Salome Japiashvili is a Georgian economist who moved to Bucharest a year ago. She wrote a revealing story about this past year.
“One of the most challenging and in some sense ironic moments in a person’s life can be when he or she makes a serious decision of moving to another country (even for just a few years) and thinks that the hardest part is over, but realizes that the actual “show” has just started. He/she faces all kinds of details that are related to building new life in a different country. Certain kind of problems might exclude you from your comfort zone; for a certain period of time, at least.
As a citizen of Georgia wanting to move to Romania for personal reasons, I had to deal with Romanian law regarding foreigners wishing to be employed in Romania. Of course, Romanian law is based on EU law, which ensures that EU citizens get the easiest access to the labor market before so called “third country nationals” even get the chance to compete with them. One thing is for sure: Whatever reason you have to move to another country, you should try to deal with the situation as calmly as possible. It sounds stupid, but it took me time until I realized that the law is notpersonally against me, or against anyone else, in particular. It just tries to consider generalized situations, structures them into certain categories and comes up with regulations that will simply avoid chaos. There is very little space for individualism and you cannot expect from legislation to take into account your particular case. Your case might be so unique that it simply might not fall into any category.
Once you take care of the legal part and the first important step of being able to travel is over, you step into a new world, world of being an immigrant.
Of course, we always hear that stereotypes are negative and we shouldn’t go to a country with fixed ideas and imaginations and yes, it is true. However, I would like to point out an aspect that I had in my mind for a long time: Are all the stereotypes strictly “bad”? I mean, what makes a stereotype such a “crime”? I think it only becomes a problem, when a person with a fixed idea takes action accordingly and judges a person or acts in a discriminative way. But what if a certain stereotype is available to you and being an open-minded person you are able to analyze the information accordingly and use it as much as it can be needed? Yes, it is a stereotype that Germans are organized and punctual. Are all the Germans like that? No, of course not. But just having this specific information about Germany actually helped me a lot to form the kinds of expectations that saved me from a culture shock, when many Germans needed to look into their organizers to schedule a meeting with me after 2 months. Of course, there were many Germans, who would be spontaneous and unpredictable, but it was simply useful for me to know what to expect from the majority. So, my cultural education from school that I received about Germany proved to be extremely helpful while studying in Jena, even though in its classical sense, it did include some stereotypical opinions.
Same thing did not happen in Romania. I came with no specific information or stereotypes. And I think there are not so many stereotypes about Romania, in general. At least, not useful ones, because Dracula stories don’t really help in this case. First of all, many Romanians were surprised to hear that I wanted to move here. Their first reaction would be: “Out of all the countries, you chose to move here? But why? Isn’t it better in Western Europe? Or is it that bad in Georgia that you actually prefer it here?”
What does it mean “better” in Romania? There are so many aspects for an immigrant to consider aside that the word “better” loses its sense. I guess, people mostly emphasize the economic welfare, but they forget cultural, social and individual aspects. An NGO “Research and Documentation Center on Immigrants Integration” has conducted a very interesting research about immigration in Romania and used an innovative tool called “Immigrants Integration Barometer” that tries to take into consideration all the variables that influence a person’s integration in Romania. I wish I read that report before coming to Romania. It might have helped a lot.
I am writing this post first of all because I would like to organize my own thoughts and draw some conclusions, but also, it might help people who intend to move to Romania.
“Did you move to Romania for good?”
People associate moving to another country to very long-term plans. “Did you move to Romania for good?”– This is the question that many people asked me and which freaked me out in so many ways. Do I have to make a decision for a longer period of time? Should I know now whether I will stay here for 2, 5 or 10 years? Then, I read an interesting research about how people always underestimate future changes in their values, ideas and consequently, future plans. People tend to plan for the next 10 years and end up completely differently than they imagined. It is not necessarily bad or good, but it simply allows me not to make huge plans that might go wrong anyway. How about knowing what I am doing until the end of this year? It should be enough for now.
Well, I already wrote a pretty big post about learning Romanian, but here I will just mention that despite the fact that majority of Romanians speak English well, once you start speaking a bit of Romanian, world around you becomes so much nicer and understandable. Plus, Romanians are extremely appreciative of the fact that you are making an effort and learning their language. I have been positively discriminated few times as a foreigner, just because I seemed all “cute and nice” trying to say few sentences in Romanian.
Life in Bucharest
Probably one of the main factors why it was relatively easy for me to feel integrated here, was the events in Bucharest. All the time I come across different free city tours, discussions, movie screenings, fairs, exhibitions, open air concerts, festivals, language meetings and mostly for free or for affordable prices. You simply cannot get bored. There is more possibility of not being able to choose among 4 events that coincide and to simply stay at home, than not to find anything. So, I embraced this side of Bucharest pretty fast and didn’t have much time to feel alienated.
