In Romania’s chapter of our famous things across the globe series, we have invited our fellow blogger Cristina of “Honest Travel Stories” What is Romania famous for? This is her interesting response!
I think we are all raised to believe the country we were born in is the best of all. Let’s be frank here, we all learn the “cleansed” history in school, the one that makes us feel proud about our country. We all learn to sing the national anthem and to feel goosebumps whenever we see a specific flag. And if we decide to move abroad, we are seen by everyone as traitors.
But for everyone, the number of countries famous for something is about 5-10 tops. And for a country as obscure as the one I was born in, I’m pretty sure most people have no idea what is Romania known for. Well, that’s what I’m here for.
15 Things Romania is famous for
There, I said it. And I added this as the first thing on the list. Do you know that thing that your parents used to embarrass you when you were a teenager? This is what Dracula is for all of us. But it’s still the number one thing Romania is known for, no matter if we, Romanians, like it or not.
The character from Bram Stocker’s book was based on the historical figure of Vlad Țepes (aka the Impaler), a Romanian ruler from the 15th century that is said to have been pretty cruel. We learned in school that he used to impale all criminals instead of putting them in prison, but the legends and stories put him in a much worse picture.
I have to say that, according to most historians, he was not even that bad; other rulers did much worse things. Fun fact: both Romanian and Swedish histories contain an episode with a ruler that made a pyramid out of other nobleman’s heads. Now, this is what I call an interesting coincidence!
#2 Being good at sports
My first encounter with a colleague of mine from Canada, after the usual “Where are you from?” that people need to address after hearing my Eastern European accent, was marked by him saying the amazing words: “OMG that’s where Nadia Comăneci is from!”.
And if you don’t know who she is, well, she’s the first person to get a perfect 10 at the Montreal Olympics in 1976, thus becoming the first athlete to get the perfect mark in the history of the Olympics. If you’re curious watch her performance here.
We also have a good selection of tennis players, Simona Halep being the most known one at the moment. But she is not alone, as two great tennis players paved their way into this sport in the 1970s: Ilie Năstase and Ion Țiriac.
Football / Soccer
Yes, I know Ronaldo is not Romanian. But Gheorghe Hagi and Helmuth Duckadam are two well known Romanian football players. The latter is known for saving 4 penalties against Barcelona in 1986. Impressive, huh?
While most Romanians don’t understand a thing when they see a baseball match in a movie (including myself), most baseball players have no idea this sport originates in Romania. The game of “oina” is the grandfather of modern baseball, alongside many other influences.
One of the first people to work in discovering the insulin is Nicolae Paulescu. He was not the one to make the finished, stable product acceptable for the human body, but was one of the first to try this approach.
Traian Vuia invented the first self-propelled aircraft. He only flew for a few seconds, but it was a great achievement at the time. He also designed early helicopters and a steam generator to achieve a very high pressure that is still used today in some power stations.
Henri Coandă is the one that designed the first jet, and there’s even something called the Coandă effect that has been used in many aeronautical inventions. I saw his prototype at the biggest technological museum in the world – the Deutsche Museum in Munich – and I almost cried. It feels good to read nice things about your country.
Constantin Brâncuși is one of the pioneers of modern arts, his work includes sculptures, paintings, and photos. He lived most of his adult life in Paris like most Romanian arts people were doing at the time, and he created most of his works there. Today, you can see his work at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York or the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Another Romanian artist who lived in France most of his life was Eugen Ionescu, one of the most well-known play writers representing the avant-garde movement in Europe. Sadly, he became a member of the French Academy before he became one of the Romanian Academy. But we still seel him as one of our own.
And to cover a different art, Gheorghe Zamfir is “The master of the Pan Flute.” He was a conductor for one of the best state ensembles in Romania but gave it up to have his own “band.” With his band, he became famous worldwide, and I’m sure everyone knows at least this masterpiece of his.
Most of the elderly Romanians consider themselves highly religious, but what I love the most is the diversity I have been raised into. I grew up with Christian Orthodox believers, with Muslims, with Christian Catholics and Protestants.
