Sat 19 Aug 2006
When I came to Bucarest in March I didn’t expect to get back here so quickly. This time it’s middle of summer, so it was pleasantly hot. And we did get a more than fair share of Romanian hospitality. Folks from the office here treated us with dinner and a tour of the city.
As I was in Bulgaria just a week ago inevitably I made comparisons between the two. And the overall impression I have is that while its southern neighbor is slugging sleepily the Romanians are charging ahead. The road to the airport, which was being built in March is now largely finished with three lanes and new surface. A huge supermarket that was being built is now open for business. And new construction sites can be seen everywhere.
Bucarest doesn’t feel like a sleepy provincial town (as Sofia does). Far from it. People running everywhere, shops and businesses open even on dingiest of streets, buildings and street corners covered with ads, huge and small. And the traffic.
Thousands of cars race the wide streets or clogg the narrow ones. The driving style is murderous. Everyone is in a hurry, lanes are a mere decoration and traffic lights just a suggestion. Compared to that driving in Warsaw (which I wrote about) seems calm and civilized. Twice I was sure our car will be hit. And most cars bear dents and scratches – the evidence that not everybody is so lucky.
Parking space is scarce. There are no parking meters, so bums sell available spaces in the center. And, interestingly there are quite many new vehicles on the streets, most of them small locally produced sedans called Dacia Logan. You see luxurious cars, but it seems it’s not like in some other countries where late German sedans and SUVs are the only new vehicles you see. That would indicate there is some middle class here, albeit probably rather small.
The differences are not only in what you see on the streets, but also in what you hear when you talk to people. Just one example. Both here and in Bulgaria most people don’t have bank accounts and pay cash. But here our people reckon that in a year it won’t be the case anymore. Romanians open bank accounts fast, also the usage of debit cards increases. And own cashiers will be less and less necessary to collect fees from those who stick to cash. Various companies offer bill payment services at locations convenient for customers like grocery stores, supermarkets and filling stations.
Overall, the mood is optimistic and positive. My feeling is that Romanians work hard to lift themselves out of poverty. The current reformist government seems to be helping more than thwarting this effort. According to our hosts the corruption is being finally fought with and while the govement makes some mistakes there is no doubt they want to improve country’s situation.
The perspective of EU accession seems to be an additional motivation, although they believe EU needs them more than they need it. While they surely have a lot to do before joining they seem to be on the right track.