Romanians are in general very good at talking a lot at the right time – and good at talking at the wrong time. When they keep quiet it is usually at the right time. The gap between Scandinavian and Romanian culture in this field is wide. Romanians talk a lot about very little, and Scandinavian talk very litte about a lot.
A Romanian can use hundreds of words and a lot of time to explain just simple everyday things, and as an outsider you wonder more about when he or she will come to the point than what the person actually is saying.
If for instance if somebody is asking you for a favour, a cash loan or a service of some kind, it may even happen that the person has left before you grasp that the speech actually was a request of some kind.
The same goes with excuses. There are very few other nations on this continent in which the population is so keen on giving excuses – good or bad excuses - and sticking to them as the most natural thing. And of course when you live in such an environment you also get quite used to accepting excuses of all kinds. Good or bad.
The habit of using a lot of words – covering up for less action – is probably inherited from the Romanian politicians during the communist period and the decades after. The communists talked and talked about change – and the capitalists talk even more about the need of change. About what has not been done by whom and when – and what should be done if and when. And basically that is all.
The lack of action and promised progress may cause a few headlines in the mass media – which cause a few debates and protests - and yes you guessed it: – more talk. After that there is just a public silence – or a set of new and more complicated excuses.
Like the recent one coming from the town hall in the biggest city last winter: The money that should have been spent on paying social support to the local old generation is spent on getting rid of the snow from the winter streets in the city. It is a cheap trick – but a clever one. Few people want their grandparents to live without financial means, but also very few want their grandpa to fall on an icy and snowy road, breaking a leg or two – or even worse – the neck. A competent local or national government should of course see to that there were means to do both things. But the competence of talking politics has nothing to do with the competence of executing politics.
The Romanian spare time activity of sitting outside your block chatting loudly to some of your other neighbors about anything from the horrible prices of tomatoes to the lovelife of the other neighbours not present - is called BARFA.
“ Barfa “ may be translated with the word gossiping, but the English word does not cover the entire meaning. Barfa is gossiping shamelessly followed by a set of short personal judgements in black or white. Barfa is gossiping the hot news that is not accepted in the local newspaper- Barfa news do not need to be true at all, it is enough that it is a guess or a wicked estimation.
Yes, a real BARFA BABA ( baba means a woman in a certain age) – is only interested in the juicy and disgusting parts of the story . A story that can be told in a fine combination of a loud almost screaming voice - and an almost whispering confidential tone of voice.
You stick to barfa because you are bored and have nothing else to do. Or you have a lot to do, but you are not motivated to get it done. Then you need an excuse – and sharing the latest rooumors with your next door neighbors feeling the same in the open air may be a perfect solution.
The barfa is done mostly by old women and old men, but anyone can join a barfa session if you know the barfa dictionary and have a barfa story that really fits in. And you must know how to present it -and you should train on the gestures and the articulation. The clue is telling a shocking and intimate secret as a fascinating and energising scandal – with a face expression that tells it all.
A barfa session speech is always concluded by having your own ego and perfectness stated directly or indirectly. If you are modest about your own moral standard you exclude yourself immediately from the barfa culture,
The art of barfa is performed all over Romania every day and you will realize who the barfa performers are when you see them outside on the street – when you as a stranger enter a block of flats or pass by them on the bench in the small park. The excited barfa people calm their voices on the sight of you – evaluating you as a possible barfa topic – bluntly staring at you as you were the living evidence of a landed extraterrestrial.
Most likely the barfas forget you as soon as you are out of sight. Actually the barfa performers do not even take themselves very seriously. When the barfa session is over, most of the barfa performers forget what they were chatting about. The focus after the session is on new subjects that can impress at the next barfa encounter. If you have no new topics, you can run the barfa standard version: “plunge” – complaining. Complaining about life in general with a personal touch to it.
The respons is garanteed. Romanians love being a victim - and excuses in the combination with the effects of claiming being a victim - seem to be regarded as an instant success.
The barfa culture can also influence conversations in Romanian homes or in other private settings. It is quite common to talk bad about people everyone in the room knows, but who is not present in the room. And when that person arrives or return into the room, everyone changes subject at once and is especially friendly to the newcomer they hammered a few minutes ago. When another person leaves the room, there is a new and immediate change of topic: A likely negative description if the person who just left.
Well – it is not a party killer actually: It keeps you staying at the party, because you know that if you leave everyone will share your less flattering aspects with everyone else. So most people hang around as long as possible.
The notion of this as being “false “or at least not a very constructive social habit – seems not to be shared by many. I made a point about this in such a setting once and I asked the others if it was not better to criticize a friend face to face than talking behind his back.
The people present ignored my statement, apart from one man who took me aside and said: - More important than knowing your friend is knowing your dusman – your enemy. The point is to hear who says what about whom, only then you may guess what they say about you. - He then returned quickly to the barfa group.
The Barfa culture tells something about Romanian way of thinking and acting. Gossiping is a universal thing and a human activity all over the planet. But the way it is a part of the culture may be different . And the barfa in Romania may be explained by history and social conditions in which telling the truth could be dangerous And in that context regarded as stupid to be too honest..
You know BARFA when you see it. Or hear it. And taken as a kind of social game that is just a game, it is possible to live quite happily alongside it.
Because it is just barfa.