Bucharest City Tales: What to do when Romania gets you down?

Columnist Eleonore af Schaumburg-Lippe writes in her weekly column about life as an expat in Romania. This week she tells about life in Romania, when the road gets bumpy.

It is not about you changing Romania, Romania changes you. At one point you will feel frustrated; all expats knows this feeling, sadly it is something we all think we have to deal with alone. But interestingly enough, each time I talked with an expat this story about being frustrated comes up just in different versions.

And it’s not only expats who get this feeling, Romanians get frustrated too. Most expats have the possibility to leave Romania for a little while and get new energy. The rule is to try and go abroad every three months, but each person has their own frustration level, so the timeline may vary.

People have a tendency to look strangely at me, and ask me why do I speak to people like taxi drivers, shop keepers, flower ladies, homeless people, and people living on the street. “You shouldn’t associate with people like that,” they say. It is like they see me ‘snobbing’ down, and they just don’t understand why I would take the time to talk with someone that they see as people from the lower hierarchy here in Romania. Because there is a hierarchy here in Romania.

All I can say is that I talk with everybody irrespective of their place on the social ladder, often I don’t even think about it or I don’t even know how important the people I talk to are, or what they do. What I like to hear is their stories and how they see life. And no matter where they are to be found on the social ladder, there is always a great story to be heard. I have heard high ranking businessmen talking about their hometowns with passion in their eyes. I have sung along with taxi drivers listening to Elvis Presley and shared a great moment just listening to music and sharing stories about favorite musicians.

I talked with the lady of the night, I even quiet impulsively celebrated her birthday with a dear friend by bringing some food and a little present, when we found out it was her birthday, on a cold November day, when she was trying to find shelter in my entrance. I talked with my homeless friend Allejandro about dreaming of a better life, I have talked with Romanians abroad and asked them about their stories.

So don’t judge people so much. Often the balance between rich and poor is a fine line, life can change and situations can change, so the one who had nothing will maybe someday have more and vice versa.

In my experience so far, as life goes on, people remember how you treat them in the past. I have been in situations where I needed help, where some of my friend who always hangs out on the street, told the others people from the street to leave me alone and not bother me in my recovery. One day, a lady I had always been giving a cigarette to, asked me for a cigarette, and I told her I didn’t have any, and what happened was that she ended up giving me a cigarette instead.

A few times, when I went with a taxi and I had two covrigi (pretzels), I would share with the taxi driver, he could be hungry too. And then another day, a taxi driver asked me if I wanted a covrig; so you never know what can happen and how your good deed is paid back.

I have experienced rise and fall, fall and rise during my life. What I can conclude from that journey is that sadly quite often not the ones you’d expect to help you do so, but rather the people you least expected help you move forward and overcome the obstacles life can bring.

So don’t worry if you get this frustration feeling of Romania winning over you, that you just don’t seem to be able to at least even out this 1-0 game. It’s normal, you just have to learn to deal with it. There can be many ways: let the feeling pass you, it is okay to get frustrated, you just have to find out why you are frustrated and maybe can you change things or a situation.

The things you can’t change, the ones that are out of your power to change, let them go, don’t worry about them. The things you can change, make a plan mentally or write down the next steps you want to take. But in Romania, don’t expect you’ll be able to follow a plan without ever changing it. But the fact that you have a strategy, a direction and a goal will ease your frustrations.

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. 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 expat’s life in Bucharest written with humor and a big Danish smile.