Just how Roman is Romania?

If you’re anything like me – and I sincerely hope you’re not – you know that Romania is located somewhere in Eastern Europe, but you’re not quite sure where. Is it somewhere between Hungary and Bulgaria? Or is it further north, below the Czech Republic? And the capital, was it Budapest or Bucharest? So, let’s get our bearings before we take a closer at this country and its fascinating language.


Two weeks ago, I asked readers to submit, in their own language, their favourite sight, sound, scent and taste in their hometown. One of the first to respond was Claudiu Mihăilă, who is currently completing his PhD in England, but originally hails from Iaşi in north-eastern Romania, near the border with Moldova. Claudiu’s list of favourites immediately erased all my questions about geography and reminded me that I have always been intrigued by the fact that Romanian sounds and reads more like Italian (and other Romance languages), than like the Slavic and Balkan languages spoken in the neighbouring countries.

Having checked various websites, I discovered that there were conflicting theories about the “Latin origins” of Romanian. According to Claudiu, “the people who lived in the area before it was colonised by the Roman Empire spoke Dacian, and it has been suggested that this is the first language that influenced Latin.” Another theory is that colonists were brought from all over the Roman Empire to help mine the rich ore deposits (mainly gold and silver) in Dacia. According to Wikipedia, these colonists brought Vulgar Latin to the region, which marked the start of “a period of intense Romanisation that would give birth to the Proto-Romanian language.”

Are you still there? Good. Then I will demonstrate how closely Romanian seems to resemble other Romance languages. If it didn’t, I would have had much more difficulty deciphering Claudiu’s favourites.

Sight: “Rozariul din Grădina Botanic?” – Could Claudiu be referring to the rose garden in the botanical gardens? According to Google Translate this means, “Rosary from the Botanical Gardens,” but I’m inclined to go with my gut instinct here.

Sound: “Hora Unirii de la Palatul Culturii, la ora exact?” – My first guess is that Claudiu is referring to the tolling of the clock tower of the magnificent Palace of Culture at noon (“la ora exact?”). Google wasn’t very helpful, mainly because it refused to translate “Hora Unirii”, but I discovered that this is also the title of a famous poem by Vasile Alecsandri. So maybe the carillon in the clock tower plays a musical version of this “anthem”?

Scent: “Tei înfloriţi pe Copou în iunie” – I think this is a reference to the scent of blooming flowers (“înfloriţi”) in June (“iunie”). I discovered that Copou Park is famous landmark of Iaşi, with many ancient trees. And apparently “tei” means “lime”. So perhaps Claudiu means blooming lime trees in Copou Park in June?

Taste: “Vin fiert cu turtă dulce” – I’m pretty sure this is some sort of delicious dessert consisting of sweet cake (“turtă dulce”) doused with brandy (“vin fiert”). More exactly, according to Google, this is “mulled wine with gingerbread”, which sounds rather tasty.

In fact, as I was checking my facts, I discovered that Iaşi, as a whole, looks and sounds rather tasty! Claudiu confirmed this when he sent me this fabulous photo, which he took on Union Place in his hometown.


I’d like to thank Claudiu for taking me by the hand and leading me through his land, his home, his language. When I asked him what one should and shouldn’t say in Iaşi, he replied that he had given it a lot of thought and eventually decided to go with a theme that appeals to all Romanians: food. That should help you decipher the following:

You SHOULD say: “Tochitură moldovenească, cu mămăligă, ochi, brânză de burduf şi-o Grasă de Cotnari!”

You SHOULD NOT say: “Dar praz şi şliboviţă nu aveţi?!”

(Please keep correcting my guesses and sending me your favourites in your own language, either by posting them as a comment here or by connecting with me on Twitter @RicharddeNooy. And if you’d like to see more of Claudiu’s wonderful photos, please click here.)

Richard de Nooy

Posted by: Richard de Nooy |
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