Romanian culture shock

2008-Aug

For the first time ever, I tried sleeping pills. Sadly, I didn't have beginner's luck. Melatonin didn't work, and 2 Tylenol PM caplets did nothing to help me catch some shuteye on the long flight over the Atlantic. Another beginner mistake: I thought the luggage weight limit was something comfortable, but it turned out that my checked luggage weighed 65lb, which cost me $150 extra. Outrageous. But if I had had two separate pieces of checked luggage, and if each weighed under 50lb, it would have been fine. So 100lb was fine, but 65 wasn't. Are airlines employing children to carry checked luggage, or what?

Romania was less shocking than I expected, but not because anything got better; rather because I had had the culture shock already when I returned from Belgium. But for a first-time visitor, the shock is there, starting with the passport check officer, who is completely silent even when you say "Good evening officer, here you go" while you hand over the passport, and "Thank you" when it is thrown back on the counter at you.

The rest was there too, outside the airport: the 35C atmosphere, the crowded public transportation, the cashiers who never smile, the dubiously looking fellows all over the place, the motley buildings, and the motley apartments in uniform communist-era apartment buildings, some with air conditioning units, some without, but all with balconies sporting visible clothes lines, rugs thrown over the balcony railing, various antennae, and whatnot items, some less identifiable than others.

But the most disturbing thing was different - hearing Romanian spoken around me. It's just odd: I speak and hear Romanian directed to me when talking to friends, but the only times I've heard it spoken around me, when I was a mere passer-by, were rare - at museum where a Romanian couple or group of friends happened to comment on something. That was odd in itself - a similar kind of automatic ear-perking reaction that one has when they hear their name uttered. But multiply that time a crowd of people around you uttering your name, and imagine you haven't heard your name uttered in 4 years. That's what it felt like.

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