Maybe that’s why the first “History of Religious Ideas” was written by a Romanian author, Mircea Eliade. He is also one of the few Romanian writers who tried to write about different cultures, so I learned fascinating information from his story set in India named “Maitreyi”. The story is fascinating as it has both his side and her side versions, which you can rarely find in literature.
#7 Good with foreign languages
I’m not here to say that we’re the best at this, as I only have my experience to base my hypothesis on, but people around me seen impressed I speak English, French, understand quite a bit of Spanish and Italian, and I’m currently learning German.
We find it easy to learn the other Romance languages (Spanish, Italian, French, or Portuguese) as we see enough similar features to make it easy for us. Also, Romanians used to watch cartoons, movies, and soap operas (don’t judge!) in these languages since we were young.
I think what gives us an advantage is that we never had movies dubbed, we have always had them with subtitles. This made us hear foreign languages since we were children, and we listened to the language spoken by natives. I can tell you that more than half of my English comes from movies: I don’t know the grammar that well, and it just doesn’t sound right for me if it’s incorrect, but I cannot explain why it’s wrong.
Also, no one translates things for us. Most computer-related things first appeared in English, and this is how we got used to them. My laptop is in English all the time, and my keyboard as well. There are rarely things translated in Romanian in the world, as it’s such an obscure language. I’ve never changed the menu from English in a computer game or looked for the Romanian version of the safety instructions card I got with an electronic device.
#8 Great programmers
And I’m not just saying that because I work in IT as well. And while there was a rumor at one point that the second language spoken at Microsoft was Romanian, this is just an exaggeration, and we all know it.
But, there’s no denying that Romania has one of the best internet speeds in the world. You might remember this tweet by Bernie Sanders in 2016. If you ignore the malicious comments from my fellow Romanians (but don’t ignore them if you want a good laugh, we’re also good at savage jokes), you’ll notice that he was right: our internet is probably better than yours!
Apart from this, most younger Romanians know some pretty decent stuff when it comes to computer science, as most of us had a PC when we were young. And we used them in a not so nice way or pirating various programs, games, and movies). I’m not proud of it, but it’s true (we also have our bad parts, see?). Moreover, if you have a cracked game you want to play today, you might need to get in there and change those registries yourself, as you cannot call the IT Support, can you?
Also, programmers are among the best-paid people in Romania (which is again a shame, as some other jobs should be at the top of this list), so many teenagers are tempted to follow this career. There are also quite a few Romanian hackers and internet scammers, but let’s not talk about them right now, OK?
As Romania is not known for how modern it is, its nature is pretty much untamed. The Danube Delta is the second largest in Europe and the best-preserved one, so it became a World Heritage Site, alongside other cool places you can read more about here.
The country also has mountains, hills, lakes, a small part of the seaside, and other lovely areas. Hell, even the Transfăgărășan road was named by the Top Gear guys as “Whoo! This is amazing!”. Or “the best road in the world”. I cannot remember exactly which one.
If you want to go somewhere and be surrounded by beautiful nature, Romania should be somewhere on the first three at the top of your list. But you need to listen to the people from national parks information centers; they know better when there are bears around. Yes, bears are also part of nature. What did you think?
While we didn’t build any skyscrapers or an excellent transportation system, Romania has a few honorable mentions in this regard as well.
One of the most well-known buildings in Romania is the Palace of Parliament, the heaviest building in the world, and the second largest after the Pentagon. It’s mostly known as the building behind the big signers that come to concerts in Romania and perform in the Place of the Constitution. Bon Jovi had his Facebook cover picture from Romania for a while.
Another relevant note in Romanian architecture is the Brâncovenesc style, a combination of Islamic and Christian Orthodox styles. This can mostly be observed if you’ll visit some churches and monasteries in Moldova, a part of Romania. Check out the Voroneț monastery if possible, as it has the deepest blue shade in the world, a recipe that is now lost.
And last but not least, there are quite a few villages in Bucovina (another part of Romania) that have amazing wooden gates to show. It’s just a small proof of famous artwork that can be beautiful even if it’s not coming from people who attended any high-end schools of fine arts.
