Today we have the privilege of hearing Jake Stimpson’s perspective on Romania. If you missed yesterday’s post where Jake’s wife Jessie shared her top five favorite things about Romania, you can read it here. The Stimpsons blog about their life and work in Romania at It Doesn’t Matter Where.
Since Jessie already mentioned some of the more obvious things to love about Romania, I want to give you five less-conventional personal favorites about life here:
6. I’ll probably get in trouble for saying this, but I love the lack of seatbelt laws. Well, that’s not entirely true – there are laws but no one seems to care. I know the statistics about seatbelts saving lives, and I totally believe them, but I also know I grew up riding in the back of pickup trucks, playing with Legos in the trunk of a station wagon, and climbing all over the seats on long trips, and I never got hurt by it. I think Americans (and Western Europeans) are way too uptight about safety. In Romania, you just pay attention and watch out for other people.
7. Another one you won’t find in the guidebooks: I really like walking on the road. In Bucharest, a bustling city of nearly 3 million, there’s not enough parking spaces, so people park (and sometimes drive) on the sidewalks. And – here’s where we get a little graphic – wherever sidewalks aren’t overrun by cars, usually there’s enough dog poop to make walking on the sidewalks a bit treacherous. So except for the main streets, people walk on the road, sometimes right down the middle. Maybe I’m just a simple guy who’s easily amused, but there’s something liberating about walking in the middle of the road, expecting cars to just move around you.
8. I love how Romanians talk to strangers. I didn’t realize until moving away from the US, but in America, we’re really weird about talking to people we don’t know. In Romania, you can approach any stranger, ask him the time, ask directions, talk about life under communism, discuss politics and religion, check your Facebook status on his phone, find out you share a common relative in some small town 150 km away… and it’s just normal, because you’re a person, and people talk to people.
9. Romanians touch each other (and you). Us Americans have this obsession with personal space. Romanians (at least in Bucharest) are way less concerned about it. Whether it’s being squished between five strangers on the bus, so close that you have to pull an old woman’s curls out of your nostrils, or you have a random stranger push you aside because you’re about to step in dog poop, Romanians aren’t so up-tight about touching or being touched. People I just met tucked in my shirt without asking permission, straightened my collar, pulled hairs off my jacket, and took my glasses off to wipe away smudges. When someone steps on your toes by accident or bumps into you, no one gets mad and no one apologizes. It’s just a part of life and you assume it was an accident. I love it. Being in Romania is teaching me to be less concerned about my own space.
10. To close with something a little more conventional, I love Romanian fruits and vegetables. Let’s be honest – the beef in Romania tastes like sponges, the overpriced Doritos seem stale, and the cheese leaves much to be desired, but nothing on earth can match the taste of Romanian fruits and vegetables. When I had my first Romanian tomato, it felt like the first tomato I’d ever eaten, like all previous tomatoes were poor substitutes for this, the real Tomato with a capital “T.” While we dined on our first Romanian strawberries, our oldest daughter Naomi, 7 at the time, sighed in divine ecstasy, “It tastes so good that I feel like I’m having a baby!” I don’t know what that means, but the strawberries were indeed amazing. Cucumbers full of sweetness and the crisp taste of summer, apricots that taunt you with their tangy tenderness, carrots that taste like all the good parts of carrots with none of the bad… I could write love poems about Romanian produce. American produce tastes like cardboard in comparison. Romanian fruits and veggies look terrible, have worm holes and bumps sometimes, but the taste is incredible. And they’re usually natural, organic, and pesticide-free, if that matters to you, and inexpensive.
If there was enough space for it, I’d go on and on about everything I love about Romania, the castles, mountains, hills, monasteries… but you’ll just have to come visit and experience it for yourself.