Amo, amas, amat - Jimmy Carter thinks I'm a sinner - CycleBlaze

May 22, 2007

Amo, amas, amat

Many older Romanians are surprised that outsiders don't understand their language.
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Folk say that if Latin had survived, it would be what Romanian is today. The 'Roman' in the name may be a hint. So may the adjective 'Romance' when it comes to languages.

Romanian has taken in many words but it, or the Latin on which it is based, has given out many more. To listen to, I understand nothing. It sounds a little like Italian, a little less like Spanish, but it is obviously neither. Written down, however, and especially on signs, directions and instructions, it is surprisingly easy. You may not get the word from English but almost certainly you'll understand it from Spanish or French or Italian.

Not many Romanians speak another language. A few older people remember a bit of German and we had a good conversation the other night in French. But only younger people speak some English. The rest speak just Romanian.

That makes it sound as though I think that unreasonable, that they haven't learned English to save me the inconvenience of learning Romanian. But that's not the point I'm coming to.

The point I'm trying to make is that Romania was a closed country for so long, and tourism even now is almost unknown - the assured driving in towns of the few foreign cars suggests the drivers are Romanian ex-pats on a trip home - that rural Romanians give the impression they have never met a foreigner. Especially one in Lycra and mounted on a bicycle, because a bicycle is not the way Romanians choose to travel once they have two lei to rub together.

In most countries, when you have no common language, you get by with expressions, sign language and laughter. In Romania, that doesn't work. There is disbelief, or at any rate bewilderment, that you don't speak Romanian. When it sinks in that, no, you don't, the reaction is freezing. It is uncomfortable for you but obviously even more disconcerting for the poor Romanian.

If Romanians weren't so friendly and so willing to help, to rush across the road to give you directions, to strike up conversations and to smile, this would be nothing. But the contrast is all the greater because of it.

Lovely people: I just wanted so much to talk to them.
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In time, of course, it will change. Romanians have started travelling and there are more and more cars with blue, yellow and red patches of the national flag beside the number plate. But outsiders are slow to visit Romania, at any rate away from the beaches of the Black Sea. That makes it a great time to come as a cyclist. It is a beautiful place. I'd recommend a mountain bike rather than the road bikes that we're using, but come here soon rather than leaving it until later.

Delay and you'll find rural Romanians less disconcerted by your foreigness but the price you'll pay is that you've become just another tourist rather than the traveller you pride yourself on being.

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