Impressions of a new country

Tag Archives: Romania

The Chip and Pin payment system is prevalent all over the UK, it has revolutionised the way we pay and become a staple for most retailers to provide.

From what I’ve seen in Romania, the same revolution is happening…just at a much slower pace; lots of shops still do not offer this service. It is mostly large supermarkets and other big retail outlets that have a Chip and Pin payment option…but even here, the speed of these card systems is extremely slow in comparison to the lightening fast “I didn’t even put my card in yet” machines across the UK.

I recently came across a strange sight at the checkout of a big electronics shop. A huge collection of Chip and Pin card machines, all with different card/bank names on them. It seemed that all were in use, and, depending on the type of card used by the customer, a specific machine was chosen for that transaction. I’m not sure about the reasons for doing this, or its productivity (if you know more…please let me know!) – nevertheless it was quite amusing to see so many at the same checkout.

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For the regular readers of this blog, you might remember some of my previous posts about flea and thrift markets here in Romania. The draw of these places is huge – the vast array of things you can see and find is always guaranteed to be interesting: the sights, the crowds, the smell of freshly cooked langoș and mici, the sellers on their little stalls blasting Romanian music on hi-fi systems from the 90s – it’s brilliant. However, on my most recent visit, there was some ugliness to be seen as well as all the good stuff…

I was, as always, treated to some spectacular displays of jumble stalls filled with miscellaneous items. My personal favourite being a man selling a modest pile of coats, a ladies boot and a brown shoe.

Although the majority of my time spent here was pleasant and interesting, the visit took quite a sad turn when it came to looking at the animal section. Seeing animals in small cages is never nice, even when they are alone in the cage and have space to move…so seeing dogs, rabbits and birds piled on top of each other in small cages was pretty grim to witness. I saw a man buy a rabbit and proceed to put it into a plastic carrier bag to take it home, and later, a bird seller putting the birds into tiny paper bags once they’d been sold – the type of bags you’d get penny sweets in.

The most shocking thing I saw, was a group of puppies that had recently had their ears “cropped”. This procedure is banned in many countries, including Romania – it was shocking to see these poor pups with raggedly stitched up half-ears. When we asked the seller why this had been done – she said, rather defensively, that it was for their own good in order to prevent infection. Even though Romania is slowly improving its animal protection laws, it’s sad that more is not being done; the lack of animal welfare organisations and charities is astounding. Largely, the mentality regarding animal welfare here is quite behind the times and drastically needs to change.

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Observing vehicles and the driving behaviour of car owners in Romania is quite fascinating. Many European countries tend to have chaotic drivers, and here is no different. With the addition of trams, the roads here in Oradea can sometimes be quite intimidating. Trams don’t necessarily have a separate ‘lane’ – more often than not, cars can be seen driving in front of, behind and generally meandering between trams.

Road rage seems a little more prevalent here than in England – but it tends to come about for trivial reasons. On more than one occasion I have witnessed police being called to ‘incidents’ involving angry drivers in a dispute over a parking space outside of small roadside supermarkets. It is somewhat amusing to witness – if only to learn some Romanian profanity (which is also very different and sometimes almost nonsensical!)

Some general facts:

  • As in England…the use of mobile phones in cars is prohibited – but contrary to England, many people here do not adhere to this rule. 
  • In Romania it is compulsory to use your headlights during the day on major roads and outside of built up areas. 
  • Driving tests are conducted by the police! You also have to perform all manoeuvres during the test.
  • For the first year after passing, you must display a sign in the back window of your car that shows a black exclamation mark against a yellow background.

Car registration numbers are created using a slightly different system – the first two letters are the initials of the county where the car originated from. For example all cars originating from Bihor county, start with BH. I found it so strange when I suddenly noticed almost every car in Oradea beginning with BH. 

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On a recent visit to the same large supermarket that brought us the intriguing practice of “bag wrapping” – yet another rather over the top security feature has been added to the store.

A security system has been installed on the small cosmetics aisle of the shop – and only on this aisle. It seems rather odd and I have personally not come across this type of ‘aisle specific’ security measure before. The main entrance to the shop is fitted with a security system just as most shops are around the world – so you would think that this main system alone would be enough to catch thieves. Obviously this aisle is a hot spot for theft and extra measures have had to be taken!

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Today, 5th December, is a special day/night for Romanian people. It is the evening that Moș Nicolae visits and leaves gifts in the shoes of those who have been good this year. Moș Nicolae is Saint Nicholas – the role model who inspired the more universally known character of Santa Claus. Here in Romania, Moș Nicolae visits during the night of 5th December, and Moș Crăciun (Santa) visits during the night of 24th December. 

Around this time in early December, markets are filled with an abundance of colourfully decorated canes and sticks. Many feature bells, ribbons and decorative toppers such as snowmen or santa claus heads. These sticks have become a custom here and are given to children from Moș Nicolae. They originally signified a naughty child and were given instead of sweets and candy to the unlucky recipient (it is said that Moș Nicolae used to punish wrong-doers by hitting their hands with a stick) – however nowadays these sticks have become a more lighthearted symbol of Moș Nicolae and are frequently given to most children.

Tonight, children, and even some hopeful adults, will leave their shoes on window ledges or by the front door and hope that Moș Nicolae will leave them something nice!

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Quiet, sombre and full of grey and weathered headstones – this, a typical English cemetery, is what you will find up and down the country in the UK. It’s not uncommon to find similar cemeteries here in Romania too; there are plenty of them – however, one cemetery in particular, located in the small village of Săpânța, does things a little differently.”Cimitirul Vesel” or “Merry Cemetery” is a place like no other. Headstones are brightly painted, lavishly decorated and depict life stories, poems, drawings and carvings of the person buried beneath. Often, the pictures are humorous and the verses written below are full of jokes and satire. These monuments are seen as great celebrations of loved characters whose families want them to be remembered in a unique way.

An example of a humorous epitaph from the Merry Cemetery:

“Underneath this heavy cross
Lies my poor mother-in-law 
Had she lived three days more
I would be here and she would read this
You that are passing by
Try not to wake her up
For if she comes back home
She’ll bite my head off
But I will act in the way
That she will not return
Stay here my dear
Mother-in-law”

 


In Oradea, a lot of shops are up a small flight of steps. During my first visit here I recall being very surprised by this; it isn’t very often that you see a shop with its own entrance steps in the UK. I’m not sure about other Romanian cities…but Oradea is absolutely brimming with shops like this. What really caught my eye regarding these steps was the fact that most retailers use this extra space to showcase their goods. It is a good idea to attract potential buyers, but in a country where theft is a primary concern to shop owners, it seems quite a daring advertising tactic. Concerns aside though, it does add a lot of colour and diversity to your average stroll down the high street.

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