As I learnt during previous days, Romanian boys and girls are expected to behave in a similar way until they reach the age of 11 or 12, with the exception that the girls have earrings. Gender roles are only starting to sink in during the early teenage years. From then on, boys are raised to be men, and girls are raised to be women: two distinctly different paths.
Being a woman can be quite tough in Romania. Once married, a woman can expect to spend just as many hours on the work floor as her husband, oftentimes in jobs that are equally tiring. With working weeks of well over 50 hours, the woman is still responsible for all matters in and around the house: the children, the cooking and the cleaning and all of that after she comes home from work. The husband is traditionally allowed to relax in front of the TV and wait for dinner to be served. Men are only expected to extend a helping hand at special occasions, like Easter or Christmas. The very few who also assist on `normal` days are breaking with a tradition and can expect to see wondering faces if they tell their friends that they, too, sometimes do the dishes. Any activity or behaviour that questions a guy`s masculinity is to be avoided.
..always has younger girlfriends
Differences already start at the greeting level. Women greet women by kissing and men greet men by shaking hands. Men and women, between each other, only exchange a quick `hello`. Kissing would be inappropriate and take too much time in a big group. The situation of a man shaking hand with a woman is strictly reserved for first-time introductions, business relations or, as I am told, greeting prostitutes. As a result, anytime somebody joins a group, it seems like a newly arrived man almost ignores all the women, while a newly arrived woman almost ignores all the men.
Boyfriend-girlfriend situations are quite different, especially for fresh couples. Opposite to the Estonian situation under which intimacy in public would be a sin, Romanian couples see no issues in openly displaying their love and affection, whoever else is around. They typically sit on each other`s lap around a table, and frequently turn away from any discussion to confirm their feelings towards one another.
Impressing the opposite sex
Just like Vasil (25) and Alexandra (17, both in photo), most Romanian couples have an age difference of 5 up to 10 year between them. Vasil explains that he always has younger girlfriends. Alexandra explains that the boys her age are too immature and that they are too slow to grow out of their adolescent habits. She likes to feel that a boy understands her, and appreciates her for something more than just looks. Vasil appreciates intelligence, beauty and sincerity. He does not want `one of those girls who are after cars or money`, estimating that the majority of the young girls in Satu Mare can think of nothing else than that.
It is not very difficult to find visual evidence of his suggestion. While I`m talking to Boglarka (20) on the main square of the city, I notice how a handful of ridiculously expensive cars keeps driving around the square: driver seat in near-horizontal position, loud music, windows up and down, speeding, braking, overtaking ? all with lap times of about 3 minutes.
`See, it`s boys showing off their cars and inviting women to join them. When they pass by a girl they fancy, they point at their cheek as if asking for a kiss. You would be quite stupid to even start talking to them, because you know where it ends. Some young girls don`t, they are just curious to know more about these impressive guys. But one day later, the guys pretend that they have never even known the girl`, Boglarka explains.
Sexual education is virtually non-existent in Romania. Boglarka remembers how one day in secondary school, the boys were sent out of class, and some professional woman came to explain them about having periods. `But there was nothing about sex, about the risk of diseases or about the risk of pregnancy`, she adds.
Akos (27) explains that safe sex is not yet very common in Romania. He compares the situation to driving into a one-way street in the wrong direction. `In Romania, we like to do things that are not allowed, especially if nobody`s watching. It`s a bit of an anarchic act. As long as you can get away with it, you`re fine. It`s just a mentality issue.`
At the same time, Akos tells me about a study he recently carried out as part of his studies. `The area where I live has 37,000 inhabitants. In a period of 6 months, 2,000 abortions are carried out. Not all of them are for women from the area, because some women from the cities prefer to have an abortion in a smaller town. Sometimes, the doctors are better in smaller cities, while at other occasions the woman in question just appreciates to have some privacy about her situation.`
Timea (24) likes to hear a guy complimenting her on how beautiful and intelligent she is. If she likes a guy, she will simply tell him how much she likes him or that he looks great. `When we get together, I will call him almost every day and every hour and I hope he will bring me flowers, take me out eating or just go for a walk together.` Timea agrees that many couples go out walking just to show off their partner. `Especially men do that. Men who have a beautiful woman are quickly thought of as successful. A beautiful woman makes a man look more important, but the opposite is equally true.`
Mihai (20) thinks that boys temporarily get very polite when they like a girl: `They will become all protective and sentimental, trying to be funny and showing off a little. Girls have other ways. They will become very girly and giggly and give the guy lots of compliments. But that`s in the positive situation. If the girl doesn`t like the guy, she will act stiff and cold. If the guy doesn`t like the girl, he will try to make fun of her in front of other people, just by making some degrading joke about her.`
Mihai also explains me what to do in the `pathetic event when you expect a kiss but get none`. It doesn`t always work, but at least it worked with my current girlfriend. `You play the pity card, saying something like: `Oh, I`m such a nice guy, why don`t you like me?` Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn`t. If it does work, and the boy and the girl end up somewhere together alone, especially in the apartment of either of them, it is very likely that they will have sex. Otherwise, one of them would have refused to come along in the first place.`
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