What to avoid as an expat in Romania, for a smooth accommodation here

If you're an expat in Romania, or planning to move or have just moved to Romania for a period longer than just a few weeks of vacation, then you may want to read this article. I am trying to provide here some helpful tips on what kind of behavior you would rather want to avoid as an expat in Romania, to help yourself with a good move and integration here.
avoid as an expat in Romania

Life in Romania is not always with milk and honey, but I guess this applies to anybody living in any country as an expat. It’s a different culture, different people, so along the way it can get uncomfortable, and you may feel uneasy sometimes. You may even start cursing the idea of moving abroad, and asking yourself if moving to Romania was a good decision for yourself. Would it have been better if I had stayed living back home?

But the first thing you have to understand is that living as an expat in Romania is not, and will never be the same as living in your home country. This is the first thing you would need to get your head around, so you can realize that, after all, making a good life in your new country is not so difficult. And it can even be a lot of fun along the way.

I moved to Romania more than five years ago, and since then I have been witness to many mistakes that expats do, which doesn’t really help them in integrating locally. Some of them I also used to do, so maybe it is because of this that I can observe a lot of mistakes that I see now at other fellow expatriates.

So here is my list of top mistakes to avoid as an expat living in Romania.

1. Not try to blend in and expecting Romanian locals to accommodate you

As a saying goes, you can’t learn a foreign language if you speak your native language all day long. In my daily life I see expats speaking English to one another all the time, but never trying to learn to speak more than three basic expressions in Romanian and blending in with local people. Of course, the end result is that most of them never succeed in fully integrating and making local friends. Integrating fully with local communities involves, among others, learning to communicate in their local language, as well as understanding their specific culture.

Sometimes I see expats who greet local people on street saying “bună ziua!” or “bună!” in Romanian, but nothing else; however, they are really funny in claiming they learned Romanian. Also, in smaller towns, they behave like curious foreigners whom the locals tolerate, may even like, but really don’t understand. And the other way around is also true.

An expat who doesn’t socialize with Romanians, inviting them to have a “cafea” or to a dinner with “sarmale” or accepting invitations from them on his turn, or doesn’t participate in local community events (while sticking to expat community events), or doesn’t offer help to neighbors where possible, is never going to integrate into Romania.

Of course, in local Romanian communities you will probably always be considered a “străin” and be treated as such. But you don’t become part of a local community while sitting in your living room talking to your family in English.

I spent more than 7 months in Romania before moving here permanently. This was more than 6 or even 7 years ago, but during those months I learned some important things about how to cope with a culture and attitudes that are very different from “back home.” One of the important aspects I learned is that people are different, they have different history or background, different lifestyle, and we should accept that.

Some people in Romania are not always highest quality service-oriented people

During those “accommodating” months I learned that Romanians can be different than people in my home country, and that’s a fact I cannot change, which is perfectly fine.

For example, expats who come here expecting good customer service like they may be accustomed to back in their home countries, whether it’s in a restaurant or clothing store, or online, are going to get frustrated sometimes, very quickly.

I’m not saying that everyone in Romania is like this, or that people who behave like this have an excuse; I’m just saying what it is, and that is not going to change for an expat who is complaining about his package delivery did not arrive on time, or that the waiter served him warm beer.

Back in your home country it may be normal for couriers to call you at least 30 minutes before delivering your order package to your address, for ensuring you’re at home. But in Romania, these people sometimes would not care about that. If you’re not at the address when he arrives, bad luck! Maybe they don’t care in your home country either, but here, they may even not try to fake that they care about it.

Suspend your expectations

In addition to the above, my second advice to expats moving to Romania is: suspend your expectations! Expats who move abroad expecting that things will go really smoothly, and according to their wishes and in a timely manner may be disappointed. In Romania, people have learned to suspend such expectations, and always plan for what could be the worst scenario.

This may also be because Romanians have a long history of hard life and communist restrictions behind. But sometimes it helps them navigate easier through shitty days. On the other side, when you abandon such expectations, on the rare occasion when things do happen in a smooth, timely manner and according to one’s wishes, it’s all the more gratifying.

2. Not trying to learn the Romanian language

This one seems like it should be fundamental not only for a smooth integration, but also to be able to manage your daily life in a foreign country (when going shopping, for a lunch, or at work), and yet… too many expatriates don’t ever learn Romanian sufficiently to function here.

While many Romanians speak English, especially in larger cities, making an effort to learn Romanian can greatly enhance your integration. Avoid relying solely on English; even basic Romanian phrases can open doors and show respect for the local culture.

Assuming that everyone speaks English can lead to missed connections and opportunities. While it’s a common language, especially among younger generations, not all situations and conversations will accommodate English speakers.

Especially outside of the big Romanian cities and touristic areas, not all Romanians speak English, although Romanians are generally appreciated as good English speakers. Especially those who are passed a certain age do not really speak and understand it. The result is that English speakers get frustrated, often. It’s delightful to fumble through a discussion in Romanian when you’re at the bar or at the local market, and you can laugh and make faces to get yourself understood.

But try doing that on the phone when calling for a cab, or talking to the cable company, or when trying to schedule a doctor appointment. Well, good luck with that!

