Eating in Romania
Dining in Romania is an experience. Sometimes a good one. Other times,
well, . . .
There are the minor problems such as the confusion of Tang and orange
juice (learn to say "suc de portocale" if you really want the
They charge extra for butter which is always unsalted and somehow not
very tasty. There is no bread dish; you use the table cloth which is _usually_
Variety in food is not great. There is an utter dominance of pork, an
infrequency of chicken and an absence of decent beef. Dairy products seem
to be exclusively imported from Germany which is a shame given what a
natural farming land this is.
Beyond the difficulties posed by a language one does not speak are the
sometimes odd descriptions one finds on menus. Here are some of the more
intriguing items I have found -- and not ordered:
Gordon Bleu de Porc [i.e., pork stuffed with pork]
Special Rumanian Food
Pork Fried Steak
Stuffed Cabbage with Poridge and Sourdream
Pizza with Ham, Cheese and Ketchup Sauce
Western junk food is available here -- thank god. There is a Pizza Hut
where you can order a pepperoni pizza with extra pepperoni and extra,
extra pepperoni -- yes, that is a triple serving of pepperoni. I have
found that, with repeated explanation to disbelieving wait staff, I can
get my needed periodic dose of pepperoni. I do have to work at it, but
it does work after several repetitions.
Romania has a number of McDonalds and the "plain double cheese"
can be ordered in English and correctly delivered, hot. It is EXACTLY
the same taste and consistency as in the States. God bless McDonalds.
However, there is no breakfast -- they start serving Big Macs at 7 AM.
Progress is needed here.
There is a Kentucky Fried Chicken establishment right beside the McDonalds
closest to where I live. Once again the quality is quite good and it fulfills
a deep seated need. On the other hand, I have not been able to locate
a Popeye's. I have been advised to not "hold my breath."
There are, of course, expensive restaurants that cater to the well-healed
foreigners. I have recourse to these establishments from time to time.
Primarily for tender beef -- and it isn't always tender, even then.
Ethnic food, as we think of it, is very limited. I went to what a guide
book described as the best Chinese restaurant in the country and would
say, "Don't!" Other expats agree with my assessment.
Romanian wines are tasty and usually varietally described. They are worth
sampling. "Narock!" which Romanians translate as "Cheers!"
but which means "Luck!" is the word for a toast here but they
also say it if you sneeze.
You can't get ice cream here, only ice milk. It can be good ice milk but
if you are addicted to ice cream, this is a problem. One of those slowly
growing, apparently insignificant problems that ultimately make you determined
to go home -- at least for a while.
I have found few things as problematic as trying to understand the local
custom on tipping. On the one hand, it is crude to widely deviate from
local custom and, on the other hand, it is a problem to refuse to pay
for service that is well delivered -- especially in an economy where you
know that few people are fat.
But an American's opinion is only one factor on the scale. One must also
consider the opinions of the Romanians one is dining with. This can lead
to problems since Romanians tend to believe Americans are throwing away
vast sums when they tip.
Judy hides her tip under the plate when dining with Romanians, because
they are so sure that she tips too much that they take the tip and give
it back to her. Having Romanians we work with return a tip has happened
I asked some Romanian acquaintances about tipping and they say they do
tip but that they "finish off" the bill, rounding up. Well there
are some pretty small bills in Romanian currency so it is not at all clear
what this means.
It is hard to not tip excessively. You feel that you want to return something
to the economy. The problem is that only a certain segment of the economy
benefits. And maybe you didn't like the food anyway.
26 Apr 98
A Reprise on Service
Two friends and I stopped in a trendy cafe near my apartment to get a
drink. The night was the year's mildest so we sat outside. When the waitress
came Alex ordered a Mimosa (called a "jack Fizz" on the menu)
and Daniel ordered a "Bellini" which is pear juice and champagne.
I contented myself with a large beer.
Much discussion ensued. When the waitress left I asked what happened.
"She said the bartender who was too crowded to make the drinks,"
Alex told me. I had an image of a hassled man working out of a corner,
disparately trying to fill orders until I looked over at the outdoor bar
that was a few feet away. It was about 10 feet on a side, with shelving
that had many bottles of liquor. In front of the bar were two waitress
chatting with the bartender. They might have been discussing how inconvenient
The traditional drink of this entire region is a brandy made from plums
(or peaches or prunes or pears or apples) as the situation permits. It
is called Tzwika (or Slibovitz) and has the strength of whiskey with a
deceptive pellucid appearance. How could anything with such visual clarity
produce such cloudy thinking? It has an interesting flavor but is definitely
an acquired taste. Romanians are very proud of it (once you are out of
Bucharest) and Judy is regularly presented with two liter bottles of it
-- rather more than a lifetime supply for an American.
