In our third monthly column reflecting on the Romanian experience from the perspective of a native whose life has primarily been spent abroad, BR’s resident repat will temporarily fill the expat’s shoes by musing on quirks and interesting experiences of life back home.
Three years ago, when I moved back to Romania from the US, I started telling a co-worker about the interesting things that I would come across – little things or big things or anything that I found interesting, really. She strove to “Romanianize” me back and expose me to all the authentic Romanian things. After a while, she told me that I should write them down, immediately, before I became accustomed to my surroundings and no longer found things to be out of the ordinary. I started keeping a journal of these quirks and have finally found a place to further elaborate on them!
If you’ve lived in Romania for a while and have interacted with the locals, you most certainly have learned the number one cause of 90 percent of ailments, perhaps even deaths, in Romania. It’s an invisible killer, odorless and also silent; in fact, were it not for Romanians frantically screaming “close the window” and their odd behavior (to those born outside Romania), you would never even suspect its presence. ‘Curent’ (read: moving air) is a phenomenon that (at least in my experience) exists only in Romania. It is the reason why, on a blistering hot summer day, you may see little children and older people with thick, knitted woolen hats on. It is also the reason why, if riding any form of public transportation in the summer with the windows closed (think: sauna/no AC) and someone (usually from a younger generation) attempts to open a window, someone else (usually from an older generation) promptly shouts “close the window, you want us to become sick because of the current!?” Rest assured that not only older generations firmly believe in this phenomenon, that a draft or moving air can make you sick, make your back hurt, give you toothache or cause pneumonia in unsuspecting and ill-prepared victims (think: those that do not avoid moving air at all costs). My 20-something coworker swears on her life that, because she looked through a keyhole when she was little, the ‘curent’ caused conjunctivitis. So, if you plan on driving with the windows down this summer, make sure you bring a woolen scarf with you!
If you live in an apartment building, especially if it is an older one, you will have noticed the theatrical performance that surrounds the presence of hot water. If you wake up early and nobody else in the building has turned on the hot water, you will most likely not have any hot water. If you live on a higher floor, it will most likely take at least 15 minutes of leaving the hot water running for you to actually have hot water. If you live on the top floor, you will freeze. So, you learn to time your showers to that point during the day when your neighbors with many children give them baths. Win-win. And this lasts year-round.
During the summer, you look forward to something different. On an unsuspecting day, when you come home to your apartment building, after a long day at work, you might find a scribbled piece of paper that says something like “the hot water in this building will be shut off for annual maintenance from …. to…..” If you are lucky, it will only be for one day; however, it usually lasts for around a week. In my unlucky case, I was without hot water for two weeks. Having spent my childhood in Romania during the Communist period, when a lack of hot water and electricity was commonplace, I wasn’t quite as appalled as someone who had never experienced this before might have been. But still, having spent the majority of my life in the US and Italy, it presented an initial shock. It is an interesting experience, being deprived of something essential that you take for granted every day. This year, however, I didn’t even have the benefit of receiving said scribbled note. Monday evening after the gym, no hot water. Tuesday, no hot water. Wednesday after the gym, no hot water. You’ve had enough. You go and heat water on the gas stove and take a “shower by pot,” with some swearing involved. Thursday, you come home to hot water and are so enthusiastic that you jump directly into the shower after work and thank God for the miracle that is hot water on command.
Walking (or driving) around Bucharest, you cannot help but notice the fairly abundant presence of private, non-state security and guards – from the subway cars, to every supermarket and corner store, to your local KFC and, sometimes, even in little booths outside individual houses. They are hundreds of different companies across the country and present, literally, everywhere. But, that is not the point. Perhaps it’s the branding professional in me, but I’m sorry, I cannot possibly be the only one who finds the names of these security firms very (very!) amusing, especially considering the nature of their role. Ranging from Tiger Security to Mike Security to IQ Security to Lion Expert to Dragon Star Protection to S.W.A.T. Force (no, I’m not kidding) to (my favorite so far) Scorseze Security. I mean seriously?? Seriously??!!! (Insert laughing emoticon here.) They seem so ironic that you can’t help but wonder how they take themselves seriously.
I moved to Bucharest three years ago from (nearly) a lifetime of the marketing industry in New York City. From a marketing/advertising/media perspective, the US is very digital/mobile oriented. Ever since TV shows started to be recorded on your local provider’s DVR or streamed to your laptop or tablet, watching TV (in the traditional sense, dependent on an hour) has become something of the past. Commercials, as a consequence, followed suit. So, when I moved back to my homeland, the apartment I rented didn’t even have a TV. What on earth for, all the information I needed was provided through the ultra-fast internet connection (which I began to cherish – I mean, I could access the internet on the SUBWAY – a distant dream in NYC) on my phone or laptop. Imagine my surprise upon realization of the enormous importance of television in Romania. It is THE medium for obtaining information, for the young and the less young. And, as much as I am not a fan of media in the US, the Romanian sensationalism, when I am not in the mood to be ironic, is too much. Want the weather? Watch the morning and evening news. Want a movie? It’s on at 8pm and 10:30pm. Reruns of your favorite 90s shows? Comedy Central all day. The cheese factor is too much sometimes, especially when the weatherman starts commenting on the Bill Gates empire and how he got there, and even more so when a family from a small town claim that their house is haunted (and make the news), but you gotta love it.