In Romania, a German in the Hand Is Worth Two in the Bush

Following JC’s article on why is Romania a great retirement destination, another Romania Experience reader has something to share with us. This time it’s Stuart who has some funny, 100% Romanian stories for us. Enjoy and be prepared to live similar experiences if you come here – but don’t expect them to be the norm.

I noticed an interesting attitude when I was traveling in Romania. It seems to a Romanian, a German is a German is a German (apologies to Gertrude Stein).

To set the stage for my story, let me say I love Romania and Romanians but, as we all know, they (and everyone else in the world, for that matter) can be very difficult to deal with at times.

I was a frequent visitor to Romania between the years 1997 to 2003. I must have gone at least 15 times. I so enjoyed myself that I decided to learn the language, and after a year or two even achieved a modest fluency. At least, that’s what the Romanians kindly told me.

At any rate, I was considerably better at speaking Romanian than most foreign tourists. This ability of mine was soon in demand as I was invited to go as a translator with groups of Germans who were engaged in various charitable projects in Romania.

One of these projects was the renovation of a church and rectory building in a small town which I will only identify as in central Romania (to protect the innocent– no, actually to protect the guilty).

I not only translated but also helped with the renovation. There was always ample free time for us to go together or in smaller groups to see the tourist sites in the vicinity.

On one of these trips, a German asked me to be his translator and to accompany him to a woodcarver in a nearby city who supposedly was well-known for his woodcarving skill. The German was a horse fanatic and had brought along a photograph of his favorite horse, galloping with flowing mane in full glory.

He wanted this photograph recreated in wood so that it could be hung prominently somewhere in his home. Well, we proceeded to the store which was filled with nice wooden sculptures and also some wooden plaques quite like the one my German friend envisioned.

The artist took a look at the photo and said he couldn’t see any problems and would be happy to make a plaque based on the photo. We soon negotiated an acceptable price. However, it turned out the artist was quite busy at the time and didn’t think he would get around to it before the time we had to depart from Romania.

This was no problem for the German who instructed me to tell the artist that we would be returning in two months and he could pick up the plaque at that time. This caused smiles all around, hands were shaken, and everyone parted on very happy terms.

Now let’s fast forward to two months later when we returned to the area. We walked into the store, mildly hoping the wood carving would be displayed somewhere, but we didn’t see it. When we finally got the artist’s attention, it seemed he didn’t remember who we were.

I explained to him the nature of our visit two months before and his eyebrows lifted and he broadly smiled as the memory dawned on him. Yes, he had carved the plaque with the horse and it had turned out quite well, if he didn’t mind saying so himself. He was so proud of it that he had placed it on display in the store window.

Soon after, a German tourist came into the store, saying he greatly admired the carving of the galloping horse and asked how much it cost. The artist had sold it to this German tourist.

My German friend and I were flabbergasted. “It was my horse!” insisted the German and I was quite angry too. Rather than apologizing and offering to redo the carving, the artist got quite defensive and insisted he had acted correctly since, “I couldn’t know whether you really would return in two months or ever return!”

Okay, the woodcarver was just a bit eccentric like all artists, you might say, and not very good at customer relations, so it’s really not fair to bring Romania into this. Now let me relate a second story to you.

In the town where we were engaged on our renovation project, there was a very enterprising young Romanian who often sold us firewood, wine, cheese or eggs from his or other farmers’ production. On a visit to his house, I admired his homemade wine greatly and enquired whether more could be had for me to purchase.

He said sorry but his wine stocks were a little low right at that time, but in the autumn there would be a good chance we could do some business together.

On one of our next visits which coincided with autumn, he approached me on the subject again. He had heard that a farmer in a nearby town was selling one of those gigantic wine fermenting bottles, those big glass ones that sit in a basket. I don’t remember how many liters one holds but it is definitely well over 20 liters.

If I was interested, the young man would negotiate a fair price for me, and if I also bought some sugar and yeast, he would be happy to give me free grape juice from his vines and do all the work of fermenting the wine for me. That way I would have my very own wine to drink the next time I came back.

Oh, this appealed to me greatly and fantasies of limitless delicious homemade wine to drink and share with my German friends filled my head! We drove off to get the bottle and the ingredients. I now forget how much I paid, but it was all in a good cause. For me it was certainly worth the excitement and visions of wine imbibing bliss.

Before I left, I visited the young man who took me into his basement where I could see the wine softly bubbling away in my big bottle in a basket, right next to all the other wine fermenting bottles.

Unfortunately, I was not able to go on the group’s traditional Christmas visit because I usually spent those holidays with my family. However, visions of my wine bounty kept me warm throughout the cold months of the year. When spring arrived and my group again set out to Romania, I could hardly wait to run to the young man’s house to get my first taste of my wine.

Again, similar to the woodcarving artist, he had to search his memory to figure out what it was that I was going on about. “My wine, my wine, the wine you were making for me last autumn!” I cried.

Ah yes, now he remembered. “I’m sorry, that wine was all drunken up by the Germans who came here over the Christmas holidays,” he cheerily said. “But I paid for the bottle, the sugar, the yeast!” I was almost at the point of tears. “Sorry, it’s gone, you should have told me not to give it to them,” he turned away with a shrug, muttering something about ungrateful Germans.

