Apropos of nothing in particular, here is an alphabetical list of things in Romania that amuse, baffle, confound and disturb me.
A is for Access. It’s a cultural thing, and one which I have a lot of time for in theory. That is that Romanians (and by that I mean all or most Romanian citizens) like to stop and talk to the people they know when they see them. None of this brief “hello” and hurrying along to ones destination beloved of my people. This is the clear mark of a culture that values relationships more than getting things done, which is very admirable and I’m all for it. In theory. However, the small but occasionally irritating side effect of this is that there is very little thought for where it is that these impromptu conversations take place. This often seems to be in doorways, on staircases or in narrow corridors or anywhere else inconvenient to the people not involved in the meeting. I’ve even seen these conversations happen between two drivers passing each other, and then stopping rolling down their windows and talking right there on the street. Fortunately, stuck behind the old friends in that situation you can at least beep your horn, to indicate that you’d actually like to go on, an option that is not really available when you’re stuck on a staircase. It’s not infuriating to me, mostly merely amusing, and it gives me time to stop and muse on how if someone did that in London they’d be knifed or something. But there are times when I kind of wish they’d just move their conversation to one side – it’s fairly easy.
B is for Benches. Csikszereda hospital is situated on the top of a little hill. That means as you look out from the place in all directions you get a good view of the town (which is frankly not much to look at, but the hills around it are nice). Out the front of the hospital there is a little garden area with a bunch of benches in it so patients and their visitors can sit around and chat and smoke or whatever (at least they can in the months of the year when the benches are not buried under snow). All of these benches, without exception (and there are about 15-20 of them) are aligned such that the sitter faces not the view across to the Harghita Mountains but the pig-ugly communist era hospital. Why? For god’s sake why? It’s utter madness.
C is for Chocolate. Chocolate is a popular commodity here. Supermarkets and corner shops seem to devote on average around 10% of their shelf space to bars of chocolate. But here’s the kicker – almost none of them are just simple chocolate. It’s always chocolate with some kind of cream filling or strawberry or cognac (flavour) or banana or cappuccino or some other bloody revolting filling. Why? Chocolate is a delicious food – either plain or milk versions. Why on earth does one need to make it taste of something else, infinitely less delicious. Sometimes you have to really search to find a bar of un-flavoured chocolate among the vast swathes of cream filled nonsense. In the USA I noticed the same affliction but there it’s with coffee. Again, a beautifully flavourful and delicious treat. Again treated with disdain and spoiled with vanilla or cinnamon or nutmeg or almond or essence of hamburger or something. Insanity. [At this stage you may already be mentally composing a reply pointing out that the UK has a vast array of ridiculous flavours of crisps. Let me save you the bother. We do. Lamb and mint, chicken balti, sweet thai pepper, roast dog, etc etc are all (aside from the one I made up) genuine flavours of crisps to be found in this country. It’s just that spoiling a small sliver of deep fried potato seems less heinous than ruining coffee and chocolate.]
D is for Dust. In Csikszereda when the snow melts, it gets dusty. Why is that? It’s counter intuitive really – the streets are running with meltwater and the air is full of dust. I have guessed that it’s something to do with the idea that throughout the winter the dust accumulates in the snow and is somehow held in suspension there. Then when the snow melts it is all released into the air rather than being washed away by the water. But it’s a rum do and no mistake.
E is for Easter. This upcoming weekend is Easter weekend in the UK. It is also Easter weekend in Csikszereda, since the town is Hungarian and thus predominantly Roman Catholic. But we’re one of the few places where it is Easter. In the rest of the country Easter happens at another time because the Orthodox church measures it differently from the Catholic/Protestant churches. (“Our” Easter is referred to as “Catholic Easter” in Romania, an aside with which I amused Bill, a Northern Irish friend, last week). It’s all very confusing. Last year the two events were weeks apart, while this year it’s just the one week difference. When you say something that ends with the words “at Easter” you have to qualify it with the type of Easter you’re referring to.
F. Finished. You didn’t really think I was going to all the way to Z did you?