The culture of Romania has been shaped by a difficult history. Locals value privacy and don't tend to trust strangers readily. As a result, Romanians may initially seem distant and formal when it comes to dealing with foreigners. It's not always easy to progress to a friendship, but expats who manage to do so will find that Romanians are warm, friendly and welcoming to those they trust.
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. Preparation, and learning about the local culture beforehand, is vital to navigating some of these stresses.
Language barrier in Romania
The country's official language is Romanian, which is spoken by nearly 90 percent of the population. The second most common language is Hungarian, which is spoken by just under 7 percent and is most prominent in the Transylvania region.
Expats will be relieved to find that the major cities have a lot of English speakers who are generally extremely helpful when 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.
Dining in Romania
Romanians are proud of their local cuisine and enjoy hosting. It's a treat to be invited for dinner at a Romanian's house, and guests can expect to be fully catered to.
It's polite to take one's shoes off at the front door. Expats should look to see if their host or fellow guests are wearing shoes and follow suit. Bringing a small gift for the host, such as flowers, a box of chocolate or liquor, is a nice touch and shows appreciation for the invitation.
When eating, be sure to finish the entire plate. Leaving anything behind implies that the food wasn't good enough. Expect to be offered a second or even third helping. Diners may wish to politely decline at first – the host will then offer again, at which point they should accept the offer. Once full, it's okay to say no to additional helpings, but guests should emphasise their enjoyment of the meal in order to reassure hosts that the refusal is not due to dissatisfaction with the food.
Bureaucracy and corruption in Romania
The most significant cause of culture shock for expats often comes from the country's inefficient bureaucracy, poor infrastructure and high levels of corruption. Corruption exists on a spectrum and can be as innocuous 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 adapt to this. 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.
Time in Romania
In Romania, sticking to precise timing for dinner and business appointments is essential. However, for more casual social gatherings or parties, expats should aim to arrive about 15 minutes after the starting time. Showing up right on time for social gatherings, especially those hosted at someone's home, can be awkward and will likely inconvenience the host.
Roma people in Romania
While expats from Western Europe or North America may have 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. That said, it is important to remember that crime exists in all communities, and attributing a higher likelihood of criminal behaviour to one specific group may not accurately reflect the broader context of social conditions and inequalities.
►For an overview of the housing market, see Accommodation in Romania
"Public services don’t really function efficiently. I have really had to adjust to systems not operating as expected. This is especially true for the postal service. I received a package 10 months late. Sometimes things don’t arrive at all.
I miss a more diverse food scene. Romania has a lot less restaurant diversity than other European capitals. Things are changing with a thriving food truck scene, but unfortunately, they aren’t available in the winter, so dining options aren’t great for half of the year." Read about Jessica, an American expat, and how she's adjusted to life 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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