You Are What You Speak

When you wander the streets of Vienna, you'll hear a multitude of languages. Over 30 percent of us moved here from abroad, spicing up the local lingo with our accents and dialects. Here's a short primer for how to sound Romanian.

by Sabina Crisan & Teodora Stefana Bularca

Some say that mastering the mother tongue of the host country is central to integration. But as beautiful as German can be, it possesses more of a step-mother character – rewarding with unique words such as Heimweh and tormenting, as Mark Twain found, in it senseless complications.

Still, a new language can offer you a totally different perspective on things. While in Austria you greet with a crisp Servus! In Transylvania you will hear a Servus toc (hello to all), a giveaway for its Austro-Hungarian heritage.

But procrastinate for too long and you may be accused of rubbing the mint – just don’t expect a refreshing beverage to come with it. Austrians love saying Ba-Ba to joyfully say goodbye. That might baffle a Romanian, since baba refers to an old hag. On the other hand, they will wave and say Pa-Pa, making Austrians confusingly go look for their Papas.

If you are feeling nostalgic for home and decide to pass some time at a Viennese café, a Romanian might ask you te chinuie dorul? – this melan- cholic sounding dor (pronounced like the English “door”), is an untranslatable Romanian word for missing something or someone so much that it hurts, topped with a longing to see them again.

Mostly, Romanians will not let you dwell in negativity, as they like to make fun of trouble – a face haz de necaz.

If you plan on getting to know a Romanian better over a shot of pălincă and callout Prost! do not be surprised if you get slapped. They will tell you to stop staring at them in shock, “like the veal at the new door” – ca vițelul la poarta nouă – and just apologize. In Romanian, Prost means stupid, which is a universal insult. Brushing it off, they might tell you to go “walk the bear” (plimbă ursul). Fear not, though Romania is home to the brown bear, and no one is so cruel as to force you to promenade with the fierce mammal – it merely means you should leave them alone. As you can see, Romanians express things in colorful terms.

Languages also define your character. If Romanians want to comfort you, they will tell you that “the devil is not as black as he seems” (dracu` nu-i așa negru precum pare). German speakers do the exact opposite, telling you that du malst den Teufel an die Wand (“You paint the devil on the wall.”) Clearly a different perspective! Alas, no need to despair on the path of understanding languages. One shared expression clearly leaves room for integration: ți-a trece până te măriți! or bis zum heiratn wirds wieda guad! Until you marry, there’s time enough to fix it! 

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