As we kick off 2018, the year in which the country turns 100, BR’s resident expat presents her wish list for the second century of life in Romania.

By Debbie Stowe

So, Romania is about to become a centenarian! For those not up on their history, on December 1, 1918, Transylvania (along with the three Bs: Banat, Bessarabia and Bukovina) was united with Romania, creating the country we know and (mostly) love today. Cue: a lot of fuss, taxpayer money spent, vanity projects and so on.

Allow me to add my voice to the cacophony. Because this is the first column of this milestone year (and not at all because I’m still in a post-Christmas slump and lacking any other ideas), please read on for my wish list for Romania’s big 1-0-0.

 

A proper government

People get the leaders they deserve, goes the old saying. Rubbish! How do the many intelligent, honest and hardworking Romanians of my acquaintance deserve this current shambolic shower of sh*ts? Why do New Zealanders, for example, who’ve never endured anything like the deprivations that Romanians have, deserve the nice pregnant lady and her civilized husband, while you good people are forced out into the freezing cold so often to protest against rigged elections, cyanide mines, the legalizing of fraud, and so on?

So I wish for Romania decent leaders. Not even an Obama or a Trudeau (though that would be nice). Just people who don’t steal, or commit fraud, or want to exculpate those who do.

 

Self-respect

“Romania’s a nice country – shame it’s populated” is a refrain I have heard again and again. Forget the Western European tabloid newspapers, and racists and nationalists like Nigel Farage and Geert Wilders – sometimes it seems like this country’s worst critics are its own people.

In a way, it’s endearing. Much better to have citizens grumbling about their nation’s shortcomings than the tedious bragging and “exceptionalism” of Trump-voting Americans or “two World Wars and one World Cup” British hooligans. But in my years here, I’ve noticed the reverence that many have for the foreign and foreigners (especially Westerners), often considering them wise and sophisticated.

I hope that more Romanians will start to realize that Westerners are not better than you – we’ve just had life easier, and had different opportunities. This is a great country, and being Romanian is no source of shame.

Equal rights

It’s a contradiction that while communism – which left this country many legacies, usually bad – espoused gender equality, Romania doesn’t feel like a very equal society. From the serious (domestic violence figures) to the trivial (the habit of some men of greeting other men with a handshake while totally ignoring any women), females often seem to have a tough time of it. And let’s not get started on gay or disabled rights…

As young people adopt wider European norms and civil society strengthens, this is already changing for the better, but I hope that as Romania embarks upon its second century, it will embrace all its citizens, whatever their sex, sexuality, race or ability.

Passable pavements

BC – before children – I thoughtlessly navigated the potholes, cars and huge puddles that plague Bucharest pavements with just a tut. Now, with a buggy, I often struggle even to get along the street, or end up swearing at absent motorists as their selfishly parked SUVs force me to push my little ones off the sidewalk and wheel them in the street alongside frenzied rush hour traffic.

Let’s see some respect for the pedestrian!

 

Politeness

Landline: Ring, ring. Ring, ring.

Me: Hello?

Caller: *Asks for someone else*

Me: (in halting Romanian) I’m sorry; you have the wrong number.

Caller: *Hangs up, with no word of apology*

Or:

Caller: Cine esti?

Me: (in halting and increasingly indignant Romanian) No, you called me! You introduce yourself; you don’t ask who I am!

Caller: Cine esti?

How hard is it to say sorry to someone you’ve just disturbed through your own mistake? Really? My mum actually thanks wrong numbers for calling. Okay, that’s taking telephone etiquette a bit far. But something to ponder.

La multi ani, Romania!

 

Agree? Disagree? Why not write to me at debbie.stowe@business-review.ro and tell me your own wish list for Romanian’s landmark year?

Debbie Stowe is a British writer who has lived in Romania since 2002. The second edition of her book, Culture Smart! Romania, is out now.

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