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The Romanians

Romanians are now the youngest European Union citizens, they were finally accepted in the European family on January 1st 2007, after many years of isolation behind the Iron Curtain and chaotic transition to capitalism. Now that they can officially leave, will there be any left by the time you read this?

Romanians love to joke and make fun of everything, they’re generally politically incorrect and make no bones about it. All of which makes them good drinking companions and they’ll drop everything if there’s a chance to party.

Romanians are very fond of American pop culture and they try to imitate it. You have rap groups singing about tough life in the hood (Bucharest Underground Mafia being one of top acts) and music channels featuring pretty but clumsy dancers, jumping around in skimps outfits similar to the ones their big sisters MTV and VHS play all the time.

Big Brother Romania was hugely popular and Spitalul de Urgenta (Emergency Hospital), the Romanian version of the highly popular show ER, is also now a hit. Funny enough, elements of South American culture penetrated Romania as well: Mexican telenovelas make many victims among women, especially in the countryside where the whole village shuts down when the Latin American dramas air.

Romanians are very proud of their Latin origin, so don’t make the mistake to ask if they understand Russian, you’ll piss them off and then start them on an obligatory lecture on the origins of their nation.

Romanians are good company except when you get them onto heavy topics like politics or social issues and then they often embark on long complaining monologues about the state of their country. try offering another point of view and you might end up looking for the back door in a hurry.

With the communist regime fell back in 1989, certain individuals in Romania weren’t slow to take advantage of the naiveté of their countrymen and the sudden opportunities to make a fast buck. Pulling government connections and every dirty trick in the book, they stole a good deal of the national wealth for themselves, bought off the politicians and evaded all taxation.

The majority of the population in Romania though still struggle to make ends meet. The old people, for example, receive pensions of $40-60 a month and only manage to get by with a good deal of economic ingenuity. It’s not uncommon to watch them enter supermarkets with empty bags, stare at the dazzling range of products (as opposed to the empty shelves of communist times) and then leave with the same empty bags.

As usual, the people living in the country are poorer than those in the cities in Romania and much of the rural adult population has left for Italy and Spain in search of work. They clean houses, take care of elderly people, work in construction and pick strawberries, hence their nickname of capsunari, ‘the strawberry people’. With able-bodied adults emigrating to work, the children get left at home with grandparents or understanding neighbours, where they often run wild with little in the way of parental figures for guidance.

Thus some villages are creepily empty throughout the year, populated only with young children and old people. Then the working parents come back for a couple of months in summer and the whole village becomes a construction site. With the money earned abroad they start building new houses, bigger, better and more modern. Just like the ones owned by the foreigners they work for.

Yet for all the poverty and hard luck stories of Romania, the people take pride in their education and their intellect and are simply struggling under a still corrupt governing class.

Cuna Luminita