The first thing anyone should know about Romania is that democracy is a fairly new concept to the population of the country. This is why, there is no easy way of doing honest business in this country. The law system is not easy to understand and the people around here are not used to being fair. The normality around here is considered to get your way in by knowing the right people. This is the inheritance that the communist leaders let us before they were left.
But other than the fact that there are specific ways to get your business going, the business itself should run better than anywhere in Europe. The workforce is cheap and very ambitious, the taxes are high (for the locals) but still lower than the EU average and there are enough conditions for performance. Even though Romanians have a great respect for the foreign businessman that come into the country, there are some things anyone should know from the cultural perspective.
The main religion in Romania is the Orthodox Christianity. Many Romanians are religious and they care a lot about the traditional church customs. Some will also mix the religion with the work. This should be respected at a level because trying to detach a person from its religion is very offending. As long as the workflow is not affected, try to respect a man’s beliefs!
There is a great tradition with the most important holidays when most of the people would like to be free. Also, the Saint celebration would make anyone with the Saint’s name to celebrate his name-day. It is polite to congratulate people on their name day if it’s a well known holiday.
There is yet a difference between men and women in Romania. Even though the modern era states that both are equals, you will find that this is not really true in the end. There are extremists on both sides: misogynistic and feminists. None of them will do any good in a group and should be avoided as they tend to produce unrest.
In the same category of sex inequality, one should know that in Romania, men always shake hands when greeting another man. In the women case, shaking is used only on the first meet and it is associated with saying your name (even if someone else makes the honors). After that, women don’t shake hands anymore. Another rule regarding handshakes is that the entering party (in a room) is the one offering to shake hands. If it does not, it’s impolite that you offer.
Politeness is very important as well as the punctuality. It does not seem at first but people do have a great respect for their own time and the others’ especially when dealing with hierarchical superiors. Hierarchy is very important for romanians and the elders are always respected as a “life-hierarchy superior”, regardless of any other thing. Every level of hierarchy makes communication harder because of this responsibility barrier so try to organize with the minimum of structural levels you can. Direct subordination is the best, cut the middle man whenever you can.
Romanians like eating and drinking between industry level and art, you need to find out where the level of the other is. There is no better way of complimenting someone then grabbing a byte and a good drink with them. But there are at least two types of Romanians when it comes to what goes in: the “more is better” ones and the “quality first”. Choose the restaurant where you eat carefully depending on your meal partners. It is acceptable to talk business during meals and people tend to be nicer with a full belly.
A thing that might worth mentioning is that there is a great percentage of smokers in Romania. It is never polite to smoke while one is eating and the smoking is banned by law in public building space. But most of the restaurants and bars allow smokers or have a smoking area. A lot of bounding and socialising is made during a cigarette break so don’t miss them even if you are not a smoker. Joining a smoker as a non-smoker is a will test because everyone will tempt you to smoke (for no logical reason).
While the educated youngsters speak English fluently, don’t expect it to be a rule. In a country with a 10% illiteracy rate, the percentage of people that actually know a foreign language is very low and not all of them have learned English. In parts of the country you could get along better if you know German, French or Hungarian. There is no warranty that you will find English speakers in restaurants or hotels either if you choose the cheapest ones. You should still have a trusted romanian speaker all the time.
Doing business in Romania is not an easy task. In a transition period, the culture is a mix between the old eastern ways and the newly adopted western “wannabe” culture. There are conservative groups along with early adopters of the European principles. And on top of that, there are fans of the USA model that might have some weird expectancies. I would say that the cultural identity of this country is almost lost and the new identity is not yet well-defined. This is why it’s very hard to define some hard rules about what to do and what not to do when trying to start a business in Romania. The romanian way is adapting on the way, so the best thing to do is to always pay attention and adapt to the conditions. Don’t try to plan, don’t try the methods you are used to! In Romania, we just make it work!