Observations on a city's character
Photo : Andreea Tudor
The more time I spend in unfamiliar cities, the more firmly I believe that the way people get around says a lot about their identities and beliefs; and how people interact when they’re commuting is a wonderfully accurate reflection of the culture those people share. Americans don’t talk or engage with the strangers around them when we take the subway–-we’re all independently going about our day as fierce individuals, which are traits we pride ourselves on; Amsterdammers exchange nods as they whir away on bikes, a reflection of the cultural importance they’ve placed on liberal, tradition-defying thought. And what I’ve observed about Brasovians, both riding the RAT line and navigating their cobbled streets, follows this rule too––it reveals a culture that certainly isn’t monolithic, but defended lovingly all the same.
The first thing I noticed on Brasov’s RAT line is that Brasovians are friendly and love to talk. Small talk is made between friends and strangers, polite apologies abound, and more times than I can count has someone tried to start a casual conversation with me. When I explain that I can’t speak any Romanian, they usually laugh and still speak Romanian to me, as if we’re in on a joke together. There’s a fiery sense of community here, and a strong encouragement of making personal connections. The other primary way Brasovians navigate their city is quickly becoming my preferred way of experiencing it––walking. Like much of Europe, the cobbled pedestrian streets were designed to be ambled on, and designed with people in mind, but it’s apparent that it was also designed to engage its community. Brasov is gorgeous, and very aware of it––the dozens of vista points, from Tampa to the Citadel to the White Tower, allow proud citizens and curious visitors to admire the city from all over––and all are easily walkable. The most grandiose place in Brasov is the massive city square, a people-watching Mecca; it’s the heart of the city, and the residents are what gives it vitality.
The friendliness I’ve found here, between the residents and their town, also explains perhaps the biggest feeling I’m gathering about Romanian and Brasovian culture: there’s a fierce defending of regional and national culture, but an accommodation of increasing globalization all the same. Romanians aren’t resisting some Westernization, be it tourists or fashion or the prominence of English throughout town; the people I’ve spoken with aren’t threatened by the inclusion of some of these things in their day-to-day lives. But Romanians are mindful of their own traditions, and smart about how they can pass them down––by celebrating traditional dance and clothing with numerous festivals, by continuing to stress their history’s importance to their youth, by integrating old culture with new. They're comfortable with how Romanian tradition will coexist as globalization increases, but able to resist muddling the two completely. I don’t know if Romanians aren’t threatened by the western influx because they know so well who they are, or if they’ve been forced to know who they are because of this influx, but no matter what, I would bet money on Romanians easily learning how to adapt culture to the modern world and still keep their traditions. They’re doing it through communication and community and encouragement, and the longer I stay the more I find those values to be the Brasov way.