As I said before, when it came to religion and languages, we’re a pretty diverse crowd. I can tell you that I have Bulgarian and Russian blood, and that’s just from my grandparents. God knows what I might find if I look any deeper.
And it’s not only me. Most people I know can tell you their ancestors are from “around here, somewhere”. And I truly believe diversity is the best thing that can happen to a country. This is what brings us beautiful features (no matter what standards of beauty you apply, Romanian women are famously beautiful – me excluded haha).
The other great thing coming from diversity is Romanian cuisine. It contains elements from Turkish, Greek, and Russian cuisines, so Romanian food is quite varied and tasty.
On the minus side, the country could use some more diversity at the same time. Historically, we have not had so many immigrants coming here (and now we have more emigrants than immigrants), so most people are still Caucasian. Unfortunately, most older people are still pretty narrow-minded when it comes to diversity, so they’re still somehow racist.
I apologize in advance if you get into a situation that you feel this. I’m deeply sorry, and I promise the new generations are trying to make this go away, but it will take a while.
And for the food, you can rarely find something vegetarian or vegan in our cuisine. Besides feasting food, which is mostly tasteless, you can rarely find vegan food outside of big cities. Again, most older people consider not eating meat as some sort of elitism, as meat used to be sparse, and people never refused to eat it. Again, we’re trying to change this view as well.
I’m a bit of a non-believer in all sorts of traditions, as I haven’t grown up with many of them, but most Romanians are still proud of their traditions. Some of these are connected to various religious events, but some are just random things we picked up and still do.
A fun thing you can do in Romania and connected with our traditions is enjoying a ride with the Mocănița, a steam train used on a narrow-gauge railway. It’s a nice ride that takes you through some beautiful places, and you’ll feel like you’re in the 19th century.
#13 A long history
Our history, like most Europeans’, is rich, ugly, and painful. The diversity I was telling you about did not come from various people being nice to each other. It came from multiple people killing each other for land, supremacy, and God knows what else.
Most people know about Romania that it’s a former communist country. It was so until 1989, but the signs can still be seen all over the place. If you go to Bucharest, you can see gray buildings made for people that were forcefully moved from villages to the city to work in factories.
If you talk to the older people, they’ll tell you it was better “before” as everyone had a house and a job. They have forgotten the empty shelves, the lack of trust in people, the freezing apartments. They have forgotten that any form of birth control was forbidden, and women were dying by doing illegal abortions because the ruler said we need to increase the population.
And yes, we don’t like the jokes some tourists seem to make about communists. For us, it’s like you would go to Auschwitz and say jokes with Hitler. As in any other place you go, you should try not to touch some sensitive subjects when you visit Romania.
#14 The fine print and communism
There’s always the fine print, right? Well, due to the communist heritage I was just telling you about, some of my people have problems seeing what’s right. Of course, every country has their goods and their bads, so this is ours: we tend to be OK with stealing or “making it work the Balkan way” or “getting a little something a push to make it work”.
I have been to Japan, and I’ve seen everything working correctly there. I now live in Switzerland, and I feel the same precision. But whenever I tell some of the people back home how I love this, they seem to not be OK with things just working.
Some still think they should give the doctor a little something to operate on you. Some others believe you should give some flowers to the lady at the counter to help you (doing her job). Some others think it’s OK to make a transaction without paying taxes or being hired in the same way, just to gain more. Most people have no idea what taxes they’re paying for and where did that money go.
We are rarely getting scammed as we’re very much aware of most scams around, and we don’t trust people anyway. We believe that “it’s not the one that asks for an unfair price that’s stupid, but the one that pays it”. We also think most things are negotiable in life, including healthcare and education.
Things are starting to change, and mentalities are beginning to evolve. But it’s a long way, and it will take a while. We’ll get there, I promise. It’s just pretty hard when most people used to do this sort of thing to survive communism. But don’t forget, it was better “before”.
#15 Romani people / Gypsies
OK, I’m sure you were wondering when am I getting to what you’ve been waiting for. I initially tried to avoid this subject, as it’s a bit sensitive to us. But since I always strive for honesty, it has to be addressed no matter if I like it or not.
