The Language Thing

“Sugiamiai pula” is a common phrase used in Romanian diplomacy.  It means, “suck my dick.”  I watched an old lady shout it to a taxi driver who was honking at her.  If you stay in one place long enough, you’ll hear the phrase uttered as often as any other phrase in the language.  Romanians have an interesting relationship to their language.  If you ask someone how they’re doing (“Ce faci?”), and they’re having a bad day, they might say, “pula mea” (“my dick”).  It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female when you use that phrase.  On the other hand, if someone asks you what you thought of that really great party, you might respond with “pizdos”, which literally means, “vaginaish”.  So, “pula mea” is really bad, “pizdos” is really good.

There’s a time and place for everything.  Speaking english to a taxi driver is bad because they’ll rip you off.  I took a cab home the other night and the first guy I talked to (in English) told me the ride would cost 30 lei.  I said ‘no’, I’m going 10 kms and it should only be 16 lei.  He said 30 lei was the night rate.  I thanked him and found a different cab.  This time I managed to conjure enough Romanian to not only get a ride home, but I had to give the driver directions along the way.  It cost 16 lei and I didn’t use a word of english.  Pizdos!

While using english is bad in some situations, it’s the only way to get things done in other situations.  Laura and I dropped in on TVR (Romania’s CBC) and tried to set up a meeting for later in the week.  Laura did all the talking (in Romanian) and we got the run-around.  Later that day, we dropped in on ProTV (Think CTV) and Laura told me to do the talking this time.  We set up a meeting for the next day.

When you speak English in this city, people think you’re important.  English equals status.  Most people in Bucharest speak some english.  Most young people speak English quite well.  Laura first started to learn English in kindergarden.  Romanian TV and Radio is 95% English.

Still, I prefer to speak what little Romanian I’ve learned as much as possible.  I can order a beer, or a latte.  The only food I know how to order is spaghetti and placinta.  I can buy bus tickets.  I can greet someone.  I can say “please” (“va rog”) and thank you (“mulțumesc”).  I’m really trying hard to speak the language as much as possible because I’m trying to keep a low profile and blend into the city.  I’m also noticing that I’m treated really warmly if someone knows I’m an English speaker, but attempt to use Romanian to communicate with them.  They always get this big smile on their face.

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