Postcard from... Bucharest
2 October 2009
After a year and a half as an expat in Poland, I accepted a new challenge and moved to Romania following the opening of Garrigues’ new office in Bucharest. And here I am, a new country, new culture, new language and new colleagues.
As soon as I landed in Bucharest my first impression was: “This is mayhem!!” Yes, Bucharest is chaotic. The traffic is unbearable, the streets are poorly lit, the number of cables dangling in the streets is worthy of an in-depth documentary, the taxi drivers are cheeky, stray dogs roam the streets, it’s stifling in the summer and freezing in the winter. But who cares about that when you can walk the streets and discover singular and unique spots, impressive villas, which, despite needing a really good makeover, take you back to another time and make you understand why Bucharest was called Little Paris, huge parks to lose yourself in and, naturally, the Palace of Parliament and the buildings from the Communist era, which make you think, read and delve into the history of the country to find out more.
Yes, it is a chaotic metropolis, yet it has all the charm of a romantic city. A city with ambitions, and a yearning to be what it once was. Every day you become more and more convinced that Bucharest is a good place to live. Yes, it may be lacking in certain things and others could undoubtedly be improved, but it is simply a question of time before the city catches up with any of the other more advanced European cities.
But Romania is not just Bucharest. Leave the capital and you find places practically untouched by civilization. A scenery and people that are spectacular. Hidden villages where you come across the friendliness and hospitality of the people time and time again. I remember a trip around the Apuseni mountains in which each landscape, each hamlet and each guesthouse had a particular charm. You would never imagine that the country could have so much water and vegetation. Rivers and streams in impossible places and never-ending pine forests that give way to huge expanses of wheat and sunflower fields. It is astounding to see that the fields are still worked using traditional methods: horse-drawn ploughs, farmers reaping with sickles.
Another of the things that I marvel at are the orthodox churches and the fact that you find them everywhere, not just inside Bucharest, but all over the country in the most unimaginable places. Attending an orthodox service is a strange experience – you feel overwhelmed by a feeling of belonging and a spirituality that is different to a Catholic mass. Attending orthodox Easter celebrations is definitely a must.
One of the advantages of being Spanish in Romania is the language. Since its roots are Latin it is much easier to learn than Polish. The most difficult part is speaking, but it is nice to be able to understand things and realise that with a little effort and interest you can also make yourself understood. The smile of encouragement of the people you speak to, who appreciate the effort you are making, also helps you lose your inhibitions and summon up courage.
As I said at the start, my new assignment meant new colleagues and the truth is that I had the warmest of welcomes. It is never easy to arrive in a foreign country and feel at home. The atmosphere in the firm has unquestionably helped me adapt quickly to life in Romania. The experience of being an expat makes you grow both personally and professionally, broadening your horizons and teaching you that what you have is not necessarily better. Sharing, speaking and knowing how to listen is the key to understanding between cultures. I’m a lucky person.
Carmen Pérez-Andújar is a senior associate in Garrigues’ Bucharest office