What you need to know is that Romani people are not Romanian. Romani are a different ethnic group that initially came from Northern India and they used to be nomadic. This means they used to be from “nowhere and everywhere”. Romanians, on the other hand, come from Romania, a land that mostly occupied the area between the end of the Danube river, the Black sea, and the “arch of the Carpathians”.
During communist times, Romani people were forced to not leave the Romanian territory anymore, after they were mass killed during WWII. This population used to live in pretty closed communities and their major way of living was by craftsmanship. Most of them did not attend any school at this point, as they were prepared to move houses at any time.
With the death of manual craftsmanship and the raise of automated work, they started to not be able to gain any money. Also, they are very traditionalists, and some of their traditions are almost impossible to keep in the modern world. Girls rarely go to school, as they don’t need to know more than to take care of the house and children.
Also, since they have to marry virgins, they tend to marry young (at about 14-16 years old, or even younger), and they also tend to give birth to multiple children. The lack of education combined with getting married very young will bring them in the situation of having plenty of children to take care of without the financial means of doing so.
Now, they could work, you’ll say. And indeed, they could. But most Romanians are very racist against Romani people (and please try to avoid using “gypsy”, as this term is somewhat similar to saying “nigger”), as everyone thinks they’re lazy people that do nothing but steal. The lack of education doesn’t help, as there aren’t that many jobs one can do without knowing how to read.
So, in this case, there is a possibility that more and more Romani people had to steal or beg in order for them to provide for their families. Other activities they were known for were prostitution, scamming naive foreigners, and sometimes even bigger crimes (but these are not mostly related to ethnicity, it’s just how delinquency evolves).
Now, things have evolved a bit. More and more Romani people are going to school nowadays. More and more of them live in normal communities, not the closed ones they used to have (where they were known for not having access to running water, thus most Romanians associating Romani people with dirtiness).
They have started to unify as a community and to ask for their rights. They are trying to keep up their language, traditions, and culture. They ask for representation in international committees and they are raising against racism. At the same time, more inter-ethnic marriages are happening, so society is slowly starting to open up.
But, we, Romanians, are upset when we’re seen as Romani. And this is mostly due to one thing: the first people that left Romania after we joined the EU were the “bad” Romani and Romanians. The ones that were stealing, begging, and scamming in Romania were the first ones to enjoy the bigger “market” that was the EU.
And since then, we’re all associated with this behavior. We often hear jokes like “you should keep an eye on your phone, the Romanian is coming”. We’re also seen as “less than” and everyone is trying to offer us a smaller salary. We get rejected when we apply for rent. People act surprised when we tell them our job, which is not a “blue-collar” one, but an actual office job. We also have rules that limit immigration from Romania in certain countries.
People also act surprised that we shower often, have clean and tidy clothes, speak foreign languages, and have a general, basic knowledge about the world around us. People don’t expect me to offer to help and to actually do it, they don’t expect me to keep my promises, or to deliver high-quality work. They just expect to be disappointed by the Romanian.
This is why Romanians don’t like to be associated with Romani people. The first thing is that we’re still, in our hearts, small and pitiful racists. But the second is that the EU has only seen the worse of it, and now they all think we’re the same.
What am I even trying to get to, you ask? Well, we should never add labels to people. You’ll have all kinds of people coming from each country. You’ll find all categories of people everywhere you’ll go in the world. Labeling people based on anything else than their own behavior is and will always be the wrong way to look at life.
So, what is Romania famous for?
I hope now you know more about my country than you used to. And I hope you learned some pretty cool stuff. But I also hope you forgive my emotion. As an expat, I miss my country every day. Deep down, we all dream of coming back one day. But, until then, I’m trying to show people what Romania is famous for.
About the author
Cristina calls herself the one-woman show behind Honest Travel Stories. She is a Romanian IT geek that moved to Switzerland two years ago and started writing because buying a domain name was cheaper than going to therapy. She is passionate about her job, loves dogs (has said “I love you!” to about 1037 dogs until now) and has an unhealthy relationship with coffee.
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