Humor in Romania: from survival method during communism to ice breaker in business

Romanians are by nature fun loving, warm, hospitable, playful, with an innate sense of humor, sometimes spiced with irony. Humor is a common part of the Romanian business culture. Let us know what was your experience in what concerns humor in Romania – feel free to comment after reading the article below.

By Irina Budrina

Humour is part of the Romanian character, which includes even a fine appreciation of the absurd. It can be expressed spontaneously, at a different stage of business relationship. It is a tool to get to know people better, to establish better communication and to smooth the hardships in teams at work.

In Romania, humor was and still is very much appreciated. Some say, it was a way to survive through the communist past. It has been tied into the nation’s value system, education and background. In a way, it is like children’s lullabies: you need to grow up with them in order to appreciate them.

Humor serves different functions in different types of cultures. The more individualistic a culture, a group of people or an individual are, the more humor and jokes serve to gain attention. The reason being that people in most individualistic societies (these are all native English speaking countries) are good in presenting themselves, but generally bad in listening. That’s why communication training – teaching ‘How to get my message across?’ – is of utmost importance in these societies. That’s why communication training tops the lists of management and leadership trainings there. That’s why presentations, speeches, trainings by people raised in these countries often start with jokes and humor, in order to establish contact and to gain attention. Also after that, humor is interspersed whenever felt necessary to again raise attention

Less so in collectivistic cultures. Humor and jokes may be used more cautiously, and introduced only once a satisfactory relationship has been established which is hoped to withstand the risk of misunderstandings.

For example, humor in Germany. An individualistic culture, but less strongly than most other highly developed Western countries. Humor is used after a contact has been established and the work has been done. One wants first to be seen as a business person, to be taken seriously and only after, as a kind of reward and self-reward, “now we are allowed to move on to the lighter part” of the encounter. Jokes are also used to reduce tension or fill silence which itself is felt as creating tension (more than in England; this goes with the higher uncertainty avoidance in Germany).

Below is a joke I heard from one of my Romanian friends, who lived and worked in Germany for many years:

A foreign tourist in Germany asks for the way. The German broods on it, and then describes, „First, drive straight on, then you have to turn right at the third traffic light. You will pass a church. Achtung! It can easily be over-looked behind trees! 340 meters after the church the street will branch out. Follow the one half-left. Then you will cross – wait a minute – one, two, three, yes, three pedestrian crossings. Careful, don’t count the pedestrian overcrossing in between. After the third pedestrian crossing drive on for six more blocks. Then you must veer right, sharp right, don’t get confused with the other road turning right. Then, as soon as you see a tall building in the distance – the one at the left, not at the right! – you must get in the left lane! At the next crossing turn left, then again take the second right, and the street you are looking for will be the T-crossroad you are driving towards. It’s easy to find!”

The foreigner responds wearily, “thank you.”

The German, „What do you mean ‘thank you’? REPEAT!”

The Romanian friend who told me this joke also said: “ I have worked with German colleagues for a long time. You are right when saying they have humor and when stressing the fact that they prefer starting with establishing a credible business relationship first. Humor is indeed something they share when feeling more confident with the other person and to reward a fruitful business relationship.”

“It took me some time to realize this and I may have misused humor with these colleagues in the beginning. I very much like humor and tend to use it spontaneously when I feel comfortable. They kept some distance and made me feel “the outsider” since they could less establish that business relationship they were looking for. After working together on a few projects, they finally accepted me as I was and we did have very nice moments. Ever since, humor has never been an obstacle… on the contrary,” my friend also told me.

Let’s try a fun, easy exercise:

If you think of Germans as coconuts and US Americans as peaches, what fruit would best be used to describe Romanians.

A. Kiwi–thin-skinned, but no big nut to crack.

B. Melons–you know where to cut in to find the sweet part.

C. Strawberries–nothing to peel, everything is accessible.

What do you think? Also, feel free to share jokes you have heard in Romania and jokes that have worked (or not) during your business meetings in the country. Post your comments below.

Irina Budrina, irina-budrina [at] hotmail.com

Romania Insider
Free Newsletters

Be up to speed with what’s happening in Romania! Choose from our 7 newsletters, covering the entire array of business, social, politics, and entertainment news

Subscribe now