- Dressing up to go to the store, to class, to walk around the town.
Moldovans, especially Moldovans living in cities, love dressing up. For Moldovan women, a nice dress, full makeup, hair done and some heels are perfect attire for a casual walk. In fact more than being perfectly normal attire for a walk, they’re almost culturally encouraged. The word ‘frumos’ which means beautiful in Romanian is not just a word here, it’s a value.
The girls here for the most part are really beautiful and take care of themselves. There is a high premium on being thin, beautiful and well dressed, which is why many Moldovans have fewer, but nicer clothes and take really good care to keep their clothes and shoes clean and looking like new.
2. A strong affinity for homemade alcohol.
Almost every family here seems to produce their own wine and many also produce their own rachiu, or homemade liquor. I am not a fan of raciu at all, but I have had some delicious homemade wine. You should be careful where you get either of these from since sometimes people will burn tires, if they can’t afford sugar to make the alcohol and drinking this type of alcohol can blind you ( I haven’t met anyone who this has been an issue for, but it doesn’t sound impossible here). You also have to be careful of new wine since this wine is still fermenting and it will continue to ferment in your stomach after you drink it, causing an upset stomach.
3. Children living with their grandparents.
It’s very common in Moldova that children live with their grandparents, as there is a large portion of the working aged population here that lives and works abroad, leaving their parents to raise their children or sometimes simply leaving their children alone to raise themselves. I’ve heard stories from some of the volunteers who live in the villages here that they have elementary aged children who live alone, for at least part of the year, while their parents are abroad.
4. Answering “how are you?” honestly and fully.
“How are you?” or Ce faci? (cf? for texting shorthand) in Moldova demands an actual answer, not just “Great, thanks!”
5. Not smiling at strangers.
Smiling openly, often and in public is not generally a thing here. Smiles are genuine and to be shared with friends, family and other loved ones. It strange really when you see anyone in public smiling unless it’s directed at someone – that’s actually a great way to spot foreigners, people who live or have lived abroad here. Moreover the lack of smiles may make you think people are actually less than happy with you or in general, when really they’re quite happy.
6. Sitting down at the table for a meal and staying there for hours.
When groups of Moldovans get together for dinner, lunch or almost any meal they will sit down, eat, drink and talk. Then they will talk, drink and eat some more. These meals are typically only long when they’re for celebratory purposes, in which case they are referred to as a masa.
7. Always keeping your bags.
Seriously, Moldovans rarely, ever, ever throw away any bags – you just never know when you might need one. Almost every grocery store charges for bags, so keeping your old ones and reusing them or carrying a cloth one is actually a really good idea for saving money and the environment.
8. Preparing way more food than is necessary for when friends come over.
There will almost never be less than six dishes on the table, even for a dinner for three. And most of it will have tons of mayo. There will always be too much of everything so pace yourself and develop a taste for leftovers.
9. Making lots and lots of toasts.
Some Moldovans will make a toast of Sanatate, “To health” or something short like that. But generally expect to hear anecdotes, lots of well-wishing and a toast before every drink – during a dinner here I’d say about ten toasts an hour is standard. You’re likely to hear the same toast over and over again. When they want to just drink they’ve even got a toast to avoid having to toast – ‘hai devai!’ It just means lets go.
10. Meeting complete strangers and then becoming friends with them immediately.
And then inviting them over for cognac or some house wine after only 10 minutes of conversation. In Moldova there is a saying, there are people you know, people you don’t know and people you’ve partied with.
I can’t tell you how many times this has happened to me – in the grocery store, on the street, through friends of my host mother. Sometimes it’s a concrete offer, but usually it’s just an open door, to reach out and suggest a visit. I’ve been impressed with how friendly people here are to strangers, how welcoming and helpful.
11. Never showing up to someone’s house for a meal without a gift in hand.
Usually to someone’s house you bring wine or chocolates, but if you really want to impress a Moldovan, bring a nice bottle of cognac. You can also, in addition to alcohol, bring flowers or a cake, both usually go over well.
I will say while this is more common here than in the states, this was something my mother taught me growing up as well; never show up to a dinner party without a gift for the host or hostess.
12. Opening your bananas from the side without the stem.
To me this was bizarre to watch – Moldovans open their bananas, almost always from the side without the longer handle. They then use the handle to hold the banana as they eat it.
13. Never wearing shoes inside and always wearing slippers inside.
When you enter a Moldovan house you always remove your shoes at the door. For a lot of volunteers this was an adjustment, but for me this was standard. My mother at home enforced this rule in her home and it worked well for keeping the carpets cleaner, so it makes sense in the land of dust that people do this. What doesn’t always make sense is the constant concern regarding wearing slippers, even in summer. You remove your shoes, but you don’t walk around the house barefoot.
14. Not leaving windows open or if you do, never leaving the door to the room open as well.
A lot of Moldovans, believe that the current or wind has the ability to get you sick. Some won’t open windows in their homes or crowded buses even in the summer, others just believe the draft that’s created when a window and door are open is the concern and will open a window, but make sure there is no draft.
15. Congratulating one another on getting out of a shower or sauna.
They say, “S lyogkim parom!” (Basically, “Congratulations on a light steam.”)
The first time this happened was at a friend’s house and he said it in Russian (I speak almost no Russian) and I had no idea what he was saying until he opened the door to the bathroom and pointed to the steam. Even after that it took a while to understand that I wasn’t misunderstanding his words – I could not understand the meaning.
16. Time being potentially a more fluid concept than we are used to in the states.
While this attitude certainly is changing and seems to be considered less than professional, there is a higher tolerance for being late for things and a much less rigid definition of what on time for something means. It is not uncommon for someone to arrive for a meeting thirty minutes or even an hour after it began, without apology, explanation or anyone batting an eye. However, from the professional interactions I’ve had people do seem to get annoyed by this; they just choose not to say anything. Another cultural trend or norm here – people are less likely to voice negative opinions publicly, especially at work than they would be in the states.
Disclaimer: I can not begin to summarize an entire culture in 16 points, these are just 16 that have struck me since being here. These are not applicable to everyone in Moldova and should not be taken as such.
This list was inspired by and borrowed heavily from a list titled, 16 Things Russians Do That Americans would find Weird; there were a few that were applicable to my experience in Moldova, which is unsurprising since I live in a heavily Russian area of the country and Moldova is a former soviet republic.