I’ve been meaning to start a list like this for a while now. Each country has it’s own little oddities that aren’t necessarily going to thrill anthropologists, but are still intriguing. Here’s the start of a ongoing collection of my favourites from Romania:
- Mobile (cell phone) ‘beeps’ – Even if you invest in a cellular contract, the per minute prices here are still somewhat out of reach of only the most well-off Romanians. It’s strange, as everyone has a mobile, but few can actually afford to use them. But that hasn’t stopped Romanians from using the little status symbols as social tools. Romanians routinely send ‘beeps’ to their friends and family. A ‘beep’ is when someone uses their mobile to ring another mobile, then hangs up after the first ring, so all the recipient has is the caller ID entry. Beeps are used in a number of ways. At the basic level, it’s a little ‘hello’ of sorts or ‘I’m thinking about you’ for young lovers with no credit on their phones. You can also use a ‘beep’ to organize a meet-up. ‘Beep me when you get to the plaza and we’ll meet at the fountain’ is a typical plan of action. However some people have lost all self-control with the beeps, firing them off 10 or 15 at a time while sitting on the maxitaxi on their way home from school. Equally, insanely jealous boyfriends and girlfriends (there are no other kind in Romania) will resort to sending their sweeties beeps every 15 minutes as a kind of rudimentary check-up. If the sweetie doesn’t return the beep within a minute, this can only mean that the sweetie is engaged in an illicit tryst (being in class or in a movie or at work or having a dead battery is no excuse for not returning a ‘beep’) and there’ll be hell to pay in the form of more beeps and maybe even a genuine phone call to interrogate the offender, but that’s only a last resort.
- Street clothes versus at-home clothes – Romanians, particularly women, do not wear the same clothes in their homes as they wear on the street. The instant they get home, they change into ‘home clothes’ which are usually comprised of pyjamas, sweats, or track suits. Even if they only plan to be at home for 30 minutes, the change must be done. At first I thought this practice might be born through the efforts of keeping the street grime apart from the home atmosphere, but then I noted that most people have pets who come and go from the apartment freely, being gone for days at a time in some instances, and these pets lounge around the house wherever they please, no matter what questionable substance is caked onto their fur. If you are exceptionally close with the people you’re visiting, they will sometimes try to impose some form of this practice on you. One time I was very nearly undressed and forced into a pair of the dad’s track pants, which were three sizes too large for me. A settlement was reached where I would be given a pair of honorary slippers. The women who wear daringly little while on the street, seem to opt for the same while at home. I’ve had girls unselfconsciously answer the door in outfits straight out of a Fredrick’s of Hollywood catalogue, earning frequent, unannounced visits from me in the ensuing months.
- Kisses good, hugs bad – Romanians will kiss anyone and anything and are exceptionally touchy-feely over all, but outside of immediate family and lovers, hugs are strangely foreign. Arms around each other, side-by-side, yes – frequently, in fact – but full-frontal hugs, NO!! If you try to hug someone, even someone you consider to be extremely close, you will find yourself hugging a popsicle; frozen, bug-eyed and stunned. They just don’t know what to do with it. Meanwhile the double check kisses are the most genuine I’ve ever seen. This greeting – sometimes farewell – gesture is common in places like Spain and France, but the cheeks barely touch and the lips just kiss air. In New York, you’d be lucky to feel cheek contact. But in Romania, there’s full lips-to-cheek, sometimes alarmingly close to lips-on-lips, leaving some moisture at the corner of the mouth. Stealing a kiss has never been so easy.