians are exceedingly friendly people. While some choose to avoid uncomfortable social situations, others freely socialise in the streets, restaurants or cafes and will often strike up conversations with complete strangers on the bus. As a matter of fact, while not all Romanians are comfortable speaking English, you will undoubtedly find some who will be more than willing to practice their knowledge of the language with you. Breaking the language barrier between natives and strangers is quite a common pastime, with tourists being quite a rarity in areas that are not near Bucharest.
As such, many take advantage of these opportunities by engaging in conversation and offering personal tips, tricks and hints to better familiarise yourself with the country. Finding impromptu drinking buddies is easy.
Romania is a patriarchal society. The elderly are respected and cherished for their wisdom and valuable advice, and in more rural communities are often expected to sit at the head of the table. Because of this, it is expected to greet a woman’s husband first before acknowledging her. This does not necessarily apply to friends or family.
The most senior members of a particular organisation or family are usually the de-facto leaders of the aforementioned group, and are expected, if not to lead, at least to offer their advice, drawing upon a lifetime of experience. The head of the family is usually the oldest man of the current generation.
Romania is a highly superstitious country, the result of years and years of mingling with the local Slavic population. Its folklore is rich with myths, and rumours circulate wildly in more rural areas.
For example, if a black cat crosses your path, you will be cursed with bad luck. You can remedy this by taking three steps backwards and spitting on the ground. Furthermore, if you are whistling in your house, you are inviting evil spirits into it. Walking underneath a ladder will brings seven years of bad luck, and so will breaking a mirror.
Business and Immigration
Romania is still heavily bureaucratic, which makes conducting business a slow, arduous process that often requires you to run from place to place. Many immigrants find themselves wading through hundreds of papers and laws in order to receive documents that would otherwise have been easily acquired.
Forming Business Relationships
Business in Romania is highly formal, and it is expected that you use proper etiquette. This does not always hold up in the workplace – people who have gotten to know each other can skip the formalities and be as comfortable as they desire around one another, within reason.
In regards to personality, Romanians tend to be relatively humble and dislike people who boast. They prefer polite, friendly and funny people to detached or arrogant ones. Developing a personal relationship with a Romanian colleague is a process that should not be rushed. Some can be slow to open themselves up to a stranger, though once they do they will consider you one of their own.
Once you have established a relationship with someone, he will, in turn, introduce you to the groups in the workplace you could not have interacted with so easily. Developed relationships are strictly personal, and are not taken into account when assessing the work you do for the company.
Business meetings should be announced several weeks before. People are often unavailable during Christmas and Easter and one or two weeks before and after. It is not customary to bring gifts to meetings.
Punctuality is held in very high regard, and you should always arrive on time. Meetings tend to be formal, as usual, and you should be told where to sit. It is suggested you spend time to get to know the people you will conduct the meeting with. Taking off your suit jacket before the most senior member in the room does is seen as a serious breach of protocol, though in more relaxed companies, this custom is overlooked.
When negotiating, take care, as Romanians tend to be stubborn when it comes to dealing with foreigners. Many are determined not to be taken for fools and will prove themselves to be tough negotiators. Avoid being too direct or confrontational where you can.
Finally, exchanging business cards is done as usual. If your company was founded a long time ago, it is suggested you include the founding date on your business card, as Romanians will be impressed by that.
Advice for Relocating
If you would like to move to Romania, you might find that it is a bit trickier than in other countries. Local bureaucracies often overlap one another, and you will undoubtedly have to jump through many hoops to be able to get what you need. Nevertheless, the raw beauty and vivid culture of Romania is reason alone to live there.
After the 1989 Revolution, many plots of land became extraordinarily cheap, encouraging opportunists to invest and plan in architecture and real estate. The financial crisis of 2008 hit Romania just as hard as any other country in Europe, and though it is quickly recovering, the economy is still reeling.
The minimum wage is only 217€ a month, so it is no surprise that things in Romania tend to be very cheap in comparison to the rest of Europe. Assuming that you have a budget of 100€, you could comfortably buy yourself a pair of Adidas trainers, eat at three different restaurants, watch a movie and still have money left for a dozen beers.
Romania is a fairly large country, and travelling it can take some time. Fortunately, you can choose to travel by train, or, if you’re in a city, by tram, taxi or car. Taxis are usually very cheap, costing no more than 50€ cents per kilometre, and are used quite often by the native population.