We all know that we don’t pat the back of a colleague in Korea to thank them for a “job well done”. Or eat with your left hand in India, or sip vodka in Russia. In many countries, these actions are harmless. But in others, they can give a wrong impression or cause offense.

romanian flag photo

Photo by Horia Varlan

In fact, whatever culture you’re from, it’s likely that you routinely do something that could cause offense somewhere else in the world. So here is:

A primer on how to avoid mistakes in Romania

Romanians are quite hospitable. In the countryside and small towns, they welcome foreign tourists and, occasionally, they might even invite you for a lunch. As is common with Romania’s Balkan neighbours, Romanians will insist when offering something, as “no” sometimes does not mean “no,” and they just consider it polite for you to refuse and polite for them to insist.

You should take some normal precautions to study your host first. It is common for friends and family to kiss both cheeks upon greeting or parting. Respect towards elderly is highly appreciated and is a good representation of your character.

The phrases used to greet friends and strangers alike is “Buna ziua” (Boo-nah Zee-wah) which means “Good afternoon” or “Good day.” At beaches, men wear either speedos or shorts, with the former more common amongst the over 40s, and the latter more popular with the younger crowd. Females tend to wear thong bikinis, topless sunbathing is becoming more and more popular. Conservative dress must be worn at religious sites. Shorts are forbidden and women must often cover their heads inside the monasteries and churches.

Refrain from observations, whether by ignorance or indifference, that Romanian is a Slavic language or even related to Hungarian, Turkish or Albanian. They will find it quite offensive; in fact, as it was already mentioned, Romanians do not pronounce vowels and consonants the same way as any of their neighbours.

Romanians also appreciate foreigners who do not assume that Romania was part of either the Russian Empire or the Soviet Union (false although it was a member of the Eastern Bloc). Also, while the principalities of Wallachia and Moldova did indeed pay tributary sums to the Turks for several centuries, they were never part of the Ottoman Empire, unlike all of their neighbours. Knowing even these basic facts about Romanian history will go a long way should any conversation on the subject arise.

Avoid discussing the ethnic animosities between the Romanians and ethnic Hungarians. Hungarians dominate in some areas, such as some areas in Transylvania (Szekely’s land, although Romanians form a vast majority in Transylvania as a whole), and in recent years occasionally inter-ethnic violence has broken out. Other minority-rich regions include Dobrogea, where Tatars, Turks, Ukrainians still live today, and also in the west of the country there are small numbers of Serbs, Slovaks, and Germans.

Romanian and Roma: Another very offensive misconception is making no difference between the Romanian population and the Romany people/gypsies (tigani). Romanians are a different ethnic group from them. Confusing these two can offend a lot of people because there is still a lot of prejudice towards the Romany people. Romanians dislike Romania to be labelled as a Balkan country because of the negative image of the region. It is not entirely geographically correct either as most of Romania (if restricted to Dobrogea, Moldavia, Muntenia and Oltenia, or the vast majority of Romania) lies outside the Balkans.

With this, you had the primer on key facts about Romania, and key facts on culture and customs. Another important part of the culture is the local food and the local drinks. Make sure you read our posts on Romania food and drinks:

Local food you should try in Romania and No miss drinks in Romania.

Other tips that you’d like to share on mistakes to avoid in Romania? Please comment below.