Category Archives: Culture

Romanian A-Z: Î

Having been occupied with other things, not least letters ‘home’, my blog has been silent for a while. However, today I return with a letter that doesn’t exist in English. It can be written as both î and â, the former being used at the beginning and end of words and the latter in the middle.

It is pronounced as ‘oo’, but without the rounding of the lips and hence resembles the way one might say ‘rude’ in the posher parts of South East England. This is a sound not generally found in Western European languages, being of Slavic origin, though it is also found in some North Welsh dialects. Examples are given here.

So, now that you have met î and â, I am ‘delighted’ to introduce you to the word încântat, which means just that: delighted, pleased or excited. Încântat de cunoştinţă, for example, is the polite way of saying, ‘pleased to meet you’.

It’s a word that I’m particularly fond of because of its connection with the verb a cânta, which comes from the Latin cantare and means ‘to sing’ or ‘to play’ an instrument. (Both the English word ‘cantata’ and the French chanter come from the same Latin root). This  connection appeals to me because I love to sing and I love to listen to music. Music and delight seem to me to belong together.

But there’s more. The alert among you may also have noticed the similarity between încântat and incantation.


Such delight has a darker side, then. I mean, who knows what those people might be chanting in that strange language of theirs? It could be black magic. And even if it isn’t, we all know about the dangers of religious ecstacy, don’t we?!

Mwa ha ha ha ha

Something to remember next time you get lost in a piece of music you love 😉

Meanwhile, perhaps a more useful word for folks new to the country and its language is înțeleg (I understand) or, rather, nu înțeleg (I don’t understand). Închis (closed) is another useful word. It always helps to know whether a place is open or not.

However, my final word for today is câine:


This is honour of the fact that the one sound I will always associate with Romania is the barking of dogs. Often, it’s one of the first sounds we hear in the morning and one of the last we hear at night. There are dogs everywhere. Walk through any village and you will be barked at. Repeatedly. Most are kept outside, where they are either chained up, given the run of the garden or allowed to roam free. It’s rare to see one taken for a walk since their main purpose seems to be to guard property and/or deter predators. They are not, on the whole, treated cruelly, but they do seem to be largely ignored by their owners.

There are also a significant number of semi-feral dogs. Most of those we’ve seen haven’t come anywhere near us, but friends have told us that bites are not uncommon in Bucharest.

I can’t say that I like any of this very much. I’m too fond of dogs. However, as with many things in a foreign culture, there is little I can do about it. It is as it is. Nonetheless, it always warms my heart when I see a Romanian interacting with a dog in a friendly and positive way because it’s something that so many never get to experience.

I’ll finish with a dog who perhaps doesn’t mind very much being ignored. We spotted him in the mountains one day:

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I’m not sure how he came there, but if you ever find yourself alone in the mountains and you hear the sound of singing…

Watch out!


Romanian A-Z: G

So far, I haven’t talked much about Romanian cuisine, not least because I don’t consider myself sufficiently familiar with it. However, with the letter G, comes the opportunity to talk about something that has become a significant part of our diet since we arrived in Romania:


This is a gogoșar (go-go-shar); a short, squat variety of bell pepper that is shaped rather like the Romanian doughnut from which it supposedly derives its name. It is more fleshy and flavourful than the regular variety of pepper, a difference that apparently qualifies it to be listed separately on jars of zacuscă (a kind of vegetable spread that is very popular in Romania). Clearly, gogoșari are widely grown because, along with tomatoes, they were cheaply available in every shop or supermarket and even on street corners in the height of the summer. Traditionally, they are pickled with vinegar in order to preserve them over the winter and restaurants often serve them in this form.

The letter G also brings me to a less attractive feature of Romanian life:




Gunoi. It’s everywhere. If you have ever thought that we have a litter problem in the UK, you should try coming here. Not only do they have fly-tipping off to a fine art, but every lay by and picnic site is littered with cans and bottles. The further you go into the mountains, the less of it there is. But everywhere we have been, we have found some.

To be fair to the Romanian authorities, this is not for want of trying:

‘Depositing of rubbish prohibited’ warns the first sign. ‘Fine £500-£2000’ (which is a lot of money in Romanian terms). The second sign threatens an even bigger fine, with an accompanying notice: Don’t drop rubbish. The whole fact that this needs to be said twice is indicative of the impact such signs don’t have. The sign also warns of the danger of death (pericol de moarte), but that has to do with it being a bear reservation!

We arrived at the bear reservation by accident, having no idea it was there. We’d missed the road we had intended to take because it was indistinguishable from a farm track. However, bears or (in our case) no bears, it turned out to be a very nice spot for a picnic and with very little litter!


