We stopped at a little pharmacy today to buy some skin cream for David. A Romanian woman came in a few steps behind us. Claudia went up to the counter and started to speak to the pharmacist. Then David began to fuss. Claudia bent over and gave him a few moments of attention. The Romanian woman cut in front of us and started her own transaction. By the time Claudia had stood up again, she was already in the middle of her order. This is actually pretty common here. Romanians don't do lines very well. "You snooze, you lose" seems to be the pervasive attitude; if you don't defend your place, someone will step in ahead of you. They're not easily embarrassed about it, either. The first time it happens, you think you're dealing with one "rude" person. By the fifth or tenth time, you realize that everyone is operating on a different set of rules than yours. Some random thoughts on this phenomenon:
1) If everyone is doing it, it isn't bad manners. Or is it? Do Romanians find this annoying? It's a bit of a delicate question to ask my Romanian friends and colleagues, because just asking it sounds implicitly critical. But I do wonder. By way of comparison: last week I had a conversation with a Greek businessman. He stood a few centimeters closer to me than I was comfortable with, and spoke directly into my face. In an American context, this would be rude. For him, it was perfectly normal... it's a Greek thing. So it wasn't really rude at all. Just different. The line thing may be like that. On the other-other hand, cutting in front of a woman with a baby doesn't seem like good manners to me in any context. But maybe I'm being too much the cultural relativist. 2) I'm tentatively thinking this is a Romanian thing rather than a regional one, because the Serbs didn't seem to do it. Or not as much. Or perhaps it's a Bucharest thing? 3) For both Americans and Germans, the line-cutting is surprising (the first few times) and annoying. I think it might be more annoying because Romanians look, well, like us. If we were in Africa or China, our expectations would be different and we wouldn't be as startled. (And we'd probably be more alert to the possibility of people cutting in front of us.) 4) There is a difference between me and Claudia. I find the line-cutting annoying but that's all; I roll my eyes and move on. But it makes Claudia angry, really outraged. I should hesitate to generalize, but what the hell. I think this is a cultural difference, and I suspect it's connected to the strong German attachment to certain sorts of social order. Which my wife -- she will freely acknowledge -- considers one of her nation's great strengths, and herself possesses in full. And that's about all I have to say on this topic.