Process of Self-discovery
The first thing you can measure in yourself when you move to another country is your patience. Do you have patience to start a new life? Now you don’t have a phone number or a bank account yet, you don’t have your favorite park, your favorite library, bar, you don’t know how to use transport, you don’t have a dentist, doctor, hairdresser … and who knows how many years it took you in your home country to finally find all the good services and people that were offering them to you. Probably you even took them for granted at some point and thought that those small “favors” weren’t so valuable. Well, they are! And it might take some time to get used to new rules and habits in a new country. This is the time when you get to discover how fast you can adapt to changes and more importantly, will you stay calm in the process of adapting? Or will you have those angry moments when you will just think that everything was so much simpler and sorted out in your old life and you want all that back now! Well, to be honest, I had few of those angry moments, but each errand I took care of independently, made me incredibly proud of myself and it gave me a satisfaction that could offset the negative effect of being confused in the beginning.
Also, you can suddenly discover that your values have changed and your new friends that you acquired in a new country, are different from old ones in a certain sense. And it’s so easy to make friends in Romania, because yes, Romanians really are friendly.
Cultural differences/similarities between Georgia and Romania
Again… these things are not valid for every single person and yes, stereotypes are not good, but let me call them my personal, subjective observations that help me understand cultural differences better.
Generally speaking, both, Romanians and Georgians are open, warm and a bit hot-tempered, I would say. However, there are some differences that are very interesting to observe. For example, I realized that collective way of thinking is much more powerful in Georgia: group of friends make small decisions collectively trying to take each other’s preferences into account. Also, Georgians tease each other and make fun of each other so much that you cannot even imagine. Joking around is like a national sport in Georgia. If I applied the same amount of teasing here, I would come off as simply mean.
Also, according to my observations, Romanians don’t really like to be pushed and asked too many questions. They might get defensive at some point. But, generally speaking, I think Romanians are more polite in a certain sense. For example, in Georgia, we greet people once a day and it’s not obligatory to say “hello” with a bright smile and a super-happy intonation. When I first learned the word “buna” (“hello” in Romanian) and I was repeating it, a Romanian friend of mine asked me why I was pronouncing it like something sad had just happened. That was because I was saying it like any other word, with no special intonation, because that’s how we say it in Georgia, but here, in Romania, you should put some effort for it to sound sunny and friendly.
Another funny thing that I discovered observing myself (and it certainly comes from the habits of Georgian society) is the tendency to exaggerate. A Georgian person might say that he/she waited for you for 200 hours and actually mean 10 minutes or that the temperature in Tbilisi is 100 grad Celsius and yes, it might be 40 grad, but of course not actually 100. We tend to add some flavour to our stories, make them “bigger”, louder, more colorful and sometimes, I noticed that this style of storytelling was understood literally and directly in Romania and I saw few shocked faces when I went too far: “What do you mean you were working so hard that you basically spent nights in your office?! Were they at least paying you for that?!”… Oh well…. The general rule in Georgia is that everybody knows everybody exaggerates. So, once you hear an unbelievably high number, you just divide it by 10 or 5 or if you hear that somebody really died of boredom, you just double check their vital signs just in case.
And one more big similarity that we, Romanians and Georgians share: Chaos! Big, colorful, “let me do it some other time”-“sure, I will call you tomorrow”, – “of course I will do it fast”, and – “let’s meet exactly at 19:00 (yeah, sure!)”- kind of chaos… Both countries might drive you crazy if you come from a country where an organizer notebook is an essential part of your life. My only advice for these kind of people could be: just breathe deeply, relax and it will resolve itself… somehow… “cumva”…
Also, I think, both Romanians and Georgians have a syndrome (just invented by me) of being incredibly insecure on a national level. Romanians keep asking me what on earth brought me to Romania that is such a poor country and even its own citizens would like to escape from here. Same goes for Georgia, if they hear another country being unorganized, they are always surprised: “Hmm, so after all, we might not be the worst case in the whole world… “. And sincerely, I think this unappreciative attitude should be slowly phased out in both countries. It brings no benefit to anyone.
If Bucharest life is the biggest plus for me in Romania, the biggest minus would be all the bureaucracy that can drive you crazy. Even the word itself is so hard to spell, why would it mean something pleasant?! For literally everything, you need to refer to the legislation in Romania and the law itself can be interpreted in many ways, but people keep referring to it again and again. For example, I go on the webpage of the national library in Bucharest and I simply want to know what are the terms of conditions in the library and whether I can borrow a book. All I can find on their website is some links that redirect you to the legislation, because it’s simply an easier way to avoid the direct answer that explain terms of conditions.
And my “favorite part” about bureaucracy are those revenue stamps (in Romanian“timbru fiscal”) that you have to buy in the post office and bring them to different public authorities in order to get any kind of services. In case you forgot to buy them, you might have just spent few hours standing in the line for nothing not knowing that a small thing worth of just 2 Euros might be getting in the way of you actually achieving something today.
Starting to perceive Romania in more colors than just black & white
After a year of staying here in Bucharest, everything starts to find its place slowly. I no longer have the need to assess everything dramatically or critically, I start to notice small, pleasant things and do not label events as just “good” or “bad”, “black” or “white” and I am glad that I can find all the possible colors here, all the interesting, unique people who have different things to offer and share. I guess it might be an important psychological indicator that you are accepting a foreign environment, when you try to look at it as at something complex and just deal with every situation separately without the need of categorizing them as “useful stereotypes”.
Let’s see how I will feel after another year”
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