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EU > Romania > Bucharest

All `bout the money

Bucharest, RO (View on map)

Having money or not having money was hardly decisive for the quality of people`s life during communist times in Romania. Everybody had money, and most people could count on earning wages that were similar to the ones of their peers. The comfort of life was decided by the overall availability of goods, rather than anything else. Having money is one thing, but there also needs to be something you can buy from it. Which was oftentimes not the case in the 1990s. The trend has now reversed. Shops are full, but many people`s wallets are not: a good reason to take a closer look at the way young Romanians think about money.

Tiberiu (25):

..lives in Bucharest but feels attached to his origins in the North of Romania
During the hectic 1990s, a small group of people made fortunes by selling former state property and embezzling their profits. At the same time, the rapid change from communism to capitalism caused many innocent victims. Old people lost their pensions and their savings became almost worthless. Up until today, they need to rely on their families to lead a decent life. Those who have no families have few other possibilities than to beg for money in the streets ? which is a very common site in the streets of Bucharest.

The one luck is that they can count on at least some solidarity of some of their fellow Romanians. Lending a hand to impoverished people is much more common in Romania than it is in most other European countries. Piti (30) occasionally gives poor people a little amount of money: `I am not afraid that it will cause more people to beg. I only give money when I feel like they don`t work simply because they can`t, not if they are just begging because they like that way of earning money.`

Dana (26)`s job as a primary school teacher puts her very close to the issue of poverty. `I don`t like to pay money to big organisations, simply because I don`t trust that they will spend it in the right way. I used to be quite easy-going about giving my money away, but I am growing more careful now. I want my help to serve a purpose, and buying alcohol instead of food is not one of them.`

Dana thinks that, on the whole, Romanians have much more money than they used to have in any of the last decades: `That`s particularly true in Bucharest, where it`s even no longer considered acceptable or appropriate to be poor. So we have more money. But we are also more exhausted than ever before. People strive for material prosperity, and seem to forget what real happiness is about. They are convinced that money can buy them everything, and they unfortunately prove to be right in many areas. To me, Romania almost seems like a lawless state. Everything is for sale, including court victories, which I find completely unacceptable.`

Getting rich
Lucas (20) has a slightly different view: `I can`t think of anything that`s more important than money. If you have money, you can lead a happy life. Money will give you friends and it will serve as a guarantee for a good health. If you have enough money, you don`t need anything else`, he says. How much money he would find enough is hard to say: `Earning twice the money I earn today would not make a big difference. If you each twice the money, you can still only buy the same thing twice. It doesn`t allow you to make a jump. If you can have one phone with one salary, you can have two phones with two salaries. It doesn`t allow you to buy a car.`

Alin (21) finds it hard to think of something more important to him than money. `Maybe happiness. But you need money to live well. And now is the time to make money in Romania. Business is thriving and now is the time to strike. Once everything balances out, there`s no more quick fortunes to be made. I need money to feed my gambling addiction. Some people take drugs, others drink or smoke. I don`t do any of those, but I can`t walk past the casino without giving it a try.`

Oana (27) says she would feel hypocrite claiming that money is not important to her. `But it`s not the money itself that brings happiness. I wish to rely on love, God and health more than I pay attention to money`, she says. `Money is a desirable commodity, but it is depressing to see the increasingly unfair balance between rich and poor people.`

Oana continues: `While a small group of young people make a fortune in oftentimes shady businesses, the number of drop-outs from the education system is increasing and somehow there is no money to solve problems like those. Old people have to beg in the streets because their pensions are too small for them to pay for basic necessities like food, electricity and heating. I feel bad if I see old German couples visiting Bucharest on a small holiday. They laugh and have a good time. They have a few years left to live and find ways to do things for which they did not have time during there working lives. Many old Romanians can`t even afford to live in dignity.`

`The market for apartments is spoilt by real estate investors whose trading activities are pushing the prices up. Young entrants to the labour market can`t possibly rent an apartment from one single salary. They have no other choice than to keep sharing apartments and even sleeping rooms for another few years.`

Talking about money
Tiberiu (25, photo) considers himself lucky renting a small apartment via an acquaintance: `She wanted to know the person who lives in her flat and therefore charges a monthly rent that is well below the average. I wouldn`t call it luxurious, already for the size alone, but many people are less fortunate than I am. `

According to Tiberiu, money is a popular subject of conversation among young Romanians: `The market is changing rapidly and people want to check whether they are getting the salary they think they deserve. It`s not so much about bragging, it`s more about finding references. Employers provide little guidance. They are unwilling to negotiate salaries. Either you work for the salary they propose, or they will suggest you to try somewhere else. Employers are still in a position of force, but their position is weakening. Especially in IT, they are starting to have to really recruit staff rather than waiting for them to show up.`

Otilia (26) refuses to comply with the short-term plans the competitive labour market is dictating. She explains: `I started working for Novotel when they first installed themselves in Romania. I am overqualified for the job I`m doing, but I trust that the fact I have worked here ever since the beginning will give me access to better opportunities in the future. Another advantage is that I don`t have to work overtime. That is quite something in Romania, where most employers will impose overtime work to their staff.`

Whatever the future will bring, the Romanian approach to money is an ambiguous one. Money is needed and sought for more than ever before. At the same time, it is blamed for the degradation of personal relations and the irreversible shift towards a hastier lifestyle. After 20 years of rough capitalism, countless are those who long back to some sort of discipline, supervision and protection. But those days are over now.

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