Culture Profile: Romania

Cameron Armstrong (Ph.D. student, Biola University) and his wife, Jessica, serve as church planting catalysts with the International Mission Board in Romania. In addition to personal evangelism and starting Bible studies, he teaches a class at the Bucharest Baptist Theological Institute. For more, read his “Honor and Shame Cross-Currents in Romanian Culture” (Jurnal Teologic 14:2 [2015]: 95-123).
RomaniaWhat does honor & shame look like in Romania?
Perhaps the most common manifestation of HS is the Romanian language. Unlike English, verbs are conjugated in a way that displays status and role, pointing toward accepted methods of behavior. Formal and informal uses of verbs and forms of address instinctively express the relationship the two communicators wish to maintain. It is safe to use the formal with people who are older than you or hold a leadership position. I will admit, though, this can be pretty confusing for a foreigner sometimes!

Another interesting expression of HS is how “families” help each other out. Family is not just the nuclear family, but also a person’s extended family and close friends. There are multiple elements here, but one particular area is taking care of grandchildren. Many Romanian children spend several hours each day (if not more) in the care of their bunica (“grandmother”) while the parents go to work – this could be a day job in the city or a months’ long contract in another country. To not turn to family first in helping out with the kids is shameful and, in many Romanians’ minds, to pay someone to watch your children is downright thoughtless.

 What are key words in Romanian? 
The word rușine means shame and is used fairly often in multiple contexts. Two synonyms for honor are onoare and cinste.

Results from 
When I personally took TheCultureTest on behalf of Romania, my results were: 24% Guilt, 64% Shame, and 12% Fear. Knowing that Romanian culture varies greatly from region to region, I asked friends from the multiple subsections of the country to take the test. All participants are under age 35. I then averaged all of their answers to obtain the following percentages: 37% Guilt, 48% Shame, and 11% Fear.

The results show that Romanian culture as a whole tends towards shame, but not as much as I thought. Guilt is a strong factor, especially in urban areas like Bucharest and the far-west region next to the Hungarian border (historically aligning more with Central Europe than the rest of Romania). I was also surprised to see how many regions include a strong fear orientation, due in large measure to the syncretism of local religious practices with Eastern Orthodoxy.

A good story? 
Earlier this year, an American friend who has lived in Romania nearly 20 years led a music camp for Romanian children at a Baptist church in Bucharest. My friend, Susan, was impressed with how quickly the children learned the material and exhibited a genuine passion for music. Knowing that they were scheduled to perform a recital on the final day before all of their parents, Susan set aside a half-hour for the students to pray for the concert. One-by-one, each child prayed a similar prayer that included the words, “Și să nu ne fie rușine” (“and let us not be shamed”). Even in this setting of fun and excitement, shame was very much on the childrens’ minds.

How has honor & shame impacted your ministry?
Because I have only recently been introduced to this topic, I haven’t addressed it too much yet. I have started to speak about these concepts with Romanian pastors, friends, and my students, and they have all reacted positively to this approach. Personally, I have started compiling a biblical story set that uses HS in Romanian culture as one of its primary themes. I hope to incorporate this more into my ministry soon.

Advice for newcomers to Romania?
Just like ministry anywhere, it takes time to build trust with partners. Romanians appreciate when you ask them to help you learn the culture and how best to interact with HS issues. Although they may not be familiar with these specific terms, Romanians are quite capable navigators regarding status and role issues. Taking this humble route bestows honor to Romanian friends, when usually the reverse stance is taken of showing honor to the Westerner.

You can read Cameron’s recently published article called “Honor and Shame Cross-Currents in Romanian Culture” by clicking on Photo credit: Cinty Ionescu, via Flickr.  

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