Now I may be alone in this but I don’t recall ever being taken out for lunch by my dentist in the US or for that matter by the old NHS dentist in the UK. Dr Savu takes the view that his patients should be treated as friends and indeed I was treated as such during my time there beginning with lunch at an old ship themed restaurant in Pitesti. The Dracula looking xray guy and his fiancee tagged along and it didn’t cost me a penny. In fact he wouldn’t let me pay for anything outside of the dental office. It was a nice change from the last dentist in Cocoa Beach who charged you per cubic square of air you breathed whilst in his surgery.I got to sample some Romanian cuisine in the restaurant that appeared to be entirely constructed of whicker. Polenta is a favourite national dish and is kind of a like a heap of bread soaked in eggs, sour milk and some sort of yellow slime and of course covered in a thick layer of cheese. I ate it but to be honest I don’t think I will ever order it again.
Dinner was much better as I got invited to the dentists apartment and his fiancee with a little help from their parents prepared another traditional meal of meat, cabbage and rice that was much more to my liking. In the USA at my “customer service” orientated job we’re told to “go out of our way to please.” In Romania that means more than not telling pissey customers to bugger off. In Romania you go to the dentist and you’re made to feel like the long lost relative returning to feast on the fattened calf. It was fantastic.
The best thing about Romanians is that they are the antithesis of Americans. In the USA everybody is friendly, smiling and warm but don’t ever think about showing up at someones house unnanounced. Forget making a joke at someones expense and don’t ever ever ever ask a friend for help outside of work hours. If you ever find yourself spontaneously combusting in Florida don’t bother to buzz your neighbour and ask them to bring over their fire extinguisher because they are only going to tell you that they are busy waiting for the guy who is coming to install their new wood floor.
In Romania it’s the complete opposite. People at first seem shy and avoid eye contact and only speak to you if they have to however once you get to know them you feel as if you have known them all of your life. In England it takes at least ten years to make a lifelong friend, in the USA it takes at least fourteen reincarnation cycles over the course of five hundred years but in Romania all it takes is one drink and an hour of talk in pidgeon French and you are set for life.
Saturday night was party night at the Guinness pub and a young Doctor named Dragos gave us all a lesson in how to act like a loveable drunk by doing some kind of dance ritual that was like a cross between morris dancing and techno. Moby would have been proud. It was quite refreshing to see that Romanians go to the pub to have fun. Americans are purely functional people and only go to the pub for one of two reasons : a) because they are alcoholics or b) to find someone to spend the night with. Happily married and preferring soft drinks to liquor I fit into neither of these categories and therefore my visits to US bars have been about as frequent as they would be to bars if I lived in Mecca. Romania on the other hand had a pub atmosphere much more like in England except with a few less obese men with ill fitting jeans playing darts and a bit more Rod Stewart on the Jukebox.
I had a great time and they called a cab (which I didn’t have to pay for ! Awesome !) to take me back to my hotel and all was right in the world until I realised I had left my wallett on the back seat of the car. I started making my way back to the cab in a pathetic Denholm Elliot sort of “excuse me if I beg your pardon” kind of way but before I could get the taxi drivers attention he hit the gas. It was at this point that I wondered why the hell I had decided to read the British Foreign Office Web site and take their suggestion to heart that I should leave no cash or credit cards in the hotel room. In theory that sounds like a smart idea but the one tiny flaw with that notion is that after you have had a few beers you are rather prone to leaving your wallett with all of the aforementioned in it in a wheelbarrow sized Romanian taxi. As the red and yellow car sped away I started to panic. I had no money. I had no means of contacting the outside world. Was this it for me ? Would I have to start a new life with the street children of Bucharest roaming the sewers and begging for scraps of food from the well fed rat population ? No. I was not ready to give up yet.
Summoning some kind of inner strength that the world had not seen since I went head to head with the other fat kids in 12th grade 200 metres race I bolted down the road. Now I have already described how dangerous it is to drive on Romanian roads so as you can imagine sprinting down the centre of the road waving your arms above your head is not exactly the safest way to get around the city. Luckily there are frequent traffic lights in Pitesti and the cabbie kept getting caught at them all. Unluckily for me every time I almost caught up to him the light changed green and he raced off again. I kept yelling “Pocim ! Pocim!” which is Czech for “Stop.” At the time it seemed like a good idea as it was the only east European word I could think of that was remotely appropriate. In hindsight I doubt anyone within a thousand miles of Pitesti can speak Czech.
I was starting to feel a bit like the guy who loses in the film “Chariots of Fire” as my target got further and further away when a beaten up old communist era minivan pulled up beside me. “Get in” yelled the driver who looked like your stereotypical James Bond film Russian henchman. Typically I don’t hitch rides with such people but this was an emergency. “Follow that taxi” I said as I jumped in the vehicle. We ploughed through the traffic trying to catch up to the taxi driver who had gained an unfair edge in the time it had taken for our pit stop. Bizarrely it soon emerged that the only English words known to my driver were “get” and “in” as used in our initial introduction. Presumably he is a kidnapper but on this night he was a hero. Sadly though we lost the taxi after a pack of dogs stumbled out in front of us. These wild dogs are everywhere in Romania since the communists made no provisions for peoples pets when they knocked down all the old houses and put everyone in flats. The government were doing a pretty good job of exterminating them until Bridget Bardot paid the them about $10 million dollars as a bribe to protect the four legged fiends.
“Bloody Bridget Bardot” I said under my breath as our doomed mission came to a halt back at my hotel. In our absence quite a crowd had gathered of witnesses and nosey people who had presumably seen my Frank the Tank impression and wondered what the hell was going on. By the grace of God and without one word of English being understood by any of them somehow they managed to ascertain what had happened and even more remarkably track down the cabbie by phone and have him return the wallett. For the record on returning it he explained that a customer had found it on the back seat and surrendered it to him. Aside from the credit cards I also had cash in it that I later discovered was equivalent to about 2 months wages for the average Romanian worker. I wondered how many English or American people would have honestly handed over a lost stash of cash so easily. Lukcily I wasn’t in either of those countries though I was in Romania land of lousy food but great great people.