Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Why I Love Romania

I've just spent an extremely enjoyable weekend in the city of Brasov in Romania. There are many things I could discuss about the weeked but I'll just talk about one at the moment. It's not something that's particularly Brasovian, simply a feature of Romania that I've come to notice in my many visits to the country.

Romania can get cold in the winter. Very cold. This seems to have had an effect on retailing in the country. Shopkeepers don't want a stready stream of punters opening and closing their door, coming in to the shop, and perusing goods they may well decide not to purchase and thereby letting valuable heat escape from the premises. The solution? You run a kiosk instead.

As far as I can tell, about half of what you buy in Romania is from kiosks. Confectionery, soft drinks, coffees, tobacco, bread, bus tickets, admission tickets are all sold from kiosks. The idea is that you, the "shopkeeper", sit inside a nice warm box with a glass/perspex front. Your customers are stuck outside coping with whatever weather is being launched at you that day by the Romanian climate.You, the shopkeeper, array all the goods you wish to sell inside your box against the glass/perspex front so that shoppers can see what you wish to sell. The only opening in the kiosk is an implausibly small hole about one metre from the ground.

To purchase from a kiosk you find what you need in the window. As an average sized human being, you are then required to bend over double and attempt to make eye contact with the individual secreted in the gloomy interior of the kiosk. In winter of course, it is usually bitterly cold your nose is perhaps running, and you are not usually well-disposed to contorting yourself like this just to buy a cup of coffee to stave off the chill in your bones. If you can see a person in there, and you very often cannot, you just optimistically speak through the hole and ask for what you need. It is obtained by the troglodyte within, money is exchanged and the goods are passed through the hole. The hole is generally sized to match the goods being sold at the particular kiosk so, if the kiosk sells only bus tickets or admission tickets to a venue, the hole is likely to be only big enough to accommodate the passing through of tickets and the money required to purchase said tickets. The hole will never be any bigger than is absolutely necessary. It often feels more like you're indulging in some sort of weird street-based Catholic confessional than actually conducting a transaction to buy goods as you often cannot see the person you're dealing with and they rarely speak, usually only to tell you that they're unable to give you any change even though you have proffered a note of reasonably small denomination.

Of course this also limits the range of goods the "shopkeeper" can sell you as they can only retail good that will fit through a very small hole. It's a system that most native Romanians appear to accept as normal, yet is somewhat unusual to the vistor.

I hope the people at don't mind that I've borrowed a few of their jpgs by way of illustration.

1 comment:

sabrina said...

Ooooh i am soo soo jealous!!! I have always wanted to travel to Romania, especially after reading The Historian with its allusions to dracula (have u read it?...chilling read!).

Can we see more pictures please.....