Romania Insider stories: Creating a scene
During a recent visit to the marvelous city of Sibiu I found myself sitting in a café terrace drinking a beer and watching the world go by, as you do, on a warm sunny day. The world going by included around 15 men in full Scottish Highland dress, obviously going to a late Spring wedding, and I considered talking to them to find out what was going on. I didn’t, firstly because the combination of sun and beer had made me strangely inactive at the time and secondly, because it was after 1 pm in the afternoon and the men were completely sober. This means that they were not Scottish at all.
However, they did remind me of the time when I was invited to a Romanian wedding, an invitation that included a request from the bride that I wear a kilt. I had to think about this for a while as I have worn one only four times in my life and have never particularly enjoyed the experience; not least because modern Highland dress is an invention foisted on us by the same class of people who banned the wearing of tartan in the first place, after one of our periodic rebellions. But I wanted to help make my friends’ wedding an occasion to remember and so I agreed, borrowing an outfit with a Hunting Stewart kilt from a very good English friend of mine in Bucharest. Strangely his girth is half mine but his kilt is almost too big for me, a mysterious garment indeed.
While Sibiu is a relatively cosmopolitan city, used to seeing all manner of strange sights, this particular wedding took place in Bacau. Now, except for weddings, Hampden Park or Glasgow Central Station on days in which international football matches are taking place, it is unusual to see a kilt wandering around Glasgow so it is perhaps easy to imagine the reaction in a small city in Moldavia where Highland dress may never have been witnessed by most of the good people before.
Indeed Victor Ponta was also in Bacau that weekend, supporting his party’s candidates in local elections and attending a motor rally, a sport about which he is passionate. We were staying at the same hotel and I saw him a few times. But I know whose appearance was most memorable on the day as I walked through hotel reception and out into the street and it wasn’t our famous new Prime Minister. I was harshly stared at wherever I went by men, women, children, cats and dogs. It is not considered rude to stare in Bacau.
As I walked along the street to one of the many impressive Orthodox churches that decorate the city an old man, leaning on his garden gate, shouted to me at the top of his voice. I went over to see him and we hugged and waved our arms around for a few minutes, easily overcoming our significant language barrier. He called his wife to come out to meet the ‘Scotsian’ and she hugged me as well. I could still be there, in their sitting room, drinking palinca and enjoying one of those regular and wonderful moments of genuine warmth and solidarity that Scottish travelers often encounter.
To some extent I wasn’t surprised by the reaction I received. There was no mocking or nastiness, just genuine curiosity and the initially terrified shock seen on the faces of a number of small children in a park. However, one thing did intrigue me and that was how close the experience took me to the world of women because every man I met and shook hands with looked briefly into my eyes and then immediately down at my legs…
Maybe it’s true after all, men will chase anything in a skirt. Even me.
By Ronnie Smith
Ronnie Smith is Scottish and now lives in Romania, working as a professional training business consultant and communication coach. He is also a teacher of political science, a political and social commentator and a writer of fiction.