A Quick Guide to Romanian Culture – OTHER HUMANS

Last time we talked about communication, which is one of the main ways we interact with OTHER PEOPLE. In fact, everything we do can be termed “communication”, as it results in different types of messages and human beings are meaning-making creatures.

This time, I’d like to talk a little more about power dynamics, decision-making, and the Romanian attitude toward other members of their culture or, indeed, of different cultures.

For a long time, Romania was a fairly homogenous country. Both the Church and communism insisted upon obedience and conformism. Increased emigration after WWII also affected diversity. What this means is that the intercultural readiness of most Romanians is not very high, and it decreases as their education levels decrease.

A high level of skepticism and distrust is typical for the Romanian attitude towards otherness. Forty years of totalitarianism have left their indelible mark. People were trained to believe there is only one correct way of thinking or doing things, only one correct way of living, and as a result, can be quite conservative. Traditionalism is still considered a virtue in many circles. Socio-political violence is traditionally low, but it has increased recently as frustration levels (financial crisis, pandemic, restrictions, EU policies regarding gender, inflation) have soared.

According to Hofstede, although young Romanians wish to have flatter hierarchies and more transparency, the power-distance index in Romania is still high. What this means is that inequality is high and that it is often accepted as a fact of life. People both envy and admire those in positions of power and prosperity. Paternalism is still a factor, and it is still expected by some.

The excruciatingly difficult years of transition to a market economy and the dog-eat-dog world they engendered have led to a drop in the levels of empathy. Although a gregarious bunch, Romanians are rarely truly solidary, nor are they truly collectivistic – something that can be observed among the Romanian diasporas as well. Since Romanians tend to take things personally and get emotionally involved, collaboration can grind to a halt as soon as it becomes apparent that the counterpart holds a different position or has a different interest.

A frantic struggle to divvy up limited resources has led to rampant individualism and often brutal competition, while traditional social pressures also endure. The Romanian school system, for instance, does not encourage collaborative behavior as much as the German one. Instead, children are almost always evaluated individually and measured against their peers – both by their teachers and their parents. To a certain degree, this may sound like meritocracy: the ones with good grades receive prizes and public praise. But on the other hand, this system leaves a lot to be desired in terms of teaching the future generations to work together and find integrative solutions to problems with high degrees of interdependence (i.e. problems where achieving one’s objectives depends on other people achieving theirs, or where all share the same objective). A sense of “we are in this together” and “we are all working towards a common goal/dream/ideal” is sadly missing.

Decisions are often top-down and fail to consider the interests of all possible stakeholders, which makes them untenable in the long run, leading to instability. There is no tradition of seeking consensus, as in other cultures. This is often made difficult by hierarchical superiors using high-power language and intimidating the uncertainty-avoidant rest into groupthink. Having a leadership position is often seen as a privilege (status-orientation), rather than a responsibility, and few managers see themselves as merely coaches and coordinators.

So, here we are. Over these past weeks, I have tried to give you the gist of Romanian culture and map out the challenges that you might encounter in your interactions with Romanians. I hope this was useful in helping you prepare. But remember, nobody is defined only by their affiliation to a particular ethnic group, so try not to develop prejudice and do keep an open mind!

For more cultural analyses, historical insights, foundational myths, narratives, proverbs, expressions, and jokes that can help you better understand your own and your partner’s culture, do not hesitate to purchase my book on this topic, now available on Amazon as an e-book or paperback.

Many thanks!


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