The Ultimate Insider’s Guide to Romania

Happy travelers

Coming to Romania? Great! We’re delighted that you’ll be spending time in our homeland. We want to help you do more than “survive” when you visit—we want you to THRIVE!

Part of the fun of any travel is not just learning about a different country, but jumping in and enjoying its culture. Romania offers visitors a rare opportunity: By combining an authentic experience with our warm hospitality, you’re going to treasure your time here.

To give a jump start to your holiday, Visit Romania is pleased to share our “Ultimate Insider’s Guide to Romania.” When you understand our unique nation, you will get more from your visit than you could have hoped for!

First, a word about Romania’s Latin roots

Romania embraces its Latin culture. (After all, the country’s name means “Citizen of Rome” and the language is Latin-based, like Italian, French, and Spanish.) You’ll notice it right away. Romanians are demonstrative and use big gestures when speaking. To a visitor, normal conversations may appear to be arguments, when they are simply passionate discussions…with frequent interruptions.

There’s a saying that if you have three Romanians together, you will get four opinions. Feel free to add your own views to the mix, but don’t expect to convince anyone. It’s all part of the conversation, which can become boisterous. Jump in and join the fun. Welcome to Romania!

Some handy Romanian phrases

Like all countries, Romania has its own expressions. Here are a few common phrases you’ll hear, along with their meanings. After a few days, you may start to use them, too!

  • Imediat! Although it translates as “immediately,” don’t expect instant action. As in other Latin cultures, such as Spain, where mañana sometimes means “tomorrow,” but also indicates a vague time in the future. There’s not a sense of urgency. Relax and go with it
  • Te pup! Romanians use the Latin phrase “Te pup!“, which actually means “Kiss you!” as a greeting. It’s used among friends when meeting, as well as in emails or letters. If you decide to say it, remember it is never used in formal settings or with people you don’t know well. And never, ever try it out when talking to a police officer or a priest!
  • Mummy! Don’t be surprised when you hear Romanian mothers call their little sons “Mummy.” There is no reason on the planet to explain it, but we all do.
  • Sarut mana! A traditional greeting for mature Romanian women is “Sarut mana” which literally means “I kiss your hand.” It’s a way of showing respect to an older person, the equivalent of the English use of “Ma’am.” Be careful not to say it to a young woman, or she will be insulted!
  • Doamne Fereste! You will probably get pretty tired of hearing Romanians use the expression ”Doamne fereste!” Its literal translation is “God forbid!” There’s a tendency to overuse it, because it has multiple meanings, including the wish to send bad luck away, or pure amazement at a situation. In English, it’s like saying “Oh my god,” or “Oh, dear!”
  • Sa va traiasca! Romanians are wild about babies and children. Strangers will come up to anyone with a baby and say “Sa va traiasca!” which means “Congratulations!”
  • Bine ati venit! The popular greeting “Bine ati venit!” means “Welcome!” or “I’m happy to see you!” When you hear it, be ready to respond with “Bine v-am gasit!” You’ll be saying, “We are happy that we found you well!” or “Glad to see you!”

Eating and drinking in Romania

Food and drink create some of the best travel memories. Of course, we all need to eat, but in Romania you’ll also find insights into our culture and history. Get ready for new tastes and experiences!

  • Noise in restaurants: Simply put, Romanians love noise. In most Romanian restaurants, there seems to be an unwritten law that there must be a TV, radio, CD player, DVD, and a minimum of 20 iPhones at high volume, all at the same time. And it’s not just in restaurants: When you’re invited to a private home, the host will automatically turn on all TVs and radios at full blast when you step in the door.
  • Protective waiters: If a waiter says to you, ”Nu va dau” he’s telling you “I won’t give this to you.” There’s probably a very good reason for his statement, so take his advice without question. He might be guarding your health or keeping you from making an unfortunate decision.
  • Huge portions: Don’t overestimate your hunger. Take your time and order a course at a time, in case you’re suddenly full. You don’t want to waste food that’s fresh and cooked to order.
  • At-home invitations: Lucky you, to be invited to a Romanian home for a meal! Get ready to consume a full day’s calories, because your hosts will not accept “No thank you, I’ve had enough” as an answer. Expect that your declines of a second or third portion are considered polite, not the truth. And don’t think that saying “Just a little bit” will have any influence on the actual amount you’ll be served!
  • Embrace the national dishes: Romanians love food that is hearty and satisfying. These dishes are so beloved, that there would be a national disaster if Romanians couldn’t have these culinary delights:
    • Sarmale is considered the most famous Romanian dish. It’s ground meat wrapped and cooked in cabbage leaves, served with plenty of sour cream. You’ll find versions that add rice and vegetables, too. Delicious!
    • Muschi poianaconsists of mushroom and bacon stuffed beef served in a puree of vegetables and tomato sauce.
    • Mici are grilled minced rolls made of spiced pork or beef. Crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside, they’re eaten with mustard and fresh bread.
    • Papanasi is a favorite dessert. Similar to a deep-fried doughnut, it’s stuffed with sweet cheese, comes with sour cream, and is covered in jam or chocolate.
  • Sip a Spritz: The common Romanian drink “spritz” is a mixture of very sweet white wine and sparkling water. It is one of the most important alcoholics drink in Romania, one you might not read about in the guidebooks.
  • Toast with Tuica: About 75% of Romania’s plums end up in tuica, the national brandy made by everyone’s brother, uncle, or grandfather. Raise a glass and say “noroc” which means “good luck” or “sanatate,” similar to the English toast of “to your health.”

