Transportation, Food, and Foreign Languages

Written by volunteer Tim Coan, originally on

Each day, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, my host family and I formally sit down and eat together. At one of the dinners this week, my host sister had a friend visiting her family, and he asked me what struck me most about Romania as different from my life back in the United States. So, here are the three things I find most different about life in Romania in the Transylvanian region:


1. One afternoon, my host family decided to take me to their wine cellar on the property they own in another town, and they asked me how I wanted to get there: by car or by cart. Horse-drawn cart, that is. I chose the cart, and soon enough I was climbing into the back of a cart pulled by two large, brown horses. As we rode through the streets, a man driving a Mercedes pulled up behind us and patiently waited until there was enough room on the side of the road for him to pass us.  This is not uncommon, either. Each day I leave the house, I always see many people riding in horse-drawn carts and people driving cars, waiting to get around them so that they can pass. This contrast of old and new, using horse carts for transportation instead of cars, as well as potentially a stark contrast in income, really struck me as interesting and different from home.

2. While the food eaten in Romania is definitely different from what I usually eat at home (stuffed cabbage, anyone?), where the food comes from is also very different: the backyard. It seems like every meal, my host family is telling me that we are eating something that they grew themselves or got from one of their animals. Whether it’s the raspberries that we picked together from the raspberry bushes on the side of the house, the peaches from the peach trees in the backyard, or the cottage cheese from the cow, almost everything is prepared straight from homegrown produce. The wine we’re drinking is from the grapes in the vineyard. The honey, we get from the bees that the family keeps. The only food I know they have not made themselves is the bread we eat with every meal and the pizza we ordered for lunch on Friday. Even today, my host mother was turning some of the berries she gathered into jams so that she can put them in the freezer and save them for the winter.

3. Finally, the foreign languages present on the radio, marked on products, and on signs stood out to me. While Spanish is becoming a major language in the US, you will rarely ever see it used outside of a classroom, at least in Baltimore where I live. In this part of Romania, I am living with a Hungarian-speaking population. However, all government buildings (police, schools, etc.) use Romanian on signs and official notices, as it is the official language of Romania. When I walk into the grocery store, many of the products are in English, with no Hungarian or Romanian on the wrapping at all, as far as I could tell – something that would never happen in the US. Finally, the radio plays many popular American songs, but I haven’t heard any songs in Hungarian or Romanian. Besides Despacito, the only songs on the radio in the US are in English.

So, there you have it: the three things I find most different about Romania after one week of living with my host family.