With all the bad press we’ve been getting lately, I’m assuming none of you are crazy enough to consider visiting lovely Romania anytime soon. But just in case some unfortunate turn of events lands you in the mids of my badmouthed country, there’s something you need to know if you want to survive the experience with your organs and mental sanity intact:
Romanian shop assistants are the devil.
Oh yes, don’t you give me that disbelieving look, I know what I’m talking about. And the fact that I’ve spent more than two decades shopping in Romania and lived to tell the story should be reason enough for all of you innocent people to listen carefully. So beware. Romanian shop assistants are the devil. They are there to hurt you in more ways than you can imagine. They are superior, highly powerful beings whose only purpose in life is to belittle you. They will stop at nothing when it comes to stomping your dignity.
They will follow you around the store like a delinquent, no more than five centimeters behind you every step of the way, continually asking you what you want and directing you away from the expensive merchandise towards the cheap stuff, which their superior eye can immediately tell is what your kind of people evidently deserve.
They will attempt to educate your child, threatening her not to touch anything or the boogeyman will cut her little fingers and feed them to the pigs.
“But are you going to buy it?” will be the standard response when you ask for something in a different color or size. There’s no point in them burning a couple of calories while getting it for you, if you’re just going to look at it and leave.
They will be on the phone, reading magazines or painting their nails. They will not say hello, they will not say goodbye, they will not say thank you, at times they will not say anything at all. But they will frown and they will grunt and they will throw your change at you, and they will pretty much treat the entire business as though it’s a favor THEY are doing you, this taking your money thing.
How, you ask, can you survive this daily ordeal without pulling your hair, or worse, emigrating to a civilized country?
Allow me to tell you a story.
During winter break I spent a couple of weeks in Romania. Now, the plan wasn’t to shop like a maniac during that time, but I did manage to get myself to a bookshop. I mostly just use my Kindle for reading, but when it comes to Romanian literature, I like to buy the physical books. So there it was, the biggest bookshop in my hometown: an evil shop assistant, a couple of terrified customers, and yours trully. The shop assistant didn’t say hello, of course, but if you take those things to heart you’ll end up never going into a shop again, and dying a lonely, sad death in your lonely sad flat, no groceries anywhere. But back to the bookshop. I went straight to the Romanian fiction section, the shop assistant diligently on my trail, suggestively coughing and grunting so I’d know she had her eye on me. That lasted for a little while, during which time I kept on browsing and piling up books in my shopping basket. And then something heavy and metallic hit me in the head. It was the shop assistant, carrying a ladder. She didn’t apologize, nor did she stop pushing it into the side of my head, which was clearly in her way, preventing some sort of vital mission I should have been aware of. I spent the next half a second debating on what the best course of action would be. You probably don’t know this about me, but when it comes to spawn-of-the-devil-shop-assistants, I’m quite the feisty character. And I also happen to master a very impressive array of Romanian swear words, for what it’s worth. But I decided I’d be the bigger person. So, in the best, bitchiest, most British British accent I could muster, I addressed her in English: Excuse me, you’re hurting me.
The heavens cleared and a choir of golden curled chubby angels started singing their perfectly tuned melody right then and there. The devil dropped her ladder and began apologizing in English (not as bitchy British as mine, if I say so myself!), like she’d just unintentionally hurt Queen Elisabeth. She then crumbled back into her dark corner, still whimpering excuses and smiling her kind motherly smiles in my direction. I mean, there’s a limit to everything, you know. You can do whatever you fancy to your helpless, destitute Romanian customers. But when it comes to foreigners, oh dear, it’s another business altogether. Foreigners have money. Foreigners might call the police if you hit them in the head with a piece of iron. They might call the big bookshop boss and get your ass fired, and then what? Who will you get to practice your devilish business on then, when there aren’t any customers left? Your devilish little life will be completely worthless.
Now, the story goes as follows. I finished picking the books and took them to the till. She was there, the perfect image of caring and understanding, the shop assistant you only read about in happy ending stories. She started going through my books one at a time, humming a happy little song, the angelic smile still on her face. Suddenly, she stopped. She looked at me. All my books, close to a dozen of them, were in Romanian. I saw the realization hitting her. I had done the impossible. I had tricked the devil and she knew it. Anything could happen now. But nothing did, you see. I paid for everything, thanked her, in Romanian, said goodbye, in Romanian, and left. I guess it means I must be magical or something, otherwise I don’t see how I could have survived such a close encounter with the forces of evil. Any day now, my letter of acceptance to Hogwarts should be arriving. Any day.