Did you know that more than 1.5 million Romanians have left their country in the past 10 years?
While many have headed to other European countries, a good number has gone further afield to the U.S. for work or study. There they join the 500,000 Americans who have Romanian ancestry.
There’s lots to enjoy about life in the U.S. but the way of life can feel quite different - from the overall casual dress code to the phrase “How are you?” being used as a greeting rather than a question.
Here’s a few tips Romanian expats in America gave us about how to survive and thrive in the U.S.
Dress to (un)impress
Romanians like to keep up appearances. Whether they are going to church or simply grocery shopping, it’s important to pay attention to dress and presentation.
It’s a different story in the U.S., Iona, a Romanian expat in Cupertino, California, observed:
“I was very quickly surprised about the lack of attention to how one dresses and that I could easily wear my "house attire" in shopping malls.”
In Romania, it’s the birthday guy or girl who is expected to treat everyone around them to drinks on their birthday.
The ritual, to the pleasant surprise of some expats, is flipped in the U.S. with birthday guests insisting they treat their host.
Local vs. global foods
While it’s changing a little thanks to globalization, most Romanian markets just carry local and seasonal produce.
But it’s a whole different outlook in American grocery stores, open at nearly every hour with products from nearly every country.
As Romanians are more accustomed to living off farmland than in the U.S., there is also a ritual before Christmas in which a whole day is spent to slaughtering a pig so there’s enough food for the holidays.
As Simona, a Romanian expat in New York, said:
“We don’t do this in the U.S. -- thank God!”
Public Transit vs. Walking
Romanians might think they know what a “long distance” is.
But that perception usually changes when they reach the U.S.
“Visiting states like Virginia, Texas, or California, where even if I would need to get to a place ‘across the street’, I would need to drive as crossing a highway would be terribly unsafe.”
Wise words from Ioana, who said she thought her hometown of Bucharest was quite large, until heading to the U.S.!
How are you? Just kidding.
You may be surprised upon how, when arriving in the U.S., even the woman at the grocery counter asks, “How are you doing today?”
Expect to receive a stare or awkward silence if you start telling her that things aren’t going so great. They are just accustomed to hearing “Good. How are you?”
Cristina, a Romanian expat in Boston, admitted:
“At first I didn’t realize this is a question you’re not supposed to answer, but rather just a way to say hi,”
Easy to open up, hard to delve deep
Unlike in Romania, it’s easy to start talking with people in America, known for their friendly attitudes even towards strangers.
Cristina had this to say:
“It’s much harder to go beyond the small talk into tougher issues than it is with Romanians, who tend to be honest about all aspects of life once you do strike up a conversation with them.”
Ice, ice baby
Unlike in the U.S., Romanians are not used to being served water at a restaurant that feels like it belongs on an arctic expedition.
Not only is water pre-refrigerated here, but ice cubes are then added to it. Be sure to ask for no ice if you don’t want to feel like your mouth is being numbed for a dental treatment.
Also note that Americans will say cheers even with their water glasses - Romanians tend only do it with alcoholic drinks.
Opening a bank account
The U.S. is strict about many aspects of life for foreigners, but generally opening a basic bank account is not one of them.
Many banks will allow you to open an account, even remotely, without a social security number, or just with a U.S. tax ID number.
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