Vital words for survival in Romania

Soft ice cream

Of all the words I learnt while doing my summer language course in Romania recently, this one was by far the most important: îngheţată. It means ice-cream. The past summer in Europe was very hot at times, and when you are on the go, an ice-cream cone for 2 or 3 lei (that’s the plural of the local currency, the leu) is a quick refresher. On the streets of Sibiu, there were lots of ice-cream machines in the squares and pedestrian alleyways, staffed by bored-looking teenagers. A local explained to me that Romanians had only recently discovered these machines, most of which were from Italy. It seems, though, that Romania hasn’t yet discovered milkshakes. Come on, Romanians, get with it! There is a fortune to be made selling milkshakes during a hot summer. Just get the îngheţată and add lapte (milk). Sometimes ice-cream cones cannot quench a thirst.

Îngheţată is a funny word, quite unlike its equivalents in the other Romance languages covered in this blog; In French, ice-cream is glace, in Italian it is gelato, in Spanish it’s helado, and in Portuguese it is gelado, although in Brazil they tend to use sorvete (prounced ‘sorvetchy’) which is possibly related to sorbet. The Romanian word comes from the verb a îngheţa, meaning to freeze, and îngheţat and îngheţată are the masculine and feminine singular forms of the adjective frozenA îngheţa de frig means, literally, to freeze of cold; in other words, to freeze to death. Cheerful stuff, hey!

Coffee with Sugar

Coffee with sugar. (Photo credit: JB London)

If, like me, you are a coffee drinker, two other important words are fără and zahăr, meaning, repectively, without and sugar. This is because a lot of the coffee in convenience stores and suchlike in Romania is available only from self-service machines, and if you like your coffee sweet, you don’t want to press the fără zahăr button. Your coffee will be yuk! Zahăr extra is more my style. Obviously you get proper coffee at cafes and the more sophisticated outlets, but the machine coffee wasn’t too bad, although I suspect that the fact that I always opted for zahăr extra helped disguise the taste. (The best coffee I have ever had, incidentally, was in Portugal. And I am not talking about one particular cup at a particular cafe, I mean consistently good coffee everywhere.)

Peeping tomI suppose one other important thing to know when you are new to Romania and looking for a toilet is that bărbaţi means men and femei means women. You might expect “men” to be rather like the French hommes or Portuguese homens, and there is a possibility, I suppose, that a women might think that bărbaţi is for, um, barbie girls or something and she will just barge into the gents, so be warned. It is not intuitive. Romanian does have the word om, for man, person or, more colloquially, a guy, and oameni, for people, but doesn’t use those words on toilet doors. Another related word is omenire, meaning mankind. I rather like the word bărbaţi, it sounds masculine and conjures up images of barbers, barbershops, beards and barbarians. I quite like being un bărbat. There is a nice adjective, too, bărbărtesc, meaning manly. The feminine form of this, by the way, in case you want to describe a manly woman, is bărbărtească. Of course, if the toilet uses matchstick men and women signs rather than words then you don’t have to worry about anything unless your eyesight is not particularly good. Talking of signs, I love the one of the Peeping Tom. It is typical bărbărtesc behaviour, don’t you think? 🙂


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