Life in Romania

A Visit to Romania

Church in Roman

Pictures lining the wall, from the church in Roman.

Date:13th July 2005
Author:Michael Foord


You can see a few more pictures from Romania over in the gallery.

Delia now has her own website, with traditional Romanian and English recipes:

Something Different

As you might expect, Romania is very different from Britain. Today we went to buy fish from the market. We bought them live from a tank. Tomorrow we have a nice meal of brains. The variety of sausage is incredible and the melons and white peaches exquisite. One thing that will stand out from this visit, is my stomach !

Romania is quite far south from Britain - about level with Italy but further East. It is an island of latin-ness in the sea of its slavic neighbours, closer in it's roots to countries like Italy and Spain than the ones on it's borders.

However, Romania is really two countries inextricably entwined - and they are not always happy companions. Everywhere are the brightly coloured, ragged gypsies. The children, who beg on the streets and wash car windscreens, wear many layers of dirty clothes - even in summer. Most incredible are the matriarchal women with hips as wide as they are tall. They wear shawls and dresses of wonderful reds, yellows, and blues - and will follow you in the streets begging for money.

Romanian Gypsys

The Romanian gypsies are the progenitors of the Romany throughout Europe - and they are NOT integrated with the latin/Dacian Romanians. The two cultures co-exist uneasily, but have little to do with each other.

The minimum income a young couple can live on is about nine million Lei a month [1] - three hundred thousand a day (or six pounds sterling). Food is not cheap though - a pat of butter costs 65 pence, bread 20 pence a loaf - hardly vastly cheaper than England. Bills for basic services will be about three million lei a month.

Delia's cousin Alina works ten-hour days in a builder’s merchant, five and a half days a week with no breaks. She earns about four and a half million lei a month, perhaps four after tax. She married her teenage sweetheart Cristi in September, and they live in the flat furnished on his income from working in Italy. He will probably earn about five million a month working in Roman [2] unloading lorries. This is a quarter of what he could send home from Italy - but Alina does not want to move to Italy, and cannot face the prospect of a long separation. So they'll struggle on for the moment.

Out in the countryside it is at least a different type of story. Even in the town horse and cart are common means of transport. In the country, farming is the basic way of life and there is none of the western clothing seen in the towns - it simply isn't practical. Delia's grandmother, in her mid eighties still farms. She lives in a dirt-floored shack - and although she now has electricity, she draws her water from a well. Her toilet is a hole dug in a different corner of the garden every time you visit. When we met her last year (as newly marrieds), she chased and caught one of her chickens; which she presented to us as a wedding present.

Romania is two countries in this way too. Year by year the roads and buildings are falling into a greater state of disrepair. There is tarmac patched with concrete, concrete patched with tarmac, and long swathes not patched at all. Despite this, the people - especially the young - are dressed immaculately. You could almost be in any western country. The television adverts show smiling housewives, in American homes, proclaiming how white their sheets are. This is a way of life utterly alien to the majority of the country. But Romanians prize a smart appearance over a full belly.

We have sold them the western dream, and they simply cannot afford it. No wonder that every family we visited had sons or daughters away in Italy to work.

Horse and Cart

There is one way that Romania has been similar to Britain - it has rained almost every day so far. Normally hot at this time of year, Romania has suffered floods - even reaching into parts of the Moldova region that Delia's parents live in. 'As if it isn't enough that they are poor'. Many have lost family as well as homes and livelihoods. Heartbreaking stuff.

Romania still suffers from her communist near history. For most people the only change of substance democracy has brought, is the possibility of working abroad [3]. Corruption and bribery are endemic. Starting a business or building a house are tortuous rounds of bribes and encounters with the unyielding world of officialdom. Getting permits, water and electricity switched on, all require the greasing of palms to ensure they happen within your lifetime. This is a serious barrier to foreign investment, and specifically a serious barrier to joining the European Union - which Romanians hope will happen in 2007.

There is hope that things might change. The president, Traian Bãsescu, has just announced that he is putting before parliament a strict set of laws to tackle corruption. If parliament rejects them, he will resign on the 19th July.

The President

It would be a bad time for an election. Repairing the damage of the floods is already going to cost money Romania doesn't have. Let's hope they make the right choice and that it's the start of real change. Unfortunately, a lot of people have a lot to lose, and it's hard to see things changing quickly.

Some aspects of life in the city are like stepping back 20 years. Video cassettes are just catching on and hitch hiking is still a common means of transport. A more poignant reminder of Britain's past is the profusion of latin sparrows. Perhaps leaner than the sparrows of my childhood - but just as cheerful. What has happened to the English sparrow ? Another sacrifice to the omnipotent deity of progress.

Road Sweeper in the City

There are other aspects of culture that are different, and refreshing. The people are generally open hearted and friendly - especially to guests. In a country where most people are too poor to travel beyond the nearest city, their is still a real sense of community. They take the responsibility of looking after their extended family very seriously. Despite this sense of family, most young people have ambitions to leave the country. They see too much prosperity on television, and too many beggars on their own broken streets.


[1]The Romanians are in the middle of the process of knocking four noughts off the currency. This would make good sense - except in two years they intend to switch to the euro.
[2]Delia's hometown - a medium sized town with about 80 000 inhabitants.
[3]Other than internet cafes and mobile phones - orange having captured the market nicely. On the high street of Roman - there are three orange shops !

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Last edited Sun Jun 03 21:55:05 2007.