I don’t know what it is but I seem to experience contrasts everyday while being unconscious of them. A friend of mine suggested that I write about the contrasts in Romania, but I hadn’t sat down and thought about it; ever.
So, after some brainstorming and more than a little reflection, I want to run you through the contrasts in this country, as I see it.
The Healthy vs. The Un-Healthy
If I could describe the way Romanians look after themselves, it would be with the quote:
“My body is a temple”
You really do. And for obvious reasons. The fresh food is fantastic. No pesticides. Or genetically modified. No minerals and vitamins added. Nu. Good, old fresh fruit and vegetables. The way they are meant to be. Natural.
This, added with a general healthy mindset, mean that the overall population is looking good! It’s the California of the East. Jogging, gym, salads. It’s infectious.
However, on the flip side, you can smoke pretty much anywhere. And quite a lot of people do. Although, it is going slowly out of fashion.
And some of the traditional food; there is a tendency towards frying in copious amounts of oil.
Mici. That can’t be healthy for you. A greasy mix of lamb and beef, shaped into a little sausage.
Stick to the Sarmale; at least that has some greens in it!
Summer and Winter
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Yes Ashley, of course Summer and Winter are a contrast. That’s the point.” Well, yes, I certainly couldn’t disagree with you there. However, the contrast itself is so much more pronounced here then back home.
The seasons in the UK are very difficult to differentiate between; you either get grey and cold or grey, wet and cold. Literally. And so, when I came to Romania, not only for the first time but also now that I live here, it was a completely new experience.
Let’s start with Summer considering it is almost upon us. I’ve experienced the same heat on holidays before but that’s just it. Holidays last for a finite amount of time. Therefore, you can get your suntan for two weeks and then hope to keep it for as long as possible when you get home. Ah, the famous Sun Tan. A symbol of health, prosperity and too much free time.
Here, I’ve had to live with the heat. And by God,, does it get hot. It’s pushed the 40 Celsius mark in Bucharest since I’ve arrived. It’s the worst at night. You can be wearing next to nothing and still be sweating. You daren’t put on the air conditioning for fear of getting ill. And if you open the window, the room becomes an oven.
And Winter. Yep, you guessed it. Bloody cold. As my Romanian friends would say: “But you’re used to the cold, why are you complaining?” This is true, to a degree. But I’ve never known anything like this. The best thing about Romanian winters is the fact that they are proper winters. Snow and freezing temperatures. Oh, and something I commend Romania for and for which the UK really can’t get right; the infrastructure in place to deal with the snow. If, back home, we get even the slightest covering of snow, the whole country grinds to a halt. Here, you can have a couple of feet and the airports are still open, the roads are functioning and people are still alive.
Expensive Food - Cheap Alcohol
The price of your normal weekly grocery shop is rather similar to England, I believe. I don’t know how this has managed to come about but it can’t be sustainable. I would say that, yes, I haven’t shopped in England for the best part of 2 years and, although, I do go back from time to time, I am not particularly aware of the current prices. I’m sure they haven’t got less.
Contrast this with the bargains you can get when buying alcohol and cigarettes. Currently, the price of a very tasty, local beer in the supermarket is around 3 RON (50p or 70 cents). And a pack of 20, again very decent cigarettes, is around 15 RON (£2.30 or $3. 60).
I do wonder which is more important…
Come to Romania. Go out on a Friday or Saturday night. First thing you notice? How good everyone looks. I mean really good.
And that’s the issue. The majority of people are so focused on how they look that they sometimes forget the more important things in life. Now, as usual, don’t get me wrong here. I am not preaching. I know that is pretty much the same everywhere. Where there is consumerism, there is shallowness.
But I do feel it is more accentuated here.
However, you have all of the aforementioned observations in parallel with extreme poverty. Beggars are common place and are a part of everyday life. You see people walking on the roads near traffic lights, going from car to car asking for money. You see girls trying to sell you flowers when you’re walking with a girl in the Old Town. You see old people with some very serious physical defects, just laying on the sidewalk, in pretty bad shape. All of this becomes less noticeable the more you’re here. And although this may seem shocking, it’s normal.
Let’s get collect all the taxes from the businesses and people in Bucharest and use it to solve these problems; for good. Oh, wait…isn’t that the Government’s job?
This one really gets to me.
Standing in a line. Whether it be the supermarket or the bank. Some Romanian’s won’t respect your personal space.
They’ll be 2 cm from the back of your neck and see no problem with it.
I can’t handle it. I am so used to leaving a respectful amount of space between me and the next person that it’s just unfathomable for me. I’ve been so close to saying something at times but never yet.
You know who you are. Please, take a step back.
I meet, and have met, a fair few people in my time here and always find it to be an enjoyable experience. Meeting new people, whether it be personal or business, is enlightening and a beneficial learning curve.
The undeniable positive that can be attributed to Romania is your openness to and in meeting with new and different people. The majority are willing to get together and discuss all manner of subjects. And this is unlike anything I’ve experienced elsewhere. The UK is closed to ideas and uniqueness. Romania: stay like this.
Where’s the contrast here, I hear you ask. Well, although business meetings are plentiful, the results from them are dubious to say the least. I have had many a meeting where the other parties have been very positive, actively engaged in the discussion and have put forward ideas regarding how we can work together. And then nothing. Zero. No answers to telephone calls, emails or messages. “All quiet on the Western Front.” Or shall I say Eastern.
Warmth and the lack of
Go into any bar or restaurant, as discussed in one of my previous articles, and you’ll most likely receive cold, robotic customer service. Devoid of emotion. “What do you want? Here it is. This is the price. Good bye.”
This becomes stranger when you experience being invited into someone’s home. Completely different story. They go head over heels to ensure that you are made to feel welcome, have everything you could desire and always have a full belly.
Perhaps, it has something to do with the setting. It’s more personal at home.
Pessimism and Dismay
We all know how unfair the foreign media coverage is of Romania. We all know that it isn’t a true representation. We all know that foreigners perceive the Gypsy people as Romanian. We all know how frustrating this is for Romanian people.
But I don’t see any real effort to change this. We need to get a team of people together, create a tv show, a youtube video etc and get the true Romanian image out there. ‘The Romanians Are Coming’ was a terrible misrepresentation of Romania, in my opinion. There needs to be a counter-argument against published media, such as that. On the world stage.
Anyone with me?
I have always, and will continue to say that Romania is a great place to live. And for all its vast contrasts, it is a place with a huge amount of potential. Just got to get the right balance.
“Contrast increases the splendor of beauty, but it disturbs it’s influence; it adds to its attractiveness, but diminishes it’s power.” - John Ruskin
By Ashley Parry, guest writer
(Photo source: Cosul de Legume Facebook page)