Gunoi is a word of Slavic origin, but the origins of gogoșar are more obscure. Both words are pronounced with a hard ‘g’ (as in gate). However, as with many English words, if g is followed by either e or i, it is pronounced as a soft ‘g’ (as in giant or garage). If a hard ‘g’ is required in such instances, it is written gh, an example being gheață, meaning ice.

Whilst we did have a touch of frost this morning (welcome to October everyone!), my choice for a third word is gard. This originates from an ancient Proto-Indo-European word meaning ‘to enclose’ and probably entered the Romanian language via Dacian. The very similar Norse, Germanic and Slavic words all derive from the same root. It means…


… fence!

I’ve chosen it because the high fences and gates that ‘guard’ the fronts of the houses were one of the first things I noticed about Romania. To me, they look grim and forbidding and hence detract hugely from the natural beauty of the towns and villages:


Their purpose, so we have been told, is to ‘keep the thieving gypsies out’. Certainly, they don’t seem to have a lot to do with the need for privacy, since the people frequently sit out in the street on summer afternoons and evenings chatting to passers-by. But all this just for gypsies? Really?

Whatever the thinking behind them, they have given me a lot of food for thought. They seem to me to be representative of something in human nature. Just recently, I have been reading ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ and I have found it more than a little frightening to note the similarities between some of the comments I have heard concerning the Roma people and those that were used to justify the slave trade.

The Northumbria Community speaks of ‘intentional, deliberate vulnerability’ and of ‘breaking down the walls’ and both ideas have resonated with me for a long time. For as long as we are building walls to keep each other out, whether real or metaphorical, we have a problem. We cease to think of each other as fully human and the world becomes a very tragic place.

Yet we continue to do it. All of us. Churches included. We continue to resist the one thing necessary to break down the walls:

Intentional, deliberate vulnerability.

Romanian A-Z: E

As with D, many Romanian E words resemble their English translations, including expediție (expedition), excursie (excursion) and explorare (exploration). This is convenient because, over this past weekend, we have been on our first major expedition since we arrived in Romania.

Last Friday, our car still wasn’t on the road, so our ‘landlord’ very kindly drove us the 100 miles to Criș, a little village not far from Sighișoara. We had been invited to stay in one of the old Saxon cottages for the weekend so that we could help clear some rubbish from the garden.

The cottage had, as the Estate Agents would say, ‘many character features’:

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It also offered a number of other benefits, including easily accessible wildlife:


Swallows’ nest just inside the porch

And a prime location in a historic village.

Or, to put it another way, it had mains electricity and hence kettle and fridge, but a thunder storm on Sunday afternoon meant going to bed by candlelight and having a longer wait for coffee on Monday morning:


In fact, the whole experience reminded me somewhat of the guide camps of my youth: basic washing facilities, meals cooked on wood fires and hot sun followed by thunder storms. The only real difference was that we had solid shelter. And it was solid, too, unlike some other local properties:


The reason for such dilapidation is that Criș is in a part of Romania that was previously inhabited by Saxon (i.e. German-speaking) people, most of whom left during the Communist era or soon afterwards. (More about this here). As a result, many of their properties fell into disrepair and neglect and only now are being refurbished.

They have a number of distinctive features, including the tiling, the chimney pots and the presence of arches, which often join one property to the next:

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We also noticed that many of them have a simple Latin cross on the outside, just below the roof, although the cross on one of the above cottages is more like those we have seen associated with the Romanian Orthodox church, being more ornate and having the sun’s rays at its centre.

Criș also has a castle, which we went to explore on Sunday afternoon:

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(The photos have been ‘enhanced’ to make the stonework stand out more).

If you are interested, you can read more about the castle’s history and architecture here and here. It is now open to visitors and (as we understood it) is slowly being refurbished with a view to reopening as a Franciscan ‘House of Peace’ in a few years’ time. (The lady on the door only spoke Hungarian, so we weren’t able to find out the details).

On Monday, we took a taxi to nearby Sighișoara, where we enjoyed the luxury of a night in a hotel in the walled citadel:

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As you can see below, the citadel is also of Saxon origin. Sighișoara was first listed as a Saxon settlement in 1191 and then as a town (built on the site of a Roman fort) in 1280. The clock tower dates from around that time.

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And that brings me to the end of our Saxon adventure.

Several of my friends have commented on previous posts that Romania ‘looks beautiful’. I’m not going to dispute that because there are plenty of very beautiful places in Romania and because we enjoyed our weekend in Criș and Sighișoara very much. However, to help put things in perspective, I took a few photos out of the window on our way back:

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From these, you can see that tractors do exist here (and hold up the traffic on major routes, just like they do in Somerset!), that hedges between fields do not and that many of the hills are as bare as any in England and less green. Unlike England, lots are still tree-covered, but preserving the ancient forests is an uphill struggle in a country where the winters are cold and gas expensive. In short, as everywhere, humans have made a considerable impact on the landscape and they continue to do so.




