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 (which only produced food to be exported, by the way), 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. And even more, as long as they’re “taking” from the state, that doesn’t count. They take taxes from us too, so it’s only fair to “take” back (this is indeed how some people still think!)
But it’s not just “taking” from the state, as you will see in the examples I will share with you below.
1. 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 had his back turned).
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 he was prepared for that with the spoon he had taken with him. Probably the peanuts were just one of the things he was going to “taste”.
2. 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, pardon me for not knowing the obvious – that I have to guard the trees or else their fruits will be stolen!
3. 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 inside their homes.
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 monitor their heating usage 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 about this practice) 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 – although they don’t even realize (or care) that they actually are stealing from me. It’s sad. The sad truth.
So – is everybody stealing in Romania? No, there are many exception and many of the younger people are growing up to be much better persons than their parents or grandparents were. But there are still many who see nothing wrong with taking a little bit of something: some consider that stealing from somebody who has a lot doesn’t really count. Some consider that stealing from the state is not a crime. While some consider that stealing is just something normal because they lack a certain something.
It was another neighbor in my village, whose chicken were stolen: he had 16 or something like that and the thieves left two females and a rooster. My neighbor told me and he was very calm about it: he said that he knows who did that (although I believe he had no real proof) but there’s nothing he could do.
“They stole my chicken because they are poor. What else could they do?” – this is what the man told me. And he was the one they had stolen from! I was left speechless and even though I insisted that he should still call the police, he refused. Those people were poor – at least they left him with 2 chickens and a rooster and he’ll replenish the “stocks” over the coming months. Incredible!