Understanding a country’s customs and culture will help your expats appreciate why others communicate, negotiate or build business relationships they way they do.
After enduring four decades of strict control under the Soviet Union, Romania finally broke free in December 1989, and has been struggling to reconstruct itself ever since. During its time behind the “Iron Curtain” the country fell far behind its Western counterparts. Such disparity, however, wasn’t always the case. At one time Romania held close ties to Western Europe, France in particular; so close, in fact, that Bucharest was once considered the “Paris of the East.”
Today, as the country continues its evolution into a free-market economy, the number of US expatriates on assignment there will likely increase. Following are some key themes that will help your expats develop a better understanding of the Romanian culture:
A Latin influence
Despite its geographical distance from Latin America, Romania has a number of Latin traits in its culture. This influence dates back to the 2nd and 3rd centuries, when the area that is now Romania was under the control of the Roman empire.
Common Latin/Romanian characteristics include a relaxed attitude toward time, an expressive communication style, frequent touching and physical contact, and a determination to celebrate and enjoy life.
The importance of family and friends
One of the most important facets of the Romanian culture is the value placed on family and friends. In the country’s group-oriented society, friendships, as well as family ties, typically last a lifetime.
Another key aspect of the Romanian culture is that society is less achievement-oriented than the United States and other Western nations. Romanians believe that enjoying life and relationships is often more important than achieving particular goals; work is more a means to an end than an end itself.
It comes as little surprise then that Romanians are known to be extremely gracious hosts, often heaping food, drink and gifts on their guests. Taking the time to nurture relationships — at work as well as the social sphere — is an important first-step to conducting successful business negotiations.
Romanians use a more indirect style of communication than people in the US, Germany, or Australia. While Americans, for example, are taught to be direct and honest, Romanians are more concerned with not offending another person. In this sense, their culture mirrors that of the Asians, who are often very polite and will tell others what they want to hear. In Romania, being slightly dishonest about your feelings is less offensive than being overly direct.
In keeping with their past ties to the French, Romanians enjoy getting to know others through conversation over food and drinks. But while they can be friendly and hospitable, they can also be a bit reticent when first meeting new acquaintances, and often will reveal little about themselves. This trait has its roots in the years of Soviet domination — a time when one never knew for sure who might be an informant for the Secret Police.
Relaxed about time
The Latin influence is also evident in the Romanian concept of time. Romanians are more relaxed about schedules and deadlines than many of their Western counterparts, and view the clock as more a guide than a rule. They don’t always comprehend the “time-is-money” attitude of Americans, and believe that things happen in their own time. But while business meetings may seldom start on time, expats should always ensure their own prompt arrival.