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Get Out of Your Bubble

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to travel to Bucharest, Romania to visit a client I’ve been working with for 6 months. I didn’t have expectations beyond strengthening the relationship with my client, by spending time together, and wanting to better understand the country and culture. Since I set the bar fairly low the trip far exceeded my expectations.

It has been over 30 years since I’d been to Europe, so some memories came flooding back to me, so many people are still smoking and there were things that weren’t in place when I had visited last, such as the Euro being the universal currency of Europe (Romania uses the Leu and not the Euro). I wanted to share with you some observations and feelings I had during my trip and after I returned. 

  • Almost everyone I encountered spoke English, and in some cases better than I did from a grammar perspective. I remember when I was in Europe last that I felt under-educated because I only spoke one language and how impressed I was that so many people were able to communicate with me in my native language. That feeling remained and even grew as I realized that those same people who spoke English probably also spoke Spanish and maybe also Italian. I was grateful that, again, my life was made easier because the Romanians knew and understood my language. As a country that prides itself on providing a quality education it does make you stop and think about why we don’t feel the need to ensure our children learn a second language from an early age. The two-year-old daughter of the founder, Dragos, I spent most of my time with could already count to 10 in English.
  • Late nights are still in vogue. I remembered pretty quickly that dinner starts later and the evenings last longer in Europe. My first night in the city, Dragos picked me up @ 7 for dinner. After we’d had food and a couple of pints he thought we should take a walk to a part of town called Old Town. By now it’s @9pm and we entered the cobblestone streets of Old Town my jaw dropped. It was PACKED and it was a “school night”! “Don’t these people have jobs?'' I ask him. He laughed and said it was a little busier than he expected, but that it wasn’t so unusual for people to be out this late or later during the week. I decided “When in Romania” and we proceeded to talk and drink wine until that day turned into the next. I was grateful when he dropped me back off at the hotel that said he would pick me up @9:30 the next morning. I was going to need sleep!
  • Every country has issues, but they differ based on culture. Romania doesn’t have any violent crime, addiction issues, or students coming out of “university” with $100K in student loan debt. All higher education is paid for by the government just as healthcare is. As a country that is only 30 years post-communism they are still dealing with the effects of having been a communist country for so long. Issues like political corruption, low wages, and a lack of infrastructure are areas where they are feeling some pain. It was interesting to know that some of the issues that we deal with in the US are solvable or never had to happen in the first place.
  • Obesity isn’t an issue. Despite the Romanian’s love of Mici (grilled meat rolls) and Sarmale (cabbage rolls) all washed down with Tuica (plum brandy) they are able to keep their weight in check due to the amount of walking that takes place, especially downtown. I’m happy to report that after 5 days in Romania and 3 days in Greece that I only came home a pound heavier than when I left and I’m considering that a big success!
  • What was more similar than different was the passion, drive, and work-ethic that you would find at a US startup. As a global company, with no US employees yet, the sales team will often start their day at 8am and work until 11pm to ensure that prospects in every timezone around the world are taken care of. All 17 employees are committed to the success of the company and are proud to be a part of a successful and growing company. The startup community in Bucharest is in its infancy, but the ball is really starting to roll and funding is happening at a greater and greater rate.
  • Buyers around the globe provide the same challenges. No matter if the prospect is in the US or in Australia the sales team faces the same buying objections - budget, timing, apathy, and not enough pain to justify the cost. What is different is how the sales team “manages” the prospects. They tend to be a little less assertive with the European prospects and need to be a little more assertive with the US prospects. Trying to understand and respect the cultural nuances of prospects in multiple countries and continents isn’t easy and I’m so impressed with how the sales team manages to balance the cultural needs of the different markets.

Here are a few other fun facts:

  • Cars are allowed to park on the sidewalks due to a shortage of parking spaces in the city.
  • Roundabouts, not stop lights, are how traffic flow is controlled
  • There are speed limits, but in general you can travel as fast as traffic will allow
  • The US dollar goes a LONG way there. $1 is equal to $4.2 leu. I was shocked at how inexpensive everything was
  • You will see products you can buy in the US, but sometimes in different quantities or packaging.
  • They eat a lot of meat and not much sweets
  • You only tip in cash even if you’re paying by credit card

I was so happy that I made the trip and got an opportunity to experience a different country, new food, a different culture, and the amazing hospitality of my hosts. I would encourage you to be open to new experiences, people, cuisine, and cultural events that might present themselves even if it’s in  the place that you live.