A Quick Guide to Romanian Culture – COMMUNICATION

Hello again and welcome back! It’s really good to have you, what can I offer you and how can I help you today?

Yes, Romanians can be quite welcoming (but not always, aggressive behavior is on the rise, especially on the roads), and there are several set phrases you need to master to deal with particular social occasions, such as greetings, birthdays, and betrothals, religious holidays, etc. (more on that – a lot more! – in my book, now in its second edition on Amazon).

But how do Romanians COMMUNICATE in general? Generalizations are difficult and problematic because personality plays a big role. Introverts will communicate quite differently from extroverts, for example. But as a rule of thumb, Romanians tend to be quite uninhibited in communication. They communicate fairly loudly and openly – although not with their superiors. Their conflict-avoidance and their damaged sense of self-worth as a result of communism, corruption, and poverty might help explain why they are risk-averse in interactions and, therefore, not always assertive. When they have held something in and it’s been simmering for too long, they are prone to “flaring” (“the polenta has exploded” is the pejorative expression in Romanian for this type of behavior).

In negotiations, their communication tends to be non-linear, often skeptical, and ambiguous. Like time, truth can be a flexible category in this multi-active culture.

Careful: Romanians (especially the older generations) have a tendency to oblige and overcommit. They may say yes without rigorously going through all the requirements and you can be left discovering this when it is too late. It is not necessarily a matter of ill-will. Rather, it is what high-context cultures are all about: your counterpart either believes that you have all the inside information (s)he has or (s)he plans to work it into the conversation at a later point – or else, (s)he is hoping to find a way around the problem or come up with some kind of solution along the way.

So, do not assume you know the whole story even when things seem clear-cut. Instead, it is advisable to check in advance and ask “are there any additional conditions or situations that can impact your end of the deal that I need to be aware of?”  Most Romanians will insist on discussing things orally, over the phone, because they feel (and often rightly so) that communication is more than written text – they need those paraverbal and nonverbal cues to interpret your utterances more accurately. Memory, however, plays tricks on people, as you are likely to discover months later when it will become apparent that each party remembers things differently (the self-serving bias might also have something to do with it). So, whenever possible, put things in writing and ask for a written agreement.

Romanians are not shy about using expletives and (politically incorrect) jokes. Do not be shocked, a Romanian proverb claims that “the dog that barks does not bite”. They also tend to sound quite categorical because they rarely use hedges in conversation to indicate that things are relative and a matter of opinion, so they unwittingly use high-power language. Do not be intimidated. “It can’t be done” could just mean “I am not willing to do this now, or under the present circumstances, or in this particular way”. Often, they will be able to suggest alternative ways.

But for now, let’s just say most regular Romanians are not masters of cooperative and integrative communication, which can make negotiating with them a tricky business, full of ups-and-downs. Also, gender-inclusive language has not yet fully caught on in Romania. Gender-neutrality is difficult because of the grammar: each noun has a grammatical gender and adjectives must agree in gender with it.

So far so good. I’ll let you ponder a little while, before I return with the last episode, some time next week.

You can always use this time to do some individual reading: my book The Germans and the Romanians Explained is full of interesting examples, suggestions, jokes, and fun expressions, and it can make for fascinating weekend reading.