BMWs, Mercedes and Butt-Cheeks Oh My!

With the notable exception of Monaco, I have never seen a higher concentration of luxury cars than in Chisinau, Moldova.  BMWs reign supreme, followed closely by Mercedes with American SUVs making a strong showing.  The Russian Lada, formerly the unofficial national car of Moldova, is a distant fourth or fifth (all numbers are by my observation and by no means scientific).

So how is it, you may ask, that the poorest country in Europe has so much four wheeled flash?  Well, that’s a touchy subject.  The “shadow economy” phenomenon has allowed certain businesses to prosper in a tax-free orgy of profit, allowing their owners for such excesses.  Arms dealing, human and organ trafficking and other organized criminal ugliness is surely a factor.  But with the staggering number of luxury vehicles on the street, it’s difficult to imagine, even in Moldova, that all these people are somehow associated with dark dealings.  Another aspect is foreign money filtered back into Moldova.  About 1/3 of Moldova’s economy is driven by money sent home by Moldovans working abroad and wiring the money home to their families.  In some cases the understandable aim of seeking a better life has lost all grip with reality.  College students take money meant for tuition and buy clothes and the aforementioned slick rides.  Then of course there are government officials, bureaucratic heavies and the ubiquitous money-hungry police all collecting second and third unreported salaries that double or triple their pay checks.


Still, even with these elements factored in, it doesn’t seem to account for the stunning wealth on display in a country reputed to be wallowing in poverty.  Where is it all coming from?

Another creepy factor is the people who are patently untouchable by the law and smugly conduct themselves as such.  While average citizens and charismatic travel writers are regularly pulled over for imaginary infractions, certain individuals casually drive for blocks in oncoming lanes to bypass traffic, run red lights and even drag race in broad daylight in full view of the police without a care in the world.  The police somehow know who it’s OK to harass and who has free reign of the roads.  How do they know who to nail and who to overlook?  Is there a window sticker?  And exactly what positions are these people occupying to make them above the law?  Ooo-eee-ooo-eee.

Finally, there is the delicate subject of fashion in Moldova.  It’s difficult to talk about this without perpetuating unfair stereotypes, but equally it’s difficult to ignore.  Russian mafia attire is still popularly in force, with track suits (casual wear) or black leather jackets and shoes (formal) at the forefront of today’s trends.  Men opt for long-sleeved, open shirts and dark pants, with hair slicked back or shaved down to near-skin, with just enough left on top to jauntily spike up.  For women, one of the prevalent looks continues to be “prostitute”.  Again, this is not a majority by any means, but it’s prominent enough to warrant comment.  Incredibly, remarkably short skirts with dangerously high-heeled spiked shoes are everyday wear for going to class, the market, funerals, whatever.  However, there are strange little nods to modesty.  Moldovan women do not leave home in their ass-baring skirts without pantyhose, ever, preferably with some kind of decorative design.  Shorts are also often accessorized with hose.  Also, unlike their uninhibited Romanian neighbours, while cleavage is proudly displayed, bras are strictly required. So, I suppose in some ways they are actually showing admirable restraint compared to what happening just a few dozen kilometres west.

StumbleUpon It!