Romanian A-Z: D

Even a cursory glance at a Romanian dictionary shows that a lot of words beginning with D resemble English ones. Delicat (delicate), desperat (desperate), dezgust (disgust), dispărea (to disappear), discuție (discussion), doctor and durabil (durable), to mention just a few. So my first word today is document – chosen in honour of the Romanian bureaucratic system.

In Romania, you need a document for everything. For example, to obtain a Registration Certificate (proof of residence), you need to have a Romanian bank account. But when you go to open a bank account, they want the number on the Registration Certificate that you don’t have. That’s in addition to your passport number. There are ways round this, as the bank clerk eventually discovered, but it gives you an idea of the kind of thing I mean. As EU citizens, obtaining the Registration Certificates still proved relatively straightforward for us. Buying a second-hand car, on the other hand… Well, let’s just say it’s likely to be Christmas before all the paperwork is finally completed. And I’m not joking.

Bureaucracy 1s

The whole thing has been complicated by the fact that the car we have bought originated in Germany, but it’s not a simple matter even when that’s not the case. This gives you an idea of the amount of documentation that is required to complete the process, including face-to-face appointments with at least two different administrative bodies. In our case, the process has currently stalled pending an ‘urgent’ appointment with the police on 7th September. Even then, the registration (if it goes ahead) will only be temporary, the first available appointment for the ‘roadworthiness’ test being in December!

My second word is drum. Always helpful if you have wheels:


This one is newly surfaced, having been little more than a dirt track earlier in the year. However, potholes are a common sight on most of the roads in the area. In fact, they are not unlike some of the back roads across the Somerset Levels, just without the subsidence! But whether the roads themselves are good or not, the words ‘drum bun!‘ (literally, ‘good road’) are used to wish people well on their journey – similar to the British ‘farewell’ and the French ‘bon voyage’. So it’s a word worth knowing.

My third word is actually a collection of words, all with the same Latin root:

Domn: gentleman
Domnul: Mr
Domnule: Sir (e.g. Scuzați-mă, domnule – Excuse me, sir)
Doamnă: Lady, woman (polite), madam, Mrs
Domnișoară: young lady, Miss
Doamne: God/Lord
Dumnezeu: God (from Latin Domine and Deus)
Dumneavoastră: polite form of you/your (literally your lord/ladyship)

All these are important to know and distinguish between if you want to be polite. The last is used in a similar way to the French polite form, so you hear it a lot on aeroplanes and in offices, for example.

In contrast, God is addressed with the familiar form tu, just as s/he used to be in English:

Sfințească-se numele TăuHallowed be Thy name

This is a paradox that English is no longer capable of expressing in the same way; that we can be on intimate terms with the one whom Christians call Lord or Doamne.

Doamne. Not a word we’ve heard very much. For various reasons, we haven’t had the opportunity to explore much in the way of church services yet. Nor have we heard it used as an expletive. However, one evening, when we were in the city of Cluj, we heard the sound of chanting issuing from the Orthodox church; a strangely haunting melody (if you can call it that) that moved me to worship even without being aware of the words. So I thought I’d leave you with this similar-sounding cry from Psalm 141:

Lord God, I call to you! Hear my prayer! Set a guard over my mouth. Keep watch over the door of my lips. Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil…



Romanian A-Z: C

Continuing with my Romanian alphabet, first up today is coasă (pronounced co-asa):



This is another word derived from the Slavic. In Bulgarian, it looks like this: кося (pronounced kos-ya?) and it means ‘scythe’. This is of one of our neighbours cutting fodder for his animals, which was later thrown into a stack (capiță) by the women of the family. That’s what the wooden structure is for – to support it.

Here’s the completed stack:

Haystack 2s

Also on the cutting theme is one of my favourite Romanian words. May I present the ‘cuts-it’!


The Romanian word is actually cuțit, where the ț is pronounced ‘ts’ and the u like the ‘oo’ in ‘book’. (Folks in Yorkshire get a head start in learning this word!)

Interestingly, our word ‘cut’ is thought to be Germanic and is related to the Norwegian kutta (to cut) and the Icelandic kuta (to cut with a small knife) and kuti (a small, blunt knife). The word ‘knife’ also comes from Norse origins. However, cuțit and the French couteau are thought to be related to the Latin acutus (sharp, pointed, acute) and/or culter/cultellus (sword/dagger). All of which makes me wonder if the word ‘cut’ in some form has been around for a very long time!

