Today was a pretty mellow day. I (Jessie) got caught up on some home schooling in the morning with Naomi and Mae, made a giant stack of clătite (Romanian panckakes, similar to crepes) for lunch so we could use up some căpșune (strawberries) we got at the market last week, and headed out to the market with Naomi in the afternoon.
I love going to the market here. It is one of my weekly highlights, because I really like using the tramvei (tram), I love wandering through the aisles of fruits, veggies, flowers, honey, cheese, and meat, and it is my best opportunity to practice hearing and speaking Romanian. So that I can start to get to know some people, practice my Romanian with them, and eventually progress in conversation beyond, “I’d like two kilograms of potatoes,” and “Thank you,” I have been trying to go to the same vendors each week (if their prices are good). Because of my blonde hair or my slow, pitiful Romanian–or more likely because of the cute blonde-haired children I bring along–I easily stand out and am remembered.
Today, I was asked by three different people which country I was from, even though I didn’t speak in English, haha! But, I was excited, because I actually knew what they were asking me, even though they asked in Romanian. Even better, I could answer back in Romanian! As usual, I got, “Wow” and “Whoa!” But the most encouraging part was when the women who sold me the strawberries asked if there were strawberries in America also. I answered, “Da, dar aici–foarte bun!” They laughed! That means, “Yes, but here, very good!” I tend to forget verbs, but at least I’m making some sense.
Having Naomi along was fun, as it was a good time to get mama-daughter time in with her, and now that she’s getting a little older, I think that’s really important for her to hang out with mom, ask questions, chat, and learn how to do grown-up things. She loved it, but she was thrilled when an older lady came up behind us, saying, “Domnișoară, Domnișoară! Doamnă!” which means, “Miss, miss! Ma’am!” As we turned to her, she handed Naomi a generous bag of strawberries, and started speaking to us with a big smile and fast Romanian. I explained that my Romanian was not very good and that I couldn’t understand her (in Romanian), but she just kept smiling and talking about Naomi. I asked, “Pentru?” and pointed at Naomi, meaning “for Naomi?” She nodded and smiled and walked away. Naomi was so pleased and carried it all the way home herself.
I realized later that Friday is Children’s Day here in Romania, and one of our friends here, Cristiana, had explained to us that strawberries are a popular treat for children on that day, so I’m thinking that was her Children’s Day gift to Naomi. I emphatically told the woman, “Mulțumesc, foarte mult!” I feel like we will soon be more a part of this beautiful culture, and I cannot wait until I can speak even more Romanian!
To market, to market to buy a fat pig.
Home again, home again, jiggety-jig.
Bucharest got a giant IKEA store a couple years back, which totally transformed the city, so today, Daniel Boldea took us to visit it. That was the bulk of what we had time for today. In a city the size of Bucharest, it just takes a long time to get anywhere, especially if it’s on the other side of town, and IKEA is. Besides the distance, traffic was going at a crawl because it rained. It wasn’t raining much, but enough apparently to freak everyone out.
So it takes a long time to get there, and once you’re there, the IKEA stores have this ingenious floor design that forces you to walk the entire length of the store, see every department, visit every aisle, and walk through all the items until you forget what you came there for, buy a bunch of extra stuff, and have to come back again in a week because you remembered what you came for. Only to have the process repeat itself again. Now that’s capitalism!
Below is a picture of the floor plan in Houston that I found online. It’s about the same as the one here. As you can see, you’re like a rat in a maze, but there’s no cheese at the end, so you get sucked into this state of nothingness for hours of wandering and hoping to find an exit.
Before I go further, I need to apologize to Filip. I’m sorry for making you take us to Carrefour to buy stuff that looked like it was built on a boat, only to find better stuff for cheaper at IKEA. You were right, I was wrong – trust the locals. One of the kitchen knives we bought at Carrefour snapped in half today. And the silverware we bought is machined so roughly that you might cut yourself and get Tetanus every time you take a bite of ice cream. The IKEA store had some crazy expensive stuff (like a single soup spoon for $15), but we found some amazing deals too.
The main things we needed at IKEA were kitchen knives (since ours broke) and a pack-n-play for Isaac, but we were also on the lookout for cheap bunk-beds for the girls. Mae and Illiana have been sharing a bed, Naomi’s been sleeping on the floor, and Isaac has been stuffed in the corner in what the girls refer to as his “nest.” It’s been working fine, but we thought it’d be nice to get something a little more “normal” if we could find a good deal on it.
After what seemed like days in the IKEA maze, we found our proverbial cheese at the end and came out with bunk beds for everyone, mattresses, a crib (no pack-n-play), some really cheap toy bins, kitchen knives, a frying pan, mattress pads, and some sheets. Everything we came for and not too many bonus items. Grand total? Only about $650 for everything, which seems like a pretty good deal to finish getting the whole house set up. And, to top it off, IKEA will have it all delivered and assembled for us for free.
