When most people think of Europe, countries like England, France, Italy and Germany are typically the main places that come to mind. These countries are renowned for their architectural masterpieces, quaint villages, and exquisite cultures.
But when countries such as Moldova or Romania are mentioned, many people draw a blank. Why would people want to visit these countries?
Eastern European nations are generally far poorer in comparison to the rest of Europe. I’m not an expert on the reasoning behind this, so I won’t waste your time and mine by attempting to explain. What I do know is that in some cases, you can tell a difference between Eastern and Western European countries simply by crossing a border.
After a three-week mission trip in Romania this summer, I was able to visit friends in Germany and Switzerland and do some sightseeing. And, having never traveled to any European countries besides Romania before, I was amazed at how many notable differences there were.
Difference #1 – Roads
Each time I have visited Romania, I have noticed that the roads are nothing like the roads in America. Once you get off the main highways, many of the roads are gravel. And the ones that aren’t gravel are filled with a seemingly endless number of large potholes. Imagine a ground version of nonstop turbulence.
On top of that, Romanian drivers can be, to put it bluntly, terrifying. The constant rush of passing people at high speeds with oncoming traffic is enough to make any tourist close his eyes and pray he makes it to his destination. In Germany, on the other hand, the roads are smooth and there is a sense of order even on the speed limitless autobahns.
Difference #2 – Timeliness
Another difference is that Romanians are typically not punctual. “Be ready to leave at 8:00” typically means that you’ll be leaving at 8:30, and trains will stop in the middle of fields to pick people up, regardless of schedule.
After getting used to the easygoing life in Romania, traveling in Munich was an interesting culture shock. If you travel to Germany, try to be at least ten minutes early to everything. In Romania, however, time is not always of the essence.
Difference #3 – Food
Possibly the most obvious difference between Eastern European countries and their more wealthy neighbors is the food. Soup is a very common meal in Romania, whether it’s snowing or it’s the dead of summer. Although it seemed strange to eat soup when the temperature reached the nineties, I had never thought anything of it until asking one of my Swiss friends why people in Switzerland and Germany hardly ever ate soup.
“Because we are more wealthy,” he replied. “I remember eating soup as a child when our country was poor. But now, I never eat it.”
So which is better?
As unpleasant as Romania might sound to some at this point, that’s not the case at all. In spite of the differences mentioned above, life in Romania can be just as enjoyable as life in Germany. I noticed that the poorer country of the two seemed to have more people who were content with their lives; the simple life has treated them well.
The majority of people I came in contact with in Germany, however, seemed to be searching for something. Their advanced technologies, lifestyles, and culture in general seemed to hinder them from discovering the basic things that bring life and meaning into the world.
Or maybe that’s my preference of country life over city life leaking through…
Regardless, I think when people travel to Europe they should add an Eastern European country to their itinerary. Yes, it might mean missing out on the Colosseum or delectable French cuisine, but taking the time to experience traditional Eastern Europe will be something you won’t regret doing.
So go explore those unheard of places on the map. But be prepared for some culture shocks!