Does Everybody Steal in Romania?

11

Many Romanians use to say that all Romanians steal. Not the best opinion a nation can have about itself, but it is, up to a point, an unfortunate reality. No, not all Romanians steal, we’re not a nation of thieves, but unfortunately, honesty is still something we have to learn a lot about.

The whole “theft mentality” in Romania has its roots in the communist era when salaries were low (salaries are low now too), the quality of living was extremely low and finding the products you needed for your day by day life was in some cases impossible. That’s why people started to steal: a few boxes of canned meat from the factory they were working in, some chicken eggs from the farm they were working in, some screws and light bulbs here, some clothing materials there and everybody was happy. A mentality that fortunately changed a lot since 1989, but hasn’t vanquished completely.

Yes, people are stealing in Romania – and sometimes they don’t even think they’re doing anything wrong. They are “taking,” not stealing.

At the end of April, we had a fair in the city. While waiting in line to buy some sweets from a street vendor, a guy in front of me, who had a wooden spoon on him, reached out and filled it with some peanuts the vendor was selling (while he was with his back at us). The guy didn’t run away – he was actually there to buy something and everything seemed so natural that I didn’t instantly realize that the guy just stole some peanuts. And no, I didn’t say anything, even after I realized what he had done – so I still have to work on that.

We have bought, nearly three years ago, a house in a village here in Romania. It’s mostly abandoned now (hopefully not for long), but we still have some fruit trees in the garden. Last year, at the end of July, we went there to check out the trees and at least pick up some fruits. They were all gone, as if they had never existed. “Of course they’re gone,” one neighbor said. “There was nobody here to guard them, that’s why they were stolen”. Of course!

And finally, the personal story that had me write this article, actually. The sad truth proving that, despite its awesome things, Romania is not always amazing. It doesn’t always happen, everywhere – it’s not really that all Romanians are thieves, looting day and night, but these things happen. And sometimes, even us, the Romanians, have no idea they are happening:

If you remember, earlier this year, I shared our monthly living expenses in Romania. The heating bill was inflated, I thought, because of a heater that was not working properly – we got that fixed, of course, and we were sure that our problems were solved. It wasn’t quite the case as we kept getting huge heating bills: we had the biggest bills in the building, with just a couple somewhat close to what we had to pay (but still some 20 Euros lower, which for an average of abut 100 Euros, is a lot), while the others had half our bills or even lower..

I was naive and I actually started to pity the poor folks that didn’t have money to keep the heat running – we had a constant 21-22 degrees Celsius in the rooms, so definitely not that high, so I could only feel sorry for everybody else, being obvious that they were freezing at home.

I just found out that they might have been stealing, actually. Better said, they were most likely stealing. In Romania, heating costs are calculated based on some devices that are installed on each heater and the way it all works seems strange at first: the company gets total costs using a device installed at the entrance of the building (one that cannot be reached by people living in the building) and the numbers on your devices are added up and give you a percentage of how much heat you used from all the heating that they sent your way.

I’m not good at explaining, so I will use the example: let’s say that the building got 100 points of heating. The numbers on my neighbor’s heaters add up to 40, and those on mine add up to 60. This means that I pay 60% of the heating costs, and the neighbor just 40%. Complicated and silly, I thought at first, but it was because the companies know what people are doing – stealing – and they didn’t want to risk losing money.

What my neighbors were most likely doing was removing the devices that count the heat they use and place them back when the company came to check the numbers in the room. As a result, somebody like me who never takes them down (I didn’t even think it was possible before I found out the truth) will end up with inflated overall costs. That’s why I was paying more than double – no broken heaters, no freezing neighbors. Because people are stealing. And they consider it something natural.

Apparently, this technique is not limited to the building I live in and many people do this. And what makes it even sadder is the fact that most of them don’t even feel bad for doing this. It’s not stealing, it’s taking. It’s a way of cheating the system. It’s sad. The sad truth.

11 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Calin:
    This is kind of a depressing article. Are you now planning on moving to Budapest, then?–ha, ha! Do you have to communicate with gestures, or English, or are you fluent in Hungarian? You’re certainly more fluent than I am in English!;-)
    I know we all try to think of ourselves as being totally honest, but unfortunately we all have most likely “nicked” something that wasn’t ours at some point in our lives. I try not to think about it, but I was NO saint growing up.;-() (I do walk on water now, though!;-)
    The “heater thing” is complicated to figure out. Seems like the utility company needs to be more vigilant for ensuring more accurate rates and charges. Sorry about the fruit. Maybe you could put a sign up by the trees to shame people for taking the fruit, or saying that if they do take the fruit, please leave something nice in exchange–maybe jams and jellies made from the fruit. Or post a sign saying the property is being monitored, and those taking fruit will be seen and shamed–you will post the videos on YouTube, or something.
    Hope you will let us know your current location, and how things have gone so far–if it doesn’t affect your final trip post.
    Ciao,
    ~Teil (USA)

    • I wasn’t a saint either, but some people do change. 🙂

      Most people in the village we’re living don’t even have Internet, so I think they could care less about being shamed on YouTube 🙂

      Right now we are in Munich, arrived yesterday and things are looking great so far. We are a bit tired from all the exploring, but very pleased. So far, I really enjoyed Budapest and Munich, but not so much Wien. Hopefully that will be our exception in an otherwise perfect vacation.