Of course, not all the Germans on the current trip were the same ones who had gone during the Christmas holidays, and the few who had, could not remember where they had secured their wine. It wouldn’t have surprised me if the enterprising young man had sold them my wine.

So end my two tales of Romanian woe. It always amazes me when I tell someone I am from Germany and he (usually a he) will immediately ask whether I am acquainted with some person he knows in that country, as if everyone there knew one another. This happens to me all over the world, not just in Romania.

However, Romania is the only place where one German seems to be completely interchangeable with any other German. Apparently, a promise made to one German can be fulfilled to any German who comes along.

“You Germans are all fellow countrymen after all, aren’t you? If you’re not satisfied, take it up with your countrymen! We kept our part of the bargain.”

Follow me

Share if you liked this!

9 thoughts on “In Romania, a German in the Hand Is Worth Two in the Bush”

  1. I love the horse story :-). I would have been totally pissed. I guess l can sort of understand where they’re coming from as they had no deposit. It kind of sucks that they he didn’t even attempt to call the guy who commissioned the work. As for the wine….sorry, that must have hurt too. I get the same do you know “my classmate sosoandso from Nigeria? Haha!! people are the same all over the world

    • In Romania, in similar cases (where work in villages is involved), even a deposit wouldn’t have made things 100% secure. However, prices can be extremely low. Yesterday we had a lot of work at our house we bought a while ago in a village, on the electrical side: we changed some cables, changed the main electrical outlet and installed three ceiling lights. It was 3-4 hours of work and in cost us the equivalent of 14 Euros. Even for somebody used with the prices in Romania, that seemed dirt cheap. Villages are a different world here 🙂

  2. I’ve always admired the German work ethic. I was stationed (USAF) in Germany for a number of years, and I supervised a number of different men. They were all very precise (even on jobs which were not very complicated) and they were always ready to do their best. I always knew where they were and what they were doing (unlike my fellow American supervisors and co-workers who weren’t necessarily doing their best). The Germans were very nice to a non-German, and to a non-German speaking guy. They also invited me to their homes, knowing I was alone.
    Granted during that time, there were bomb threats from the Bader-Meinhof “gang,” which always caused delays getting on base. So there were some n’er -do-wells, obviously. Still in all, I will always admire the Germans (Post WWII–of course). ~Teil
    p.s. Just saw amazing rescue of a stranded hiker on the Carpathian Mountains in Romania.

    • Yes, I think that Germans are known all over the world for their work ethic and for all the right reasons.

      We just returned from a trip on the mountains, glad there was no need for us getting rescued 🙂

  3. Calin, thanks for printing the story. It was fun writing it, and rereading it brings a smile to my face. It’s strange how unpleasant experiences can become more amusing with time.
    Kemkem, you are right. My German friend and I didn’t think of leaving a deposit. He and I were not (in my case, I’m still not) very tech savvy and neither of us had cell phones. Long distance calls to landlines in Romania were notoriously expensive at the time. It was stupid, but we thought everything would work on a handshake basis.
    Teil, I’ve run into many Americans who talk fondly of their time in the Army stationed in Germany. As a German-American equally at home in both countries, I often experienced anti-Americanism when speaking with German intellectuals. After the Iron Curtain fell and I moved to an area in the former East Germany, I was pleasantly surprised at how the East Germans welcomed me with open arms. I think Romanians were similarly eager to welcome and get to know the “former enemy.”

    • Thanks for sharing this with us, Stuart, it still a fun read! You are correct about unpleasant experiences becoming funny over time – probably the funniest things in life were considered, at a point, an unpleasant experience 🙂

  4. Great story Stuart! I enjoyed that! It reminded me a little bit of story I heard from a friend who traveled extensively around India a few years ago. I don’t remember the details to relate here, but essentially, on several occasions, a vendor or street merchant would say when confronted with not doing what they said they would previously, something like “oh yea, I already did for your friend, but you know, an American is an American is an American”……or words to that effect.. hahaha…

    • Seems to happen all over! Glad you enjoyed the story. Now, a few other funny Romanian stories come to mind, but I had better cede the stage for a while. Did anyone see the Romania-Insider article on the population decline in Romania? The “resident” population is down to 19.76 million (10.1 million of which are women). There are 112.3 senior citizens for every 100 “young” people.

      • Hi Stuart,

        Yes, I noticed that too. I didn’t know if I should bring it up, but Romania has been losing young people, the best and brightest for years now, and it’s very unfortunate. There have also been some encouraging stories recently regarding growth, like the big new Parklake mall opening, or that bicycle production has doubled since 2009, tax forms are now available in English, Ford worked out extended production schedule with the government, tax payers can now pay on their card, and a new ordinance was just passed to make it easier for non-EU foreigners to work in Romania without getting the additional permits or paying additional taxes.

        Calin has also pointed all of this out before as well, that more people are leaving, especially young people, than coming in, but there are signs of things getting better and hopefully, soon even a few things that may help incentivize more young people not to go anywhere. The key is in at least creating some better paying opportunities for young Romanian professionals, and a reason to stay.


Leave a Comment