My third word returns to the cottage farming theme. It’s capră:

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This is another of our neighbours. She and her mother have provided us with plenty of entertainment, suddenly taking it into their heads to caper around the yard or nose over the fence to see if what we have tastes better than what they have. Apparently, honeysuckle is very good!

Romanian A-Z: B

My three words today are bicicletă, biserică and buruiană.

One of my reasons for choosing these words is because they all end in ă. This is a letter that does not appear in the English alphabet, but which is found after ‘a’ in the Romanian one. There are not many words that begin with ă and those that do are very mundane sort of words, like ăsta, meaning ‘this’, so I didn’t feel that the letter really warranted a post all to itself. Suffice it to say that it is pronounced ‘uh’ or ‘er’, as in the word ‘weather’ and that it is frequently found at the end of words.

I have chosen the word bicicletă for its resemblance to the English and French and because I like the sound of it. In Romanian, ci and ce are pronounced as the English ‘tch’ and i is a longer sound than in English, more like ‘ee’. So the whole sounds something like ‘beechicletta’.

I’ve also chosen it because it has come up a number of times in conversation. Having one of the family’s old bicycles mended and made roadworthy was one of the first things Duncan did when he arrived. Also, my mobility scooter has attracted quite a bit of attention since we arrived. Just the other day, an elderly gentleman commented that bicicleta e foarte frumoasă (the bicycle is very beautiful). His hesitation as to what to call it might be explained by the fact that over half the people in the village speak Hungarian as their first language. However, another lady, whose husband is disabled, went further and admitted she’d never seen anything like it before. She was very excited and wanted to know all about it; what it was called and where I had got it from. Not an easy conversation when neither of us speak Romanian as a first language. Oddly enough, talking about mobility scooters doesn’t seem to be a priority in most language learning courses!

My second word is biserică:


This one is Romanian Orthodox. However, we also have a Reformed church and a Baptist church in the village, both of which are Hungarian speaking. Church history is complex in Romania, with influences from the Byzantine (Orthodox), Hungarian (Roman Catholic and Reformed), Ottoman and Russian empires as well as communism. As a result, most Romanians identify as Orthodox and Protestants make up a tiny minority, over half of whom speak Hungarian.

My final word is buruiană, which means ‘weed’. Unlike bicicletă and biserică, which have their origins in Latin and Greek, this word has Slavic origins. Hence it is yet another example of the multicultural heritage of Romania.


I’ve no idea what the above flowers are called, but they are clearly related to the thistles, dandelions and daisies of weed fame, so buruieni will have to do for the moment. If you have any insight into what their names might be, please say!

Romanian A-Z: A

What better way to learn about Romania than through the language of the people? With this in mind, I have decided to join in with a blogging friend of mine, who is hosting an A-Z word challenge. In response to this challenge, I will aim to post three Romanian words here each day, accompanied by photographs and anecdotes about the country and what we have found here. You are welcome to join in by adding your own words, thoughts or comments.

Today is A (pronounced ‘ah’), so we will begin with amidon, or to be more precise, amidon de porumb:

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The reason for this is that this elusive beastie took quite some tracking down! For British readers, it’s cornflour. American readers will know what I’m talking about if I tell them that amidon means ‘starch’. To confuse the issue even more, on this box it’s called something like ‘fine edible starch’. Exactly what we had on the shopping list!

So far, we’ve only been able to find it in one supermarket. The shop assistants in the others knew what we were talking about (once we’d worked out that we needed to ask for amidon and not făină) but were unable to find any on their shelves. Despite what it says on the box, it seems using it for preparing cakes, biscuits, desserts or sauces isn’t a thing in Romania.

My second choice of word is albastru. This is because it’s my favourite colour and because we have seen rather a lot of it since we’ve been here:


Blue sky: Cer albastru

It’s also an interesting word because, more literally, it means ‘whitish’ or ‘off-white’. So perhaps it refers to a sky lightly veiled with wispy white clouds?  Whatever, alabaster, is a kind of gypsum or calcite, a whitish rock that can be carved to make ornaments, jars and vases. The word originated from the Latin, prior to that the Greek and prior to that, possibly Egyptian.

My final word is apus:


Apus de soare

This means ‘sunset’ ‘sundown’ or ‘dusk’ . It can also mean ‘west’, with apusean meaning ‘western’. Hence Munții Apuseni – The ‘Mountains of the Sunset’ or ‘Western Mountains’.

The above photo was taken a week or two back, a couple of hours after we’d had thunder and lightning (but no rain). The clouds slowly clearing away made for a fabulous display of colour.

Apus – chosen because there is little in this world that is more beautiful.