Interview With My VampireMay 2, 2011 at 12:37 am | Posted in Family, Transylvania | 16 Comments
Tags: Balance, Challenges, Children, Expats, Family, Fatherhood, Food, Romania, Travel
Three weeks. My husband has been in Romania for three weeks. Working. Parallel parking. Investigating real estate options. And doing really important things like scoping out playgrounds and scouring the grocery stores for Cheerios. The kiddos and I have been peppering him with questions daily, and we’ve learned quite a few things:
Romania has peanut butter. The brand? Is called Cinderella. (Lollipop is ecstatic.) Romanians eat radishes like we eat apples: polish and bite. And at least one family has a giant pig that they walk on a leash. But there’s more. Lots, lots more that I can’t remember because I’m too preoccupied getting the sippy cups shipped overseas and buying chili powder to last all year. So I asked my own personal vampire to expound on life in Transylvania. Here are his tales so far.
What’s surprised you most?
Learning more about people’s relationships here with food and the seasons. Most people know offhand when local fruits and vegetables come into season, home cooking is much more common, and people seem to slow down and appreciate each meal.
What’s been the most challenging? The most fun?
There are only a few business hours of overlap between Romania and the U.S, so I’ve found myself dealing with e-mails, etc., late into the evening. I plan to find a better balance because, once the kids are here, I like to leave work and put my Daddy Hat on, which means no work e-mail!
One fun situation I had so far was going to one of the student bars with some people — this is a college town, so the bar was named (of course) The Library. I’m not usually much for dancing, but this time I was dancing with the best (worst?) of them. Knowing most people didn’t speak English somehow made me feel more free — if they were laughing at me at least I wouldn’t know it!
Any funny exchanges to share, like language barrier issues or culture differences?
I recently bought a cordless phone, and as I was checking out, the cashier tried to tell me something that seemed quite important. I indicated that I speak little Romanian, which seemed to encourage her to speak Romanian faster and louder. Finally a supervisor came over and talked to me for a while, also in Romanian — I just shrugged. On to the third person, rinse and repeat. They really, really did not want me leave even though everything was paid for! Finally, they found a fourth person who spoke English:
Him: Did you buy a cordless phone?
Him: It has a two-year warranty. Come back to the store if you have any problems.
Me: Uh, okay, thanks.
They take their warranties very seriously in Romania.
What’s the best thing you’ve eaten? The worst thing? The weirdest thing?
Best: Homemade zacuscă. I had some at a restaurant and mentioned to my host how delicious it was. The next day, his wife gave me a jar of the homemade stuff (waaaay better!). A couple of days later, I told her how delicious her zacuscă was, so of course, that meant I was given another jar!
Worst: Pig is big in Romania. Which suits me fine, but they don’t shy away from some of the more interesting parts. There is a traditional cold appetizer platter of various cuts of pork and cheeses. A couple of times I have seen these things that look like short, fat french fries but are just pieces of (smoked?) pork fat. They are chewy. Very, very chewy. I tried to eat one but eventually had to give up. Just. Too. Chewy.
Weirdest: Well, I’ve never been a huge fan of raw onion, but I find myself eating it pretty much every day (plain, with salt, with cheese, whatever). So the food is not too weird, but the speed with which I did a 180 may be.
You’re officially driving yourself around now. How is that going?
I will cheat and re-use some Facebook posts!
Driving in Romania: Day 1
Stop Signs Run: 1
Pedestrians Clipped: 0
Horns Honked At Me: 2
Horns Honked By Me: 1
Overall Grade: B- Not too bad!
Driving in Romania: Day 9
I handled my first tricky parallel parking extraction in Romania. Five minutes and 20 smirking pedestrians later, I was out. I’ll call it a success.
Driving in Romania: Day 11
This driving is getting to me. I caught myself saying today, “Well, there are two lanes on this road, so I can park in the right lane for a few minutes, no problem.”
Driving in Romania: Day 14
I still suck at parallel parking.
Describe a trip to the grocery store.
My first visit was tricky. I walked in, and the first section was the produce, which was a madhouse. I skipped it, planning to come back later when it quieted down. The deli section had more intimidating cuts of meat than in the U.S., so I skipped that, too — I was afraid of ordering 500g of chicken and ending up with the hindquarter of a hog due to my awful Romanian. There was a pastry counter, though, so I figured that was a better place to start — worst case, I would end up with 3kg of little donut thingies instead of 300g. The cheese section was also a bit confusing. I recognized the obvious ones, but after that, you’re staring at 50 different cheeses that are all basically white. The little squiggles on the packages suddenly became quite important. I headed back to the produce section and things had indeed cleared out — everything was picked clean. I found a few sad apples and resolved to get there early and throw a few elbows next time! Later, I learned that this particular store has a reputation for having the best produce in the city, which explains the mad rush. I’ve since seen that other stores are more quiet.
On the plus side, no silly restrictions on selling liquor in grocery stores — it’s just another aisle. And yet, somehow, their society hasn’t collapsed into moral depravity. Go figure. Also, I like that all their carts are chained together and you have to insert a 50c piece into the cart to unchain one. When you’re done, you rechain the cart and your 50c pops back out. Net result — no dodging loose carts as you drive in, and no employees needing to round up carts. I saw a kid grabbing the occasional cart in the parking lot to get the 50c piece. It seems like an elegant solution to the problem. Although, I’ll probably curse the first time I don’t have a 50c piece on hand!
How would you describe the Romanian culture/people? How is it similar and different from what you imagined?
I was surprised to see how Latin the culture is — think Spain or Italy for comparison. They like good food, wine, and friends! They are pretty laid-back. They don’t always have a lot of money or stuff but most people seem pretty happy to me. There are definitely some struggles, especially with infrastructure, to overcome their relatively recent Communist oppression. (That’s my word for it, anyway. My host just says, “back when those stupid guys were in charge.”) It will be interesting to see how Romania develops over the next few decades. Religion and family are also very important. Everything is closed on Sunday, not just Chick-Fil-A (well, if they had Chick-Fil-A — sorry, Stacia!). It’s been eye-opening to say the least.
How’s the wine? The liquor? The beer? The desserts? You know, the important stuff …
I have had the local wine a couple of times and it’s pretty good. They have a traditional local liquor named Ţuică made from plums that will knock your socks off pretty quick — and when it’s good, it’s really good. The best stuff is homemade. I’ve only tried one Romanian beer so far, Ursus Black, but it was fine. Quite drinkable. I’ll likely try the others soon.
What do you love the most so far? What will Lollipop, Giggles, and Bun love the most? What will I love the most?
The people I’ve met have all been amazingly friendly and welcoming. I think my sample is biased because I work with some really great people who’ve so far kept me in this friendly little bubble of hospitality. There are several people here with children the same age as our kids, so I’m really looking forward to seeing these Romanian and American little people play and have fun together — language barrier or not! As for you, well, I know you won’t love the pork since you don’t eat much meat. But I think you will love the pace of life here. The desserts are pretty awesome, too.
Are you an expert parallel parker? Have you ever eaten smoked pork fat? And what do you want to ask my vampire?