Readers' Submissions

Thailand – Romania, Same – Same

  • Written by Tdunda
  • September 25th, 2008
  • 7 min read



Hey Stickman and readers,

I have a friend who is an expat residing in Romania and keep in regular contact with him. He often sends over emails of the daily trials of life in Bucharest, which funnily enough are not that dissimilar to the issues reported on this site. I thought I would send in the latest email he sent which goes to show that the Thais don’t have a monopoly on appearing to be frustratingly stupid to outsiders.

For a bit of reference when reading this, there are a couple of notes I will make:

1. The Romanian currency consists of the RON (equivalent to the Baht / Dollar / Pound) and the Bani (equivalent to the Setang / cent / pence) – i.e. 100 Bani to the Ron. To further complicate matters, the currency was changed over some years back due to inflation; from what was called the Lei and for a time the two currencies existed simultaneously with 1 RON being worth 10,000 Lei (think of the Dollar / Kip relationship in Laos or the Dollar / Riel relationship in Cambodia).

2. At one point, my friend makes reference to a previous email he had sent, so rather than attach that one as well, I surmise the point he was making in the italicised paragraph that follows this reference.

3. I don’t speak Romanian but as I understand it, the word “Poftim” means “Excuse me” or “I beg your pardon”, asked in a questioning manner.

Anyway, I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did…

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Our beautiful baby boy was born on Monday 28 July 2008. Baby Graham arrived at 1142hrs weighing in at 3.250kg and a solid 51cm. As a result I was making the quarter hour walk from home to the hospital every morning and evening. Knowing I had less than a few days to bring this little wonder of our lives home, I set about planning how I could best transport him.

Car seemed to be an obvious choice – for the foolhardy. Naturally it would take me around an hour to get to the hospital, and then parking seemed to be at a premium, irrespective of the bumper-to-bumper traffic blasting their horns as you tried to park somewhere…anywhere. Forget about a reverse park, as people will hug your rear bumper, thus ensuring you have no way of doing it.

Taxi was second choice – for those who spent their schooling in special needs classes. You could get a taxi, but no doubt the driver would take you on his special “short-cut”, turning the one hour trip into a two hour trip, and you would be nursing a baby on your lap, as the guy does ludicrous illegal turns across on-coming traffic. Forget it!

Walking him home in his pram was (by far) the best option. I walked all possible routes. By now you know the routine – cars sprawled willy-nilly all over the footpath (name becoming more ironic by the month), holes in the ground which would pass as “unevenness” to the Soviets in Leningrad on New Years’ Day in 1943, and cars driving way too fast with P-plate equivalents speaking on their mobile phones.

The final solution was to walk Graham home in his pram with Daddy looking after him. I had optimised the route to avoid as many busy roads as possible, as well as some of the common hazards associated with the footpath. One such “hazard” (although I think hazard is too soft a word for it, as that only implies potential risk, as opposed to actual, it-is-gonna-happen risk) was a manhole sans cover on the intersection of two of Bucharest’s busiest streets. The manhole cover itself was six feet down the manhole (see mathematical proof using linear thermal expansion theory in previous email* – it is summer you see). Luckily, as seen in the attached photo, the local council had decided to visibly mark it with safety tape, to ensure no-one could possible fall down it, or heaven forbid, drive down it (it was on the footpath after all). Even luckier was that a good Bucharestian chose to protect the lives of his fellow denizens simply by erecting a nice warning sign, consisting of a 30cm high piece of vegetation stripped from a nearby tree. It’s nice!

* Without reproducing that email as well – the basic problem with the manhole covers is that the Romanian Government decided to replace damaged / worn out covers with new ones, however they contracted the job out to the relative of someone in the government (sound familiar), who, in order to save money, had the manhole covers constructed from the cheapest possible alloy instead of the same steel grade as the surrounding manhole rim. As different materials have different rates of expansion when heated or cooled, even though the covers fit nicely when they were fitted in the previous Romanian summer when the temperature gets well up over 35oC (~95oF), come winter when it snows and temperature goes well and truly subzero, the covers contracted faster and to a greater extent than the surrounding rims did – the result is a lot of manholes with their covers laying at the bottom of the hole.

Having walked Graham home, whilst Kathy took a taxi with her mother (of course I beat them home), I decided I should celebrate with a beer. As un-Australian as it sounds, the fridge was empty, so I had to nip down to the corner shop – I waited until Kathy got home. I placed a few beers and some bottles of mineral water on the counter. The lady added it up. It was almost like that scene in European Vacation when the Griswalds were checking out of the B&B in London after Audrey had spent the night on hold to the US whilst her boyfriend Jack ate dinner. She was tapping numbers rapidly into the calculator. I waited patiently, wondering how hard (4×3.5) + (2×2.2) was to plug into the calculator. Then it came – my new pet hate.

‘One hundred and eighty four thousand’, she said.

‘Poftim?’ I replied.

Noticing my foreign accent she wrote on a piece of paper the number 184.

What she actually meant was 18.40 RON, but you see changes take a while to get used to in this country. This young lady was so used to the old currency that she struggled to be able to adjust in any way over the past THREE YEARS. And anyway, why doesn’t she just type in the price on the items, rather than multiplying them all by 10,000? But it is a clean cultural fit – the Romanians do like to make things a lot harder than they have to be, just so they have something else to moan about.

What’s even more interesting was the old currency. The 1 RON note is still called 10 (it used to be 10 000), the 10RON note is still called 100 (it used to be 100,000). Today’s one hundred note was yesteryear’s one million Lei note. So everyone calls the one hundred note a million. Confused? So are they!

The other day we tried to pay for 38.60RON of groceries with a 50RON note (or 500,000 if you are Romanian and reading this).

‘386,000’, she said.

Kathy tried to help the poor checkout girl by giving her the 60 bani. I tried to stop her, but it was too late. Result – chaos. The poor girl had 11.40RON change to give me, and then Kathy had given her 60 bani, and now she was lost. Her cabbage hands were already in the till. She tried to give me the change and handed me 1RON. Deer in the headlights. She then gave me one more RON.

‘Ten more’, I told her. Smoke began to pour from her ears as the tiny wooden cogs inside her brain started to move. She handed me a 1 RON note.

‘Noooo – ten!’, I told her, handing it back. She handed me 10 bani.

‘Noooo, 10 RON’. I noted my voice rising. I got back the 1 RON again.

‘No, ten – you know, the one with 10 written on it?’, I said, leaning over and plucking it from the till.

She gave me a “no fair” look, and then looked at the small crowd of on-lookers, gave a combination Gaullic shoulder and mouth shrug, and complained loudly about ‘how was she to know this’… It’s your job dopey!

Stickman's thoughts:

You have to laugh. Sometimes we get exasperated in Thailand but the truth is that most third world countries are much the same. Different language, different currency, different culture BUT ALL THE SAME PROBLEMS!