experience romania

Bucharest city tales: The unexpected characters and their stories from Romanian street life

Columnist Eleonore af Schaumburg-Lippe writes in her weekly column about life as an expat in Romania. This week she writes about people in the streets of Bucharest she has noticed during some of her many walks, people who stand out, who seem to have interesting stories, making them characters in the Romanian street life.

It is not a secret that I like to walk a lot and often when I go to work or go for a walk I notice some people who by first look do not seem to stand out from the crowd. But then I begin to see them more and more often, and I become curious.

It all began one day when I was walking down Calea Victoriei after work, I was stopped by this well dressed older lady who reminded me of my grandmother. By rule I don’t give money when asked for it, usually I just smile and say ‘criza nu bani’, (crisis, no money ) which usually makes people smile, she also smiled but then asked me in English: Where are you from? I answered Denmark and we actually ended up talking walking together all the way towards Piata Unirii.

And it became a very cozy conversation about life in general.

She showed me many pictures in black and white, that she had in a plastic bag, and they definitely looked like a younger version of her , she said she had been among the higher society of Romania during Communism, and had been married to an ambassador, and on the pictures she showed me, you could see the better living, she was wearing beautiful dresses, sitting at dinners with important looking people. She also told me that suddenly one day she got sick, but with what, I can’t remember. She had surgery in Italy, but it did not go well. Later her husband died, and now after communism she couldn’t afford to pay for the medicine etc. and had to ask people in the street for help, and she kept saying “I was a good communist, why will nobody help me today? I have asked the people from my past, but they don’t want to help me”.

There was something about her story that touched my heart. Maybe people will call me naïve, but I gave her some money to cover her medicine for a little while and she thanked me many times and even gave me a big hug. If her story is true I can’t say, but no matter what, the smile on her face during our walk and chat was worth it all.

Another person I have noticed, but never talked to, is a man who always walks the streets of central Bucharest carrying two green shopping bags from Mega Image, where he has neatly folded his clothes. He is dressed and looks ordinary, just like any other man walking down the street on the way somewhere, but then I noticed one day that he always walks around in the same clothes, and during summers his pants are kept up not with a belt but with a sort of elastic. One day I saw him do something that touched my heart. I noticed that he was sitting on a bench near Piata Universitatii and he took out his wallet, which contained a few lei, but then he took out a picture in black and white of a family, kissed it and made a prayer and looked up at the sky for a minute or two. I of course don’t know his story, but I felt I saw a little part of it.

Then in Piata Amzei there is a man who often sits in front of the pharmacy. He doesn’t beg for money but just walks around. He seems a bit different, like he is not really normal, meaning he talks to himself, he is not that tall and mostly wears black even during summer and his hair is always quiet messy. One day as I was walking by him I noticed he was sitting and drawing on a sketching block and to my surprise he could really draw. With a black pen he was drawing the street life and it was really good and accurate. The sad thing is that I have only seen him draw only this one time and I pass him almost every day to work, so maybe I should buy him a block and a pen.

There are of course more people who stand out and maybe if you begin to look during one of you walks you will also notice people with interesting stories to be heard and who stand out from the crowd in your area too.

By Eleonore af Schaumburg-Lippe, columnist

Eleonore is Danish, she holds a BA in Organization and Management and specializes in Corporate Communication & Strategic Development. She is also a Market Economist and a Multimedia Designer. She is currently working in Bucharest as the Executive Director of UAPR the Romanian Advertising Association. As a Danish Viking in Romania, with a great passion for ’covrigi’, she has a burning desire to find out more about Romania especially Bucharest, and enlighten the small differences in the culture between Denmark and Romania.. Her weekly columns will give you insights into an expats life in Bucharest written with humor and a big Danish smile.

(photo source: sxc.hu)