      • Calin: Can’t wait to get the full trip report. Sorry, Wien (Vienna) was a downer;-( I will be really interested in your time (to come) in Rijeka, Croatia. ~Teil

  2. Dear Calin, here come the anecdotes:

    My very first trip to Romania, my boss’s calculator was taken from a table in the backyard of the house we were staying in. “Stuart, you speak Romanian. Go ask around the town whether anyone knows who took it.” Fat chance, I thought. I ran into a group of boys that I knew had been playing in the backyard and were the likely culprits. “Any of you seen a calculator?” I asked. “Yeah, so-and-so took it!” came the cry from all of them. They took me to the house where the boy lived. I talked to the boy’s father who was outside, and without a word, he went into the house and came out with the calculator. He didn’t say he was sorry, but made a gesture like he was going to hit one of the boys for “snitching” on his son. No honor amongst thieves, I guess.

    Because we had the house but were often away, we decided to ask one of the neighbors to watch things. We had brought him a lot of things from Germany and often did him favors too like driving him to town or exchanging his propane tanks . Next to the house was a church we were renovating. The neighbor offered to wind up the church bell ringing mechanism while we were gone so that the hours would keep chiming. My boss thought the villagers would appreciate hearing the hours struck since almost no one had a watch. Well, our friendly neighbor communicated to us that he wanted to be paid to take care of the bell chiming and watch our house. We finally agreed to let him use the vegetable gardens on the property. The villagers later complained that he never wound up the bells. The next problem was caused when we agreed to buy firewood from him at a set price. Although we paid for the license to get the wood from the forest, he kept telling church groups who came to use the house in our absence that “his costs” had gone up and he needed to charge more. When we found out about it and complained, he claimed the church groups had used up all the firewood and there wasn’t any more. I’m sure he heated his house with our firewood that winter.

    The last story I will depress you with is about another house we bought in the same village. It had a well in the basement from which we ran the water pipes to the kitchen and bathroom. It needed an electric pump to move the water. Well, two electric pumps were stolen in the span of 3 months while we were renovating the house.

    I now see that the neighborhood boys, our neighbor, and whoever stole the water pumps probably didn’t consider themselves thieves. They were probably pleased as punch at their “good fortune” and even considered themselves skilled “opportunists.”

  3. And here comes a counter point to that.. Out rental property in Houston a few years ago that we were renovating. It took 3 weeks to complete, and in that time..the fridge, and stove were stolen, along with the towels in the bathroom. I reported it to the police, and as payback..they broke every last piece of glass and knocked a hole in each and every wall. That was the last straw. I had to have it “watched” till it rented. Another refurbishment house had the copper stolen from the A/C twice. We had to build something around it in iron and lock it down. It happens everywhere, and l am sorry it happened to you. I would approach the neighbor and tell him someone (don’t accuse him) is moving the meter. Let him know that you know, and ask him what he did when someone did that to him. I bet he stops, otherwise..you have to build a fort around the meter 🙂 and keep the key, and l would check it every single freaking day with him and record the numbers. Good luck! People suck..

    • Maybe the people who did this were Romanians, lol 🙂 The problem with the meter is that we don’t really know who does it – they could all do it, in the end, but the truth is that sh*t happens everywhere.

      • Dear C I would like to move to Romania but would like to find a small farm 15 or so acres away from the towns. Not to far from Bucharest. Maybe 30 to 50 kilometers from there. Do you know what I might have to pay for something like that?

  4. Hello Nancy! The “small” farm is actually pretty large by Romanian standards and I believe it won’t be too easy to find something that large so close to Bucharest. I didn’t check it out, but there will be fewer and fewer opportunities as more houses are built in a suburb-style. Either way, for 15 acres, you can expect paying anything from 200,000 to 600,000 Euros, based on what you’re getting there: just the land, the land and some constructions that you have to rebuild almost completely or something ready to move into (I doubt that would be 100% true).

  5. On my Recent trip to Romania I stayed one night at the Rin Airport hotel In Bucharest. When my friend arrived the next morning to drive me to my apartment I jumped up from my hotel lobby chair leaving my smart phone there. We called an hour later and it was being safely held for me at the front desk.

    • Glad to hear that you had a positive experience! Something similar happened to us – when we left our hotel in Venus last year following our summer vacation, my wife forgot her iPhone in the room and realized when we were already in the train heading home. We called the hotel and they mailed the phone to our home.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here