After hiking around IKEA for months, we were now in rush-hour traffic, so Daniel took the time to show us around the city and pick up some giant, fresh-baked pretzels at a covrigarie, pretzel shop. They’re scattered all over the city, and you can get everything from plain hot pretzels to pretzels stuffed with a hot dog, pretzels with honey and walnuts, pretzels filled with apple pie filling, etc. As usual, they were amazing. Prices ranged from $0.30 to $1 each. Take that, Auntie Anne’s.
Other notes on the day:
– I didn’t see a single dog. Maybe the rain scared them away? Or maybe they just don’t go shopping at IKEA?
– Bucharest has some amazing architecture. Sure, the Communists ruined much of the nation’s buildings from the past, but there are some amazing buildings left standing in this city.
– There are a ton of sex shops in this city, almost as many as McDonald’s stores. I don’t know what’s normal for a big city, but there seems to be sex shops all over the place here. Or maybe it’s just that in Wisconsin they’re always boarded up, located off the main drag (no pun intended), and don’t really draw too much attention to themselves. Here, they’ve got bright, flashy signs and big posters. It seemed like there was a shop every few blocks or so on our drive to IKEA.
– Speaking of IKEA, it has the biggest elevator I’ve seen in Romania so far. So if you visit and you need an elevator like they make in ‘Merica, you know where to go.
– On that topic, we spotted our first pickup truck yesterday. We are most definitely not in Wisconsin.
– However… we also found Harley Davidson Bucharest today. Not so far from home after all…
Well, good night, everyone. Or good morning. Whatever it is where you’re at.
So I decided to save some money today and bought a couple of really cheap fans for our rooms, to help as the weather gets hotter. I went to the mall, and after 20 minutes of walking, almost 2 hours of buying the fans (yes, literally – I’ll explain later), and 3 hours of assembling them without instructions, they still look like they were built on a boat. 🙂 If you’re not from Romania, that means the Chinese were too busy building everything else that’s “Made in China” to worry about this particular item, so they just pulled it together on the boat coming here. It’s really chinzy and ugly… but it works.
Now, about the fan-buying experience. I’m still learning how everything works here when you buy stuff, and sometimes it’s a little exciting. In the mall there’s a huge store that sells pretty much everything electronic. It’s called Media World or something like that. Anyway, I needed some fans, a printer, and some laptop speakers, so I went shopping for the best quality and cheapest ones I could find. After looking around and finding some speakers that looked and sounded good, I picked them up, only to have a young Romanian man (Razvan) grab them from me and explain something sternly in Romanian. I told him, in Romanian, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand. I don’t speak Romanian very well.” So he explained to me in English that we had to get a “guarantee” for the item. I didn’t know what he meant so I just let him do what he had to do. What followed was almost 2 hours of running around at high speed from one department to another, following Razvan’s orders, picking up items, setting them down, opening up boxes, signing papers, negotiating return policies, waiting on clerks to run to the warehouse, etc. I got a good workout, and at the end of the 2 hours, I owned the items I was looking for, had made a new friend in Razvan, and had warranties filled out for all the items, guaranteeing their quality of construction.
Everything else I bought is great, but these fans definitely look like they were built on a boat. In fact, however, they were built on my rug. They came almost completely disassembled, and without instructions. Not that instructions would help much, because I didn’t have tools either. After trying to screw the fan base on using a tweezers, a steak knife, a butter knife, and a potato peeler, I gave up and asked one of our neighbors if he had a screwdriver. Lai is a really awesome neighbor. We met him earlier today, and not only does he have 2 big old Chinese goldfish and some sort of yellow bird, but he also had a screwdriver, which upped him on the awesomeness scale. Lai moved to Bucharest 20 years ago from China, still barely speaks Romanian, and never stops smiling.
Jessie and I went out to get a full load of groceries today, stocking up on all the essentials like flour and sugar, and on our way back we experienced our first “scolding of righteousness” (see here). Our arms were filled to the brim with grocery bags, we were trying to get on the elevator, and an older Romanian man came walking quickly at us asking us, “Where are you going?” I told him as best I could, and then he rifled into a 15-minute high-speed, super-animated monologue of Shakespearean proportions. His arms were flying everywhere, we interjected with useful phrases that signified our lack of understanding, like “Nu vorbesc Româneşte,” “Nu ştiu,” “Nu înţeleg,” and “Am fost jefuit,” but he kept talking faster and faster and getting angrier and angrier. Eventually, we calmed him down by telling him, “I understand. I’m sorry,” and he turned around with a look of disdain. I think he was upset about the party for Naomi last night. Too much noise I think.
Later, I told Lai about the incident. “Oh, don’t worry about that,” he comforted me, “Everyone is like that here. He doesn’t mean anything.” Then he added, “But be careful here. Romania is a crazy place. If you need anything, I am here for you.”