Romania has a number of decent beers but many imports from Germany, Belgium,
and Denmark are very popular. I don't think Romanians appreciate how good
the local beers are. I have even found regional beets that I think are
Problems in Communication
Effectively communicating ideas to people (training) is always difficult.
Add in the language barrier and suddenly Americans are presented with
new and treacherous obstacles to speaking clearly. The problem is that
there are many things that we say to each other that increase the impact
of our message, that help us hit a home run in the communications game
. . . Oops! Hitting home runs doesn't translate in Europe. Admittedly
a very experienced interpreter might be able to deal with fairly common
American colloquial expressions but do you really want to run the risk?
We use regionalisms and colloquialisms much more than we think. Here is
a short list of things that don't translate well. My only defense is that
I have every one of these used by Americans training abroad.
A "Come to Jesus" meeting
Waiting for the other shoe to fall
Dog and pony show
Didn't miss a trick
'Till the cows come home
Getting to first base [and all other baseball references such as "going
to bat for someone"]
A pep talk
Going to the dogs
Getting up a head of steam
Pulling my leg
Barking up the wrong tree
. . . and don't sell the farm.
Telling stories can be even worse than using colloquialisms. I know of
one instance where an American was speaking to a non-Western audience
and was being sequentially interpreted by an expert. He told a story from
this American experience and the audience laughed a lot at the interpreted
version. He decided that he was quite a success as an international speaker.
Only later did he learn that when he had begun the story the interpreter
had told the audience, "The American has begun to tell a story. When
he concludes be sure to laugh heartily. Now I must continue to pretend
to explain what he says."
Of course, odd phrases are not an American exclusive. I have heard more
than one reference to "street lightening" and the "planification"
of the budget.
Language is a peril even when you are trying to learn someone else's.
I asked Alex how to tell someone at the office that they were nicely dressed.
He said that I should say,"arati marfa azi" which is pronounced
"aratz marfa ahz" which he said meant "You look stunning
today" but the staff said otherwise; they said it meant, "Today
you have the goods." The perils of Romanian!
27 Apr 98
Hands Across the Water
When you are away from your home, the task of maintaining links with the
friends back "in the States" becomes quite significant. Letters
can take two weeks to go in one direction, although they maintain a tradition
of quaintness. Phone calls from Romania are prohibitively expensive for
the frequency I would prefer. Email, well email I hardly use at all.
So the problem of maintaining your roots, keeping in contact with friends
and loved ones persists. There is no single solution but there are a number
of partial "fixes" to your needs. One partial "fix"
is to read English language publications. For Americans the preeminent
news publication in Europe is the International Herald Tribune, the only
American newspaper on the entire continent. Alas, the Herald Tribune seems
to have fallen on hard times. It is thinner than I remember it from trips
past. It seems to have less news and that seems less American. It still
has the New York Times crossword puzzle but man does not live by words
Papers the world over have had to change to help them attract increasingly
reluctant readers. Even the formerly stately London Times now sports color
pages, banner front page ads for "Hunks in Trunks" features
on the interior pages.
But there is evidence that there will always be an England: The court
Circular, the list of birthdays, and, of course, Modern Manners by John
Morgan (postal address but no email) wherein important questions of etiquette
are dealt with in that forthrightly British way. "I recall in an
officers' mess soon after the war [unspecified, the reader is expected
to know] eating pieces of cheese off the tip of one's knife! Would you
kindly confirm whether this still acceptable in polite society? -- John
H. Hobson, Bournemouth, Dorset. Response: "It certainly isn't."
The Times has a section for "Quotes of the Week":
"She is truly representative of the city" -- The local council
explains why it used a picture of Marge Potter, 67, to promote Birmingham.
"I would stake my life on the fact that he is dead" -- Lady
Lucan on her missing husband.
"We would still like to speak to Lord Lucan in connection with our
inquiries into the death of Sandra Rivett" -- Scotland Yard spokesman
And there is that British sense of "News": "Happy day when
dog was man's best man" was a headline about a man whose best man
was "Muttley, his border collie, Mr. Rickman, a graphic designer
from Richmond, Surrey, said yesterday: 'It was a choice between my brother
and my best friend. I chose Muttley so neither of them would be upset.'
Mr. Reindorp [the minister] said the dog, which regularly attended services
at the church, even 'signed' the witness book with a paw print."
Yes, there will always be an England.
Of course, there is TV but it is one way. It represents a third party's
idea about what you should know about the States. But then your friends
are being fed the same drivel so there is some value in shared experiences.
But despite all these palliatives, you have to go home once in a while.
You learn to really look forward to it. I had originally planned on returning
to the States at the end of May but I will now be staying on until about
July 6th. When my plane lands in Boston, I plan to head directly for Regina's
Pizzeria in the North End for a long denied dose of pepperoni pizza. See