I remember the first year I was here, every time I needed to make such a call. If I couldn’t get a Romanian friend or colleague to call on my behalf, I was rehearsing my speech before, for at least 10 minutes.

Now I have expat friends who still ask someone to call for them or be present to translate when they need to talk to a Romanian. And often that’s me they turn to for help.

When they try to do it on their own, it all ends up in a mess and frustration circus.

3. Not trying to understand the local culture, and expecting to change the parts you don’t like

Many of the expats in Romania come here because they choose it, right? And then after a while, they may discover there are aspects about Romania which they don’t like. I have a long list that comes to my mind, but at the top of it is littering, lack of infrastructure, corruption, treatment of domestic animals, and an every one for himself attitude.

The truth is, some of these aspects are indeed present in the Romanian society. I myself do not like them, but I have learned not to judge them, as they come with a long history behind.

I just do whatever I can about the things I can control, and for the rest I have accepted I cannot change. For example, the things I can’t control is how Romanians do business, the time they listen to loud music at home, the bureaucracy of applying for a residency permit or getting a Romanian driving license.

Yet I have expat friends in Romania who get frustrated about many things they see around them. They live with totally other expectations, and want things to change. I always tell them they should understand that they’re not going to change Romania, and Romania isn’t going to change for them.

Cultural integration is a significant aspect of making a successful transition to living in Romania as an expat. By embracing local customs and holidays, and learning from local behaviors, expats can not only navigate their new environment more effectively but also enrich their own lives with new experiences and understandings.

Here’s how to delve deeper into these aspects:

Embracing local customs and holidays

Romania is a country with deep-rooted traditions and a rich tapestry of holidays that reflect its complex history and diverse culture. Participating in these traditions and holidays not only shows respect for the local culture but also offers unique opportunities for expats to connect with their new community on a more meaningful level.

Examples of local customs and holidays:

Mărțișor: On the 1st of March, Romanians celebrate the arrival of spring. People exchange small trinkets or red and white pins, known as “Mărțișor,” with their loved ones. As an expat, participating in this tradition by giving Mărțișor to your new acquaintances or neighbors can be a heartfelt gesture of friendship.

Easter celebrations: Romanian Easter traditions are rich and varied, with midnight church services followed by feasting on traditional foods like lamb and pasca (a type of Easter bread). Engaging in these celebrations, perhaps by attending a service or sharing a meal with a Romanian family, can offer insights into the spiritual and communal aspects of Romanian culture.

Christmas in Romania: Christmas in Romania is a magical time, with traditions that predate Christianity. From singing colinde (traditional Christmas carols) to enjoying specific festive foods like sarmale (cabbage rolls) and cozonac (sweet bread), participating in these festivities can deepen your appreciation of Romanian heritage.

Local festivals: Many Romanian towns and villages host annual festivals celebrating everything from local crafts and folk music to historical events. These festivals are an excellent opportunity for expats to experience local culture up close, sample traditional foods, and enjoy Romanian hospitality.

Learning from local behaviors

Understanding and adapting to how Romanians interact in their daily lives can significantly smooth the path to integration. Observing and learning from local behaviors means not only adhering to social norms but also appreciating the underlying values and attitudes that shape these behaviors.

Examples of learning from local behaviors:

Hospitality: Romanians are known for their warmth and hospitality. Accept invitations to homes with grace, and always bring a small gift as a token of appreciation. This practice not only adheres to local customs but also opens doors to genuine friendships and deeper cultural understanding.

Communication style: While Romanians are generally direct in their communication, they also place a high value on politeness and respect. Pay attention to these nuances in conversations, and you’ll find that your interactions become more meaningful and effective.

Respect for elders: Respect for older people is deeply ingrained in Romanian culture. Demonstrating deference and politeness to elders in your community can help you earn respect and integrate more smoothly.

Adaptability in social situations: Romanians often display great adaptability and a sense of humor in social situations. Embracing this flexibility and learning to navigate social gatherings with ease can enhance your social experiences and help you form lasting connections.

5. Comparing home culture with Romanian culture, way too much

Yes, you may miss your peanut butter, your Mediterranean food, warm weather and high quality customer services back home. You may, occasionally, and quite carefully, want to say to people around you “You know, back in my home country, maybe we do this a little better than in Romania”.

But I always ask expats who criticize things, and brag about how much more orderly, efficient, cleaner and less corrupt their home country is, why did they left their country?

They are not aware that, by whining over and over again, expats put even more space, more distinction between themselves and the local community. This isn’t very constructive. On the contrary it’s isolating, and completely counter to their presumed mission of feeling happier and more at home in Romania.

All resources from category: Romanian life guiding

Similar resources

Picture of Robert Vergeer

Robert Vergeer

I am a photographer and travel blogger, born in the Netherlands, but currently living in Romania. I love photography, traveling and exploring new places and promoting them online. I am also passionate about writing.

One Response

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

About Expat-Center Romania

Experience an immersive online platform providing an abundance of daily resources and invaluable guidance tailored exclusively for a thriving community of avid readers. Unlock a treasure trove of essential tools and information, empowering you to craft a remarkable expat life in Romania effortlessly and seamlessly.

Recent Posts

Follow Us
Sign up for our Newsletter

Enjoy Romanian life guiding articles, updates, stories, and many more!