When I say fun travel, I think of all the moments during our travels when we felt like bursting into laughter. There are so many that I have to categorize them. And believe or not, the First Prize has to go to how people reacted when we told them where we came from.
During our travels, we met and talked to all sorts of people. Because for us, the essential thing in traveling is getting to know people and their culture. It’s the number one goal for each of our destinations. But sometimes it’s difficult to do this. Because of the language barrier, lack of time, people’s shyness, and scarce information. But we still try, and we have been fortunate enough to have some memorable experiences with people that will forever be in our hearts.
But wait, it’s getting too serious, and this article is meant to be about fun travel! So, coming back to our primary focus, I want to share with you some bits and pieces of our travels. The funny ones. And these are related to meeting people, be it locals of other travelers. And they all share one thing – the question “Where are you from?”
Where are you from?
Oh, we’ve heard this question in so many forms, that it’s hard to keep up. Sometimes it was even arduous to understand the meaning of the question. Other times it was just funny to hear it. Among the versions of where are you from, the next ones are worth mentioning for our fun travel series:
“What is your country?”
“Your country is where?”
“Where do you actually come from?” (and no, they were not referring to our mamma’s womb)
“Tell me your country!”
However, most versions of ‘where are you from’ came from locals that were trying to have conversations with us. So we ignored the way they chose to ask us, we only appreciated that they wanted to know more about us. And most times, it turned out that locals just knew how to ask what your name was and a version of where you are from.
So, the fun part is not the question itself, but what came after it. And here, we have dozens of reactions. That’s because we come from the rare and exotic realm called Romania. You might have heard about it, but I can assure you, a lot of Asians haven’t. And to make sure I don’t discriminate, I will also tell you about reactions we got from Westerners.
Basically, we got used to two types of reactions. It was either that the person we were talking to had no idea what Romania is, or he/she knew but had a total science-fiction opinion about it (this is where most Westerners come in). So I guess this is what makes it a fun travel compilation.
Fun travel #1 Romania – Mongolia
We were in the high altitude village of Kyanjin Gompa, in the Langtang Valley of Nepal. It was the evening after we made it to the peak of Tsergo Ri. We were already accustomed to the Nepali people and their friendly attitude. We also knew that the evening is when people gather for chit-chat. Ten days of trekking had already passed since we’d started from Gatlang Village in the Tamang Heritage Trail.
So we were sitting around the fire. Actually around the stove that all guesthouses have in Nepal and which they turn on in the evening to warm the freezing travelers. At one point, a Nepali guy asked me where we were from. He was the guide of a couple doing the Langtang trek. I smiled and quietly said “Romania.” He smiled back, but no question followed. But after a few seconds, I heard him telling his friend the word “Mongolia.” And then it struck me!
“Not Mongolia, Romania!” I said, smiling and trying not to embarrass him.
“But Romania is close to Mongolia,” he tried to convince me
“Not really! Mongolia is actually far from Romania, we are in Europe.” And so we begin the geography lesson.
“OOO, Romania is in Europe! So then Romania a small country!”. Please don’t ask me about his logic
“No, it’s actually not a small country, it’s just not as famous as others.”
And so I ended my plea for my country. But I am pretty sure I heard him tell his friend Mongolia again. So I guess my Romania argument didn’t go that well.
Fun travel #2 Romania – Rome
Oh, this was a frequent one. For some reasons, a lot of people associate Romania with Rome. I am honored because I love Italy, it’s my favorite European country, but still. Romania is not Rome. One example of Romania – Rome deserves to be mentioned in this fun travel guide. A story of us two in a shop in our beloved Leh, the capital of Ladakh, in India’s Kashmir.
The seller was trying to make us buy scarves. Cashmere scarves, of course, the best scarves in the world, best quality, my friend. Of course, after a nice chat and a cup of chai, we gave in and bought a couple. But not before having some fun thanks to our home country:
“Let me guess where you come from! I would say you are Russians!”
“Sorry to disappoint, but we are not Russians. We are Romanians coming straight from Romania.” I told him smiling and looking around at his beautiful scarves.
“Oh, I know Romania, very beautiful country!” he looked very confident saying this, so of course, I believed him.
“Thank you. It’s indeed a beautiful country.” My Romanian pride was starting to build up, and then he blew it:
“So you speak Italian, no?” (there goes ‘my proud to be a Romanian’ attitude)
“No, we speak Romanian. Which is actually pretty similar to Italian but it also has Slavic, Russian, French and Turkish influences.”
“So you are not Italians?” I honestly thought he was making fun of us at this point. “Romania is not in Italy?” And then Vlad realized the confusion.
“No, no, we are from Romania, not Rome!” he tried to explain to him.
“Oh, so Romania not Rome. Then I am sorry, but I do not know Romania.” So we figured.
Fun travel #3 Romania – close to Germany?
You know that moment when you are young and feel so insignificant? When you think that nobody knows who you are so, you try to relate to your older brothers? That’s how we felt when we tried to explain to locals where Romania actually is by naming our neighbors. And what makes it a fun travel story is that for some people, not even our closest neighbors rang any bells.
“What is your country?” came the decisive question.
“Romania, in Europe.” This time we said to better locate it, to avoid the Romania – Mongolia talk.
“Romania? This is a country?” hmm, this was actually a good question.
“Yes, it really is the name of our country.”
“Sorry, never met any people from Romania yet. Where is Romania?”
That’s when my fabulous zeal showed up. I started drawing in the air, pointing and saying “this is Turkey, this is Hungary, this is the Black Sea. So, this is Romania.”
“Is it close to Germany?” thank God I ain’t a geography teacher cause apparently, my air maps are not that great.
“It’s relatively close, but we don’t share a border with them.”
“But is it close to France?” gee, thanks for rubbing all the big guys on us.
“No, it’s the same as with Germany. But we do share a border with Hungary.”
“Sorry, don’t know what Hungary is.” (well, I felt much better)
Fun travel #4 Romania – beautiful women
Now I actually take pride in this one. But not full satisfaction, as I would have loved for people in the Philippines to recognize our country by something more than this. Anyway, we first heard this from our taxi driver in Manilla, literally one hour after we set our foot in the Philippines.
“Where are you from?”
“Wow! Romania has very beautiful women!”
Coming from him I thought he was trying to compliment us. Maybe he was saying this to all tourists. Then, in El Nido, it happened again. This time from our guesthouse owner. He was even more confident in how beautiful Romanian girls are. And yes, I know. We have beautiful women, and I am not bragging – it’s a fact! But still. After a lot of Asian countries where people had never heard about Romania, we woke up hearing about our beautiful women.
The third time it happened I snapped! We were in a restaurant, and the guy serving us had the same “Romanian women are beautiful” reaction. So I asked him – how do you know this? Have you met a lot of Romanians?
Aaaand, hold on tight for his answer: “No, very few Romanians come here! But I know from the Miss World and Miss Universe contests. Everybody watches them. And each year, Romania comes with very beautiful women. You should be proud!”
I was definitely puzzled. I thought he was joking. But after spending time in the Philippines, talking with more locals and actually catching Miss Universe 2017 while we were there, I realized he was not. There is an entire frenzy around the contest. Everybody was watching it. So, I guess that learning new things can sometimes mean viewing Miss Universe.
Fun travel #5 Romania and croissants
I have told you about Asian fun travel stories, but let’s add some European flavors as well. In Sri Lanka, we met two older ladies from France. I love talking with French people because it helps me practice my French, which otherwise gets rustier by the day. However, these two were explicitly not in the mood for talking to us.
We were sharing a homestay, so it was awkward not talking to each other. So, one morning, over breakfast, they started telling us that they had visited Romania back in 1986. And one of them actually asked me “Have things changed since then?” I barely held my laughter and tried to smile politely and said: “Well, I wasn’t even born then, but at least I know that we no longer have communism.” I guess they didn’t like my answer as they changed the subject.
At one point one of them said something about croissants. My mouth watering, I couldn’t stop myself from saying “oh, how I miss some good croissants with jam and a cup of tea.” And so, the shock on their faces “You have CROISSANTS in Romania?” That’s when I really burst into laughter and explained that yes, we have croissants. We actually have dozens of Paul bakery shops and not only. You can even find frozen croissants in any supermarket which you can merely microwave at home.
So yes, we have croissants. Therefore, we exist!
Fun travel #6 Romania and South Africa
Well, this will be a short one, but I don’t know if I will ever forget it. It happened to me in a store in New York. I was with my sister doing some shopping and being aware of how rara avis we were, indulged in talking freely in our mother tongue. Once we reached the cashier, the guy smiled at us and tried to compliment us:
“Are you guys Italians? Cause you sound like it.” He asked us in perfect American English
“Nope, we are from Romania!”
“Oh, Romania! South Africa!”
I rest my case here.
Fun travel #7 Romania is not America and neither is it England
Picture this: riding a bike in rural Nepal, down south in the Terai, wandering around the villages of Bardia National Park. Everything is peace and quiet around us, birds humming, the smell of burnt cow dung floating in the air, people churning the wheat in their courtyards. And here come the kids. And as always, children are the first ones that want to practice their English with you. So they come running to us smiling from ear to ears:
“Namasteeeee! Where you come from?”
“Namaste! Romania! How are you?” I tried to make some small talk and help them practice.
“Yes, Romania!” trying to keep my smile still active.
“So you, not Americans?” here comes the ice-breaker.
“No, we are Romanian.”
“Not English?” It’s actually starting to hurt.
“No, sorry, we are Romanians.”
And so they left us, running in the opposite direction, maybe looking after some Americans.
Fun travel #8 Romania and Nadia Comaneci
I am not sure if this one qualifies as a fun travel story, but it was an unusual reaction. We were on a day trip in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. Traveling makes you learn a lot, and for us, it meant getting used to people not knowing where the heck Romania is. So we discovered how to say politely that we come from Romania, but to be aware that a lot of people have never heard about it.
So little did we expect for one lady to not only know about Romania but also know about a famous Romanian gymnast. “You are from Romania? Wow! Nadia Comaneci is amazing!” We were so blown away by the fact that a lady from Malaysia knew about our long-forgotten star of gymnastics that we had no idea what to reply. She went on telling us that she’d even read about her. At that moment, she really helped us feel proud to be Romanians.
Fun travel #9 Romania and political problems
India is so vast that most of our stories come from there. However, the funniest replies from Indians when hearing our home country were:
“Oh, Romania, beautiful country!”
“Thank you. Have you visited it?” me being naïve and actually thinking that I would get a complimentary answer as you would expect from someone so confident in their statements.
“No, but beautiful country.”
However, one guy really took us by surprise. We were in a remote part of Jaipur, with no single tourist around us. All of a sudden, a smiling local man approached us and asked us the usual “where are you from” question. But after my also usual Romania reply, he went on:
“Oh, Romania. I have been reading about the refugee crisis in Hungary and how they are dealing with this situation. How about Romania? Given your position, how do you think that the immigration will affect you?”
So this guy not only did he knew that Hungary was our neighbor, but he also knew about Romania and the so-called migration situation with which Europe was dealing. Hats off to him!
Of course, there are more fun travel stories. These are only a handful, selected to make you smile. And yes, we also have examples of when people knew about Romania, they knew about some critical moments in our history or Romanian celebrities. We have never judged people for not knowing about Romania, especially given that we were traveling in remote areas where surely children don’t learn about Romania.
It was sometimes a bit sad because it made us realize that maybe Romanians don’t travel as much as other European brothers of ours. However, we had an immense feeling of joy hearing people saying beautiful things about Romania. About our delta, the largest one in Europe, about our vast number of brown bears, about our top internet speed (even the Aussies knew about this), our picturesque countryside, our friendly people.
But yes, being a Romanian traveler sometimes makes you feel like a museum exhibit. People will stare at you; they will want to touch you, to find out more about the breed called the Romanians. We are exotic, for sure! And I really need to make myself a shirt with a map of Europe. It would definitely make my life easier.