Impressions of a new country

Hidden Halloween

Romania – home to one of the most famous legends of all time…Dracula. With such spooky tales and macabre folk stories surrounding its landscape and embellishing its history, it was quite a shock to discover that “Halloween” does not exist in Romania. You would think it was the perfect place to go mad with halloween celebrations and really embrace all that is scary – but it simply isn’t part of the tradition here.

Walking through the high streets of England during the Halloween period is very interesting. Everything you can possibly imagine has been adapted to have a spooky theme in order to cash in on this popular, and seemingly very western, celebration. From fake cobwebs in windows, to cakes with black bat icing – it is hard to miss references to Halloween everywhere you look.

In Romania, it is very different. October 31st is just an ordinary day – no decorations, no trick or treaters, no carved pumpkins or costume parties. This seemed so odd to me having grown up in the UK; where Halloween is slowly becoming just as big of a deal as it is in America.

Although there is not a Halloween celebration, on 1st-2nd November in Romania, ‘The day of the dead’ is celebrated. People gather in cemeteries, with flowers, candles and gifts, to appreciate the lost people in their lives and to share memories with family and friends. This is quite a big occasion for Romanian people, and in the days leading up to the day of the dead, family members will attend to the graves of their relatives – making the areas look really beautiful in preparation for the day itself. It is a much more meaningful celebration in a lot of ways than our typical Halloween and it is refreshing to experience a place that is still mostly untouched by a lot of ‘western’ and commercial ideas.

“We are in Transylvania, and Transylvania is not England. Our ways are not your ways, and there shall be to you many strange things.” – Bram Stoker’s Dracula

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The only orange-ish pumpkin I could find in the entire city of Oradea

Thrift Market: Animal sections

It was quite surprising to find an entire corner of this thrift market dedicated to selling animals of all kinds. Many people were selling puppies, kittens or older pets that they didn’t want anymore. There were also stalls selling fish and all sorts of birds. Groups of puppies, kittens and rabbits were simply sitting on tables waiting to be bought – it was a very strange thing to witness. The animals were all in good condition and weren’t being neglected, which is something, but still…the general scenario was quite sad. This particular day was very hot and sunny; so having the animals sitting out without shelter, for goodness knows how many hours, just seemed wrong.

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Bag Wrapping

I mentioned in a very early blog post about having to store your shopping bags in lockers when you enter a different shop. This is very common in most grocery stores and some supermarkets. It is a way to deter thieves from being able to slip an item into their shopping bag which they might have from another store. This concept is rarely seen in the UK and you can take your shopping bags in all kinds of shops without it being a problem.

Recently, in Romania, I have experienced this idea on a much larger scale at a very large supermarket. On entering the shop, if you have shopping from another shop, you are asked by a member of security staff to join a queue to have your bags, and even larger personal bags (rucksacks/large bags), wrapped in plastic. Your bag is put onto a machine that encases your items in a brightly coloured plastic wrap and is then heat-sealed. You are allowed to carry small to medium sized handbags without having to wrap them up – but anything bigger must be wrapped. Once your items/bags have been wrapped, you can then go about your normal shopping routine. It seems strange that such large measures must be taken to prevent stealing. With CCTV and security tags/alarm systems, you would think that such an extreme measure of wrapping peoples’ bags wouldn’t be necessary.

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Cheese

Cheese is incredibly different here in Romania in comparison to the UK. Fresh cheese here is known as brânză – it’s white in colour and its texture is soft and crumbly (not unlike Greek Feta). Brânză can be sweet or salty and is used in many ways for lots of different dishes. It is usually made in the countryside by people who own farms, then brought to cities to be sold at markets. The smell of the ‘cheese section’ of the market always surprises me. It isn’t the normal cheese smell that you experience if you were stood by a cheese counter in an English shop – it is an incredibly sour and pungent smell that really hits you. For cheese that makes such a pong, the flavour is actually quite mild – it is very creamy and doesn’t have a typically cheesy taste but more of a gentle sour taste. Also, when you heat it, it does not melt as readily as you would expect a cheese to melt.

Most blocks of cheese that you find in supermarkets here are not considered to be real cheese by locals. It is known as cașcaval – yellow in colour, hard or rubbery in texture and very similar in appearance to what you see in English shops. The taste is very mild and not intense at all – in fact, the flavour is almost non existent.

So cheese is quite interesting here, I am yet to discover one that has a truly strong cheesy taste like that of a good old block of English Cheddar. 

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Brânză

Taxis

Here it’s a necessity for all taxi drivers to display their credentials, photo and name on the passenger side of the car. You sometimes see this in the UK – but more often than not, you can’t usually see this information so easily. I think it’s a good idea and can give the passenger some peace of mind to know that they know the driver’s details incase anything bad should happen. 

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Melons, Melons, Everywhere

Melons are everywhere during the summer; you can’t walk down a street without seeing a heap of melons. The most popular seems to be watermelon. It’s not a surprising thing that refreshing watermelon is so popular here when summer temperatures can reach 40 degrees Celsius; but what is surprising, is how and where they are sold. 

In the UK, it is not usual to see anyone selling things in the street, except at organised markets or events. I am unsure as to whether people here in Romania have to obtain permission in order to sell melons in the street – but from what I have seen and experienced, these ‘pop up’ melon stalls seem as though they don’t have any rules or regulations surrounding them. 

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Decorated Houses

Quite a few houses here are decorated with mosaics. The most frequent type of images that you see are trees and other natural things. It is very unusual to see any mosaics on houses in the UK – so it is strange to see so many here. Many houses here are also painted in very bright and diverse colours.

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