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Under the Bridge 02/03/2015

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One of the things that surprised me about Romanians was how little interest they showed in their relatives who were working abroad to support them.

“He’s working in London? Whereabouts?”

“In London.”

This could be typically Romanian reticence, but I saw the same thing on Channel 4’s The Romanians Are Coming. Asked about where her husband was living in the UK, the lady from Lupeni replied with a smile: “He has a house, it’s nice.”

In reality, her husband was living under a bridge, cooking meals on a tiny camping stove and keeping his food in a plastic bag suspended from a hook to keep it away from the rats. He sent nearly all his wages from the car wash home, and he never told his family that he was living under a bridge.

His mother sensed something was wrong. “He has a secret. He avoids talking about his house. I don’t think it’s very nice,” she said as her eyes misted over.

In the UK, finding somewhere to live is no easy matter, especially in London. Alex, another character from The Romanians Are Coming, had a plan: he’d get a job and then he’d get a flat with his friends. In London, if you find a job, you can look for a room in a shared flat. And if your job is minimum wage, you can look for a shared room in a shared flat.


Lost on the London Underground – 1 Father 01/03/2014

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It’s every parent’s nightmare: losing your child on the Underground. Except it was the son who lost his father. This Guardian Experience report describes how a London-based Romanian lost his father on the Tube. His dad was visiting him from Romania, spoke no English and was missing for four days.

For me the big surprise is that the father didn’t encounter any Romanians on his wanderings and appeal to them for help.

Brutal Simplicity of Advertising 05/02/2014

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M&C Saatchi describe their approach as “Brutal Simplicity of Thought”. Maybe they could learn a thing or two from Prahova, one of the Romanian shops in Kingsbury, north-west London.

The store is packed full of Romanian produce. Behind the till you might spot a handwritten sign on cut-out stars: “Cash only” and the like. But occasionally the advertising is quite simply brutal simplicity distilled.

Avem palinca

This translates as “We have brandy.” Tuica is strong brandy, generally made with plums and frequently home brewed, but palinca, that’s the really strong stuff, double-distilled.

The Taste of the Balkans, Canned 12/10/2013

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Mir Foods Kingsbury is the answer to two pressing questions:

1)      Unde pot să cumpăr varză murată pentru sarmale în Londră?

2)      Where can I buy the taste of the Balkans in cans in NW9?

Mir Foods replaced Fruit Asia on Kingsbury Road. Outside there’s a range of fresh fruit and veg, including that varză murată, but the wonders really begin inside. Countless varieties of Turkish cheese in cans and Turkish halal sausage sit on shelves close to a fantastic variety of Romanian pork products: cârnăciori pentru grătar, pastramă de porc, pate de porc, parizer; the list goes on. There’s Romanian cheese of goat, sheep and cow variety. Then there’s zacuscă picantă, tocană de legume. Then Romanian jams, biscuits, chocolates and teas. And alcohol.

Labour is divided along ethnic lines: the shelf stackers are Asian, the cashiers Romanian. The team includes Kingsbury’s very own Romanian Megan Fox lookalike.

A quiet invasion 22/09/2013

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The Romanianisation of NW9 continues apace. Kingsbury now boasts three stores selling Romanian food within five minutes’ walk of the tube. A Romanian nursery school has opened. When a barber shop closed down, it was replaced by a Romanian Church store. The Asian guy at the fish store asks me if I’m Romanian or Polish, this seeming to be the most logical explanation for being white in Kingsbury.

But this is the most surprising thing: Kingsbury Discount Store & Pound Plus is like a poundland version of Aladdin’s Cave. You’ll find everything, from cheap’n’cheerful sunglasses to Pyrex cooking dishes to cleaning products and air freshener. A Romanian lady pushing a pram buys some discounted nail varnish. The Asian shopkeeper asks her “pungă?”

Now this word happened to be my favourite Romanian word for a good five years of my existence as a Romanian language learner. To a Romanian it sounds completely banal – it means plastic bag. But to me, boldly ploughing through Colloquial Romanian by Dennis Deletant, it sounds so much more appealing than English “bag”, which rhymes with drag and even the vowel “a” sounds kind of draggy. Pungă elevates the simple shopping bag, granting it a whole two syllables and making it somehow exotic without difficult sounds for the clumsy English tongue.

(I now say that cuişoare – clove – is my favourite Romanian word, but I still hold a candle for good old trusty pungă.)

