There are a lot of things about Romanian culture that I really like. The people are in general much more willing to help a total stranger than are my fellow Wisconsinites. Old men will give up their seats on the tramvai for children and mothers with babies; young men will give up theirs for older women. Shaking hands is pretty much the general rule when you meet a friend, and you always say “Buna ziua” to the cashier in the store. And in general no one seems to get too uptight if you’re a few minutes late for a meeting. I like these things about Romanian culture.
But then there are things that I don’t like. Though Romania is certainly not a nudist colony, public nudity is certainly much more likely to happen here than in my home state of Wisconsin. PDA (Public Displays of Affection, or “pduh”), although never getting to the point of being disgusting, are much more common here, especially when it comes to teenagers on the subway or at McDonald’s. the one I most dislike is that Romanians in general seem less likely to keep an appointment than are my German-descended relatives back home; the plans you made just may end up changing without warning and without explanation, and that’s just how it goes. I don’t really care for these parts of Romanian culture.
But then there are also things that I just plain don’t get, the greatest of which is HOLDING HANDS.
In Wisconsin, little kids hold a parent’s hand to cross the street, a husband and wife may hold hands while strolling through the park, or a young couple might hold hands on a romantic walk. In church, youth groups will occasionally form circles and hold hands during prayer times with a special focus on unity. Families may even hold hands while praying around the dinner table. Kindergarteners hold hands while walking from the classroom to the lunch room.
Middle-aged women do NOT reach out and grab hold of a random 32-year-old man’s hand. Never. NEVER. It just plain does not happen in Wisconsin. And if it should happen by mistake for some reason (hypothetically speaking, of course), both people would immediately let go, apologize, and laugh awkwardly before then separating to opposite sides of the room and avoiding each other the rest of the month.
I thought this was a normal rule, something universal like “don’t pee into the wind.”
But then I moved to Romania where all rules about holding hands have been thrown out the window.
It’s fairly common to see women (regular, heterosexual, non-lesbian women) walking down the street holding hands. And I’ve even seen men holding hands on occasion. And then, of course, there’s me and the older women who seem to be drawn to my minding-their-own-business hands.
So, I don’t know if I have a sign on me that says, “Hey, I’m not married! Older women, come hold my hand, please!” Or maybe I look like I’m lost, and their motherly instincts take over and compel these women to reach out and grab hold of my hand. I don’t know.
But I’m starting to think that Romanians are just way more comfortable with personal contact than are Wisconsinites. (I blame the subways and buses for this. Public transportation has probably permanently removed the concept of personal space from the national psyche.) At least, I’m choosing to believe that, anyhow, ’cause the alternative is… well… a bit too much to process at the moment.