Out and about in Romania

When you’re ready to explore, here are some tips about what you can expect:

  • Mama dracului: If you ask a Romanian for directions to get somewhere and they tell you “La mama dracului” (“The mother of the devil”) forget it. This usually means that the place is too far away, too complicated to find, or…they really have no idea where it is, anyway.
  • Parking: It’s customary for Romanian drivers to simply abandon their cars rather than park them. Don’t be surprised to find vehicles blocking doorways, shop entrances, and pedestrian crossings.
  • Sales people and store clerks: They have the misguided belief that they won’t be taken seriously if they are pleasant with shoppers. Instead, it’s up to you, the customer, to be friendly to them first.
  • Close personal space: Under the Communist regime, Romanians spent years standing in packed lines, fearful that even a few inches would allow someone else to squeeze in. If you find your personal space is being invaded, it’s just the Romanian way; they aren’t trying to crowd you. Old habits die hard.
  • Black Sea Coast: If you visit the resorts on the Black Sea Coast in August, you’ll be expected to wear sunglasses day and night, go to bed at 6 a.m. and get up at 4 p.m. This is how Romanians frantically like to spend their vacations.

Superstitions and quirky Romanian behaviors

Superstitions are part of the Romanian culture. Although people who live in rural areas tend to believe more in events that can cause bad health or bring good luck, many people are reluctant to dismiss time-honored practices.

  • Trage curentul: Romanian hate moving air. Many believe that drafts, fans, or even air-conditioning can cause sickness, anything from a headache to a heart attack. If a door and window are open at the same time, they complain“ Trage curentul!” If you’re on a bus with functioning windows, don’t expect them to be open to let in a breeze. Even in the heat of summer, Romanians would rather swelter than take a chance.
  • Sign of the Cross: Don’t panic if you spot Romanians suddenly making bizarre rapid circular hand movements near their faces. It’s a strange way of making the sign of the cross when they pass by a church. They will cross themselves even if they are on a bike, in a car, or just walking in the vicinity of a church.
  • Giving flowers: If you decide to give someone flowers, make sure to choose an odd number. An even number—such as a dozen roses—is only suitable for honoring the dead.
  • Using salt: Salt has a couple of important functions in Romania. As in other countries, Romanians believe that spilling it can bring bad luck, so the person who caused the spill rubs some on their forehead to offset the spell. Salt is also thrown down in the middle of a bad storm, as a way to end it quickly.
  • Dracula: It may be hard for foreigners to believe, but Romanians can’t quite grasp the fascination with the Dracula myth. They didn’t even hear about this story written by an Irishman until 1989. But Vlad Tepes, the inspiration for the novel, he’s something else!

Party on! Romanians love celebrations!

Weddings: Romanians absolutely love noise. Wedding celebrations are the unofficial main cause of sudden deafness in the country; popular international music is enthusiastically—and loudly–mixed with national folk songs. If you’re invited to a wedding, it might be a good idea to wear high-quality earplugs to preserve your own hearing.

A few wedding etiquette tips: Cash is the preferred gift, enough to cover your share of the cost (tacam), plus more. Your presence will be mandatory until the cake is served, usually around 4 a.m. And it’s absolutely compulsory to dance with complete strangers in a circle for traditional songs that last 7 to 10 minutes. So rest up before you go!

Birthdays: Birthdays are a big deal here. If you decide to invite your new Romanian friends to celebrate your birthday in a restaurant, know that you’re expected to pay for all the food and drinks of your guests. On the upside, they’re supposed to bring you a nice gift.

Romanians are fortunate—they get two birthdays. The first is the date of their birth. The second is on their name day, the day of the saint they share a name with. In the Romanian Orthodox religion, every saint has a special day of the year, with a feast to honor the saint. Name days are celebrated as much as birthdays.

Baptisms: Babies get a blow-out celebration, too. Baptisms usually occur within a couple of months after birth. What might seem surprising is that the baby is the guest of honor, but doesn’t usually attend the party.

The baptism at the church is a big event, with family and friends attending. The godparents play the biggest role in the christening. Then the celebration begins, with all the noise of a wedding. Five-course meals, gallons of alcohol, and dancing. At midnight, Fairy Godmothers (“Ursitoare”) will decide the baby’s fate, by wishing him or her a prosperous and happy life.

Ready to discover more about Romania?

Guests are welcome in Romania. In fact, you have a special status. We’re excited to show you our cities and villages, as well as places you won’t find anywhere else in the world.

“It’s not down in any map; true places never are.” wrote Herman Melville. That’s how we feel about Romania. Our history is complicated and our culture is rich. We can’t wait to share it with you. Contact us today to plan your personal adventure!

 

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