A number of countries of Eