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Young Europeans: living the good life in Romania 

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Translation by:

Garen Gent-Randall

SocietyImmigration DossierImmigration Dossier

Apart from the expat bubble and from the big companies seeking for low-cost labour, young Europeans settle in Romania because of their love for the country and the offered opportunities. Sidonie, Anna and David have chosen to live in Bu­carest, a city « full of resources ».

Out­side of the bub­ble of ex­pats and en­tre­pre­neurs who want to take ad­van­tage of low-cost labour, young Eu­ro­peans are mov­ing to Ro­ma­nia - out of love for the coun­try and the op­por­tu­ni­ties it pro­vides. Sidonie, Anna and David have cho­sen to live in Bucharest, a city "full of re­sources"

Be­hind the com­mu­nist-style blocks and wide, busy streets, the Ro­man­ian cap­i­tal is a real trea­sure trove. For­eign­ers liv­ing in the city like to wan­der the streets, dis­cover the di­verse ar­chi­tec­ture of houses which sur­vived the Ceaușescu era, and see if some­one hasn't set up a café in one of them. In the Piata Amzei quar­ter, there is a French book­shop which used to be a house. Stand­ing in front of the green door, you'd think that peo­ple still lived there, if it weren't for the ‘Kyralina - French book­shop’ sign which proves oth­er­wise. In­side, a black-and-white cat strolls be­tween the chil­dren's books, the win­ner of the last Goncourt award, and a Tintin comic in Ro­man­ian. Sidonie, be­hind her com­puter, is talk­ing in French with a client from the city.

'An open playing field'

In 2009, after study­ing lit­er­a­ture at the Sor­bonne and work­ing in pub­lish­ing, Sidonie headed off to Bucharest to take up an in­ter­na­tional vol­un­teer­ing po­si­tion with the In­sti­tut Français. At the time, the In­sti­tut had a rather un­suc­cess­ful book­shop. For Sidonie, a won­der­ful op­por­tu­nity was going to waste: ‘I re­alised that Ro­ma­ni­ans, even the youngest of them, were still very much Fran­cophiles. My part­ner had found work here, and we de­cided to set up a French book­shop, in­de­pen­dent of the In­sti­tut". It has been a suc­cess: just over a year after open­ing, they have ex­ceeded their ex­pec­ta­tions and al­most 70% of their clients are Ro­man­ian. ‘We're de­lighted that we can meet the needs of the Ro­man­ian peo­ple and not just be an ex­pats' book­shop.’

A few streets away, in the old cen­tre, the ‘Hub’ brings to­gether self-em­ployed young busi­ness­peo­ple to offer them some­where to work from. Anna is one of them. Orig­i­nally from the Nether­lands, she ar­rived in Oc­to­ber 2012 as part of the Eu­ro­pean Vol­un­tary Ser­vice (EVS) pro­gramme. But the project wasn't what she expected it to be, so she started her own pro­ject and re­alised that she had an en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit. At the end of her EVS, she took part in the Eras­mus pro­gramme for Young En­tre­pre­neurs and put to­gether her com­mu­ni­ca­tion con­sul­tancy busi­ness: ‘I train clients, showing them how to pitch and I help my clients to cre­ate a strong mes­sage for their busi­ness. Most of them are Ro­man­ian. It's going well, prob­a­bly be­cause I'm the only per­son doing it here.’

The lack of com­pe­ti­tion is also an ad­van­tage for Sidonie. She de­scribes the city as some­thing of a blank page for ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and cre­ativ­ity. ‘It's a city of pos­si­bil­i­ties. Paris is full to burst­ing with amaz­ing pro­jects. I came to Bucharest be­cause the play­ing field is so open.’

Beyond the clichés

The Ro­ma­ni­ans' warm wel­come, the lan­guage, the cul­ture and the beau­ti­ful coun­try­side are other rea­sons why peo­ple stay in Ro­ma­nia. David ar­rived in 2005 as an Eras­mus stu­dent. Orig­i­nally from Cat­alo­nia, he fell in love with the city and the whole coun­try straight away. ‘What I like here are the con­trasts. Each day is a sur­prise. I'm never bored.’ He has now mas­tered Ro­man­ian and works part-time for a French busi­ness and two days a week for Radio Ro­ma­nia In­ter­na­tional.

But a lot of for­eign vis­i­tors who spend a few days in Ro­ma­nia have the image of the grumpy shop as­sis­tant or the im­pa­tient waiter. According to David, ‘it happens a lot and it hasn't changed in eight years.’ He en­thu­si­as­ti­cally does an im­pres­sion of a woman sell­ing bus passes with hardly a glance in his di­rec­tion. ‘After hav­ing lived here, I find Ro­man­ian peo­ple wel­com­ing, re­source­ful, cre­ative, even if they them­selves don't al­ways see it. Only once in eight years has any­one said I shouldn't be here.’

The Romanian dream. Not without difficulties

The idea that ‘any­thing is pos­si­ble’ is not with­out its flaws. Those who move abroad are often faced with ad­min­is­tra­tion that can go over their head. In Ro­ma­nia, it doesn't take long be­fore you find your­self in a mad Ionesco-style hul­la­baloo. Ex­or­bi­tant fines spring out of nowhere for triv­ial things, and even France's in­fa­mous bu­reau­cracy has noth­ing on the Ro­man­ian sys­tem. ‘Ro­man­ian ad­min­is­tra­tion is pretty ab­surd. The open­ing of my book­shop was de­layed be­cause of a pile of use­less forms’, re­mem­bers Sidonie. The worst sur­prise is still the cost of the rent: ‘the prop­erty mar­ket isn't reg­u­lated. You can rent a flat for al­most noth­ing, but shop space is more ex­pen­sive than in Paris!’

David also had some fi­nan­cial trou­bles. ‘Find­ing a job is fairly easy, but find­ing one that al­lows you a de­cent qual­ity of life is more dif­fi­cult. My first job paid 500 lei per month (around €100) and my elec­tric­ity bill was 300 lei. Wages haven't changed since I've ar­rived.’ Al­though prices have gone up, a new teacher is still paid 200 euros a month, and a doc­tor 500 euros. ‘That's why there's cor­rup­tion in health and ed­u­ca­tion,’ David adds.

But there's no ques­tion of leav­ing Ro­ma­nia: ‘some of my Span­ish friends have had to leave be­cause they couldn't find a de­cent job. But I re­ally wanted to stay here. I made con­ces­sions, I had three jobs at the same time and I suc­ceeded.’ As for Sidonie and Anna, Ro­ma­nia has brought them more than they were look­ing for: an un­ex­pected turn in their lives.

In­ter­views by Ma­rine Leduc, in Bucharest.


This article is part of Cafeba­bel's Dossier about immigration in Europe.

Translated from Jeunes européens : la belle vie, en Roumanie