The culture of Romania has been shaped by a difficult history, including its communist occupation. As a partial result of this, many locals may seem guarded and abrupt when it comes to dealing with foreigners. However, this should be seen in context. After getting past some initial tensions, expats will find that most Romanians are warm, friendly and welcoming.
That said, the country has opened up to the world at large, meaning that the challenges expats face when adjusting to life in Romania are diminishing as it becomes increasingly Westernised. Despite this, there is much that makes Romania unique and that might inspire some degree of culture shock.
Language barrier in Romania
The country’s official language is Romanian, which is closely related to Italian and influenced by a mixture of Baltic and Slavic languages. The second most common language is Hungarian, which is mostly spoken in the Transylvania region.
Expats will be relieved to find that English speakers are easy to come by in major cities and are frequently very helpful if a foreigner gets lost. English-speaking expats sometimes find they can shop and complete basic transactions by saying no more than “hello” (bună ziua) and “thank you” (mulţumesc) in Romanian.
Finding a job, on the other hand, will likely require a few months of language training. The good news is that there are several language schools in Romania.
Bureaucracy and corruption in Romania
The largest cause of culture shock for expats often comes from the country's inefficient bureaucracy, poor infrastructure and the high levels of corruption.
Corruption is practised on a spectrum and can be as inoffensive as offering a bouquet of flowers to a nurse in the hospital or as blatant as delivering an envelope full of cash to a doctor to prevent negligence.
Expats navigating the channels of government and the business world often struggle to accept and conform to this age-old habit.
It’s recommended that expats who regularly negotiate business deals or interact with the government receive cross-cultural training to become more adept at navigating Romania’s bureaucracy and incidences of corruption.
Lack of convenience in Romania
Expats moving to Romania should prepare themselves for a few everyday inconveniences. For example, 24-hour stores are rare and, while supermarkets are well-stocked, there is a lack of choice between brands.
Other small inconveniences include people ignoring smoking bans in public places, drivers disregarding the rules of the road (and even driving on the pavement), and the large population of stray dogs in Bucharest.
Traffic can especially be a nightmare for expats living and working in Romania, which has some of the worst road safety statistics in Europe.
Food in Romania
Romanian food is not known for being especially healthy, but it certainly is worth sampling. Fatty meat, cheese, double cream and oily sauces are local staples. Expats who plan to indulge will need to keep an eye on their cholesterol levels.
Some of the best-known Romanian specialities include mici (grilled meatballs), sarmale (minced meat rolled in cabbage leaves) and papanasi (Romanian doughnuts with cream and soft cheese).
Local beer and wines are also worth trying. Expats who enjoy a drink should be sure to sample țuică, a strong and fragrant plum brandy aperitif.
Roma people in Romania
While expats from Western Europe or North America may hold a romanticised view of the Roma people, most locals don’t share this idea. Expressing positive or even neutral attitudes toward them will often garner stern looks or even flat-out hostility. Many Romanians attribute their distaste towards the Roma to the perceived high levels of criminality in this group. However, it is important to bear in mind that crime exists in all communities, especially socially excluded or disadvantaged groups.
►For an overview of the housing market, see Accommodation in Romania
"People here have a different way of solving problems – it takes longer (partly because of the dreadful state system), and getting things done often involves giving ‘gifts’ to open doors." Read more of Oana's thoughts on settling back into life in Romania.
Are you an expat living in Romania?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Romania. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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