Impressions of a new country

Tag Archives: Romanian

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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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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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 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



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