Society

Young Europeans: living the good life in Romania 

Article published on Jan. 29, 2014
Article published on Jan. 29, 2014

Apart from the expat bubble and from the big companies seeking for low-cost labour, young Europeans settle in Romania because of their love for the country and the offered opportunities. Sidonie, Anna and David have chosen to live in Bu­carest, a city « full of resources ».

Out­side of the bub­ble of ex­pats and en­tre­pre­neurs who want to take ad­van­tage of low-cost labour, young Eu­ro­peans are mov­ing to Ro­ma­nia - out of love for the coun­try and the op­por­tu­ni­ties it pro­vides. Sidonie, Anna and David have cho­sen to live in Bucharest, a city "full of re­sources"

Be­hind the com­mu­nist-style blocks and wide, busy streets, the Ro­man­ian cap­i­tal is a real trea­sure trove. For­eign­ers liv­ing in the city like to wan­der the streets, dis­cover the di­verse ar­chi­tec­ture of houses which sur­vived the Ceaușescu era, and see if some­one hasn't set up a café in one of them. In the Piata Amzei quar­ter, there is a French book­shop which used to be a house. Stand­ing in front of the green door, you'd think that peo­ple still lived there, if it weren't for the ‘Kyralina - French book­shop’ sign which proves oth­er­wise. In­side, a black-and-white cat strolls be­tween the chil­dren's books, the win­ner of the last Goncourt award, and a Tintin comic in Ro­man­ian. Sidonie, be­hind her com­puter, is talk­ing in French with a client from the city.

'An open playing field'

In 2009, after study­ing lit­er­a­ture at the Sor­bonne and work­ing in pub­lish­ing, Sidonie headed off to Bucharest to take up an in­ter­na­tional vol­un­teer­ing po­si­tion with the In­sti­tut Français. At the time, the In­sti­tut had a rather un­suc­cess­ful book­shop. For Sidonie, a won­der­ful op­por­tu­nity was going to waste: ‘I re­alised that Ro­ma­ni­ans, even the youngest of them, were still very much Fran­cophiles. My part­ner had found work here, and we de­cided to set up a French book­shop, in­de­pen­dent of the In­sti­tut". It has been a suc­cess: just over a year after open­ing, they have ex­ceeded their ex­pec­ta­tions and al­most 70% of their clients are Ro­man­ian. ‘We're de­lighted that we can meet the needs of the Ro­man­ian peo­ple and not just be an ex­pats' book­shop.’

A few streets away, in the old cen­tre, the ‘Hub’ brings to­gether self-em­ployed young busi­ness­peo­ple to offer them some­where to work from. Anna is one of them. Orig­i­nally from the Nether­lands, she ar­rived in Oc­to­ber 2012 as part of the Eu­ro­pean Vol­un­tary Ser­vice (EVS) pro­gramme. But the project wasn't what she expected it to be, so she started her own pro­ject and re­alised that she had an en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit. At the end of her EVS, she took part in the Eras­mus pro­gramme for Young En­tre­pre­neurs and put to­gether her com­mu­ni­ca­tion con­sul­tancy busi­ness: ‘I train clients, showing them how to pitch and I help my clients to cre­ate a strong mes­sage for their busi­ness. Most of them are Ro­man­ian. It's going well, prob­a­bly be­cause I'm the only per­son doing it here.’

The lack of com­pe­ti­tion is also an ad­van­tage for Sidonie. She de­scribes the city as some­thing of a blank page for ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and cre­ativ­ity. ‘It's a city of pos­si­bil­i­ties. Paris is full to burst­ing with amaz­ing pro­jects. I came to Bucharest be­cause the play­ing field is so open.’

Beyond the clichés

The Ro­ma­ni­ans' warm wel­come, the lan­guage, the cul­ture and the beau­ti­ful coun­try­side are other rea­sons why peo­ple stay in Ro­ma­nia. David ar­rived in 2005 as an Eras­mus stu­dent. Orig­i­nally from Cat­alo­nia, he fell in love with the city and the whole coun­try straight away. ‘What I like here are the con­trasts. Each day is a sur­prise. I'm never bored.’ He has now mas­tered Ro­man­ian and works part-time for a French busi­ness and two days a week for Radio Ro­ma­nia In­ter­na­tional.

But a lot of for­eign vis­i­tors who spend a few days in Ro­ma­nia have the image of the grumpy shop as­sis­tant or the im­pa­tient waiter. According to David, ‘it happens a lot and it hasn't changed in eight years.’ He en­thu­si­as­ti­cally does an im­pres­sion of a woman sell­ing bus passes with hardly a glance in his di­rec­tion. ‘After hav­ing lived here, I find Ro­man­ian peo­ple wel­com­ing, re­source­ful, cre­ative, even if they them­selves don't al­ways see it. Only once in eight years has any­one said I shouldn't be here.’

The Romanian dream. Not without difficulties

The idea that ‘any­thing is pos­si­ble’ is not with­out its flaws. Those who move abroad are often faced with ad­min­is­tra­tion that can go over their head. In Ro­ma­nia, it doesn't take long be­fore you find your­self in a mad Ionesco-style hul­la­baloo. Ex­or­bi­tant fines spring out of nowhere for triv­ial things, and even France's in­fa­mous bu­reau­cracy has noth­ing on the Ro­man­ian sys­tem. ‘Ro­man­ian ad­min­is­tra­tion is pretty ab­surd. The open­ing of my book­shop was de­layed be­cause of a pile of use­less forms’, re­mem­bers Sidonie. The worst sur­prise is still the cost of the rent: ‘the prop­erty mar­ket isn't reg­u­lated. You can rent a flat for al­most noth­ing, but shop space is more ex­pen­sive than in Paris!’

David also had some fi­nan­cial trou­bles. ‘Find­ing a job is fairly easy, but find­ing one that al­lows you a de­cent qual­ity of life is more dif­fi­cult. My first job paid 500 lei per month (around €100) and my elec­tric­ity bill was 300 lei. Wages haven't changed since I've ar­rived.’ Al­though prices have gone up, a new teacher is still paid 200 euros a month, and a doc­tor 500 euros. ‘That's why there's cor­rup­tion in health and ed­u­ca­tion,’ David adds.

But there's no ques­tion of leav­ing Ro­ma­nia: ‘some of my Span­ish friends have had to leave be­cause they couldn't find a de­cent job. But I re­ally wanted to stay here. I made con­ces­sions, I had three jobs at the same time and I suc­ceeded.’ As for Sidonie and Anna, Ro­ma­nia has brought them more than they were look­ing for: an un­ex­pected turn in their lives.

In­ter­views by Ma­rine Leduc, in Bucharest.

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This article is part of Cafeba­bel's Dossier about immigration in Europe.