To that Romanian student who calls herself Romanian Princess 08/09/2013

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An open letter from a Romanian student in London caused a sensation on Romanian social media in July 2013. “God has been killed in the West,” it read, and it went on to attack the UK’s liberalism, feminism and multiculturalism. Here is Nadia Barbu’s response:

…Then a letter has appeared on Facebook: somewhat ungrammatical but full of the feeling, from the self-styled Romanian Princess aka Cristiana Marcus, only to reappear from a host of directions today. As a Romanian who has been living in London for almost three years, I feel the need to write my very own letter to this disoriented young woman, who won’t read it, but isn’t it a fine rhetorical device and very much on trend to write open letters to figurative recipients?
So, dear girl. I could wonder, as so many people who have posted the article on Facebook have done, how a young person so close-minded could have secured a place at a prestigious London university. But these people for the most part are resident in Romania. I have seen countless times Romanians in the West for a holiday or to study who, although they would like Romania to be like the West, turn up their nose again and again: “So many niggers on the street! So many Arabs! So many Indians! Oh my god, two men holding hands! On my word, women dressed in comfortable clothing, not all dressed up to the nines to please my eyes!” I’ve got used to it. And I know that UK universities will take just about anyone who has the money to pay (and the girl in question is the daughter of a wealthy man and occasional protagonist in the Romanian tabloids). So this doesn’t surprise me. Read Nadia Barbu’s response to the Romanian student

On Romanians and Brent libraries 11/07/2013

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Kingsbury, London, NW9, has a distinctly Romanian flavour. There are three shops selling Romanian produce within 5 minutes of the tube station. It’s unusual to walk down the street without hearing a “Hai!”, “Ma!” or “P*** mea!”. God-fearing Romanians have a choice between an Orthodox service or a Pentecostal Church – the Pentecostals even try to recruit new believers outside the tube on Saturday mornings. I used to see Romanian coachloads arriving and departing at Roe Green. (I no longer see them, but I think this is purely coincidence.)

Kingsbury Library is a modest but friendly affair: a single, large room with a range of fiction, non-fiction, DVDs, magazines and newspapers. It stocks a range of languages, but no Romanian books.

I asked Brent Council about this and here is their reply:

Brent Libraries do not hold any Romanian language stock at present. We have started to become aware of possible demand and are looking into the possibility of having a collection.

“Becoming aware of possible demand” is putting it rather drily. Far from travelling to the UK to exploit our public libraries, I suspect that many Romanians don’t realise they’re entitled to use this service. When I suggested to one Romanian that he could find his favourite adventure novels in his local library, he asked, “But won’t they look at my passport and see that I’m not a British one?”

Romanians go Carphone Warehouse 27/04/2013

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My Samsung dumbphone is playing up. There is no other option: I’m going to have to grit my teeth and return it to the Carphone Warehouse. This fills me with dread, because:

1) Visiting the Carphone Warehouse is like stepping inside a really bad episode of the Apprentice.

2) It’s Sunday, and on Sundays, every Romanian in Kingsbury and his mate decide to go to the Carphone Warehouse.

He’ll buy a smartphone, he’ll buy insurance for his smartphone, he’ll buy a non-smartphone so that he doesn’t risk damaging his smartphone down on the building site where he works, he’ll buy insurance for his non-smartphone. (Why? You bought that second phone, so that you could break it!) He might even buy a widescreen LED TV.

For the wannabe-Apprentice staff at the Carphone Warehouse, this is a goldmine. Carphone Warehouse: “Two-year contract, very expensive!”

Romanian: “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes…”

Carphone Warehouse: “Do you want to buy insurance for your new phone?”

Romanian: “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes…”

Carphone Warehouse: “Three-year contract, very, very expensive…”

If I can say one thing with this blog post, it would be this: never buy insurance from the Carphone Warehouse, it’s a rip-off.

<strong>Update autumn 2013: Kingsbury Carphone Warehouse now has a Romanian salesman. His name is Sergiu.

Bills included 18/03/2013

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Language is constantly evolving. And there can be no better proof of this than the ads in the window of Mepani News, Kingsbury, London NW9. One of the adverts lists the particulars of a flat as:

Restul de biluri se impart cu nr. de persoane. 

The remaining bills are divided by the no. of people.

My good friend DEX dictionary recognises “biluri” only in the sense of a bill before the House of Parliament. Not your British Gas bill, water bill or any other bill. A search for “biluri” in Romanian web pages produced two hits in the London Romanian diaspora. One room in Queensbury sounds quite reasonable.


Welcome to Quinzburii, London NW9 21/08/2012

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I spotted the following Romanian advert in Mepani News, Kingsbury, London NW9:
De închiriat
Un dabăl în zona Quinzburii lângă Transilvania (cu internet)
Casa este renovată recent (condiţii bune). Valabil din 29 iulie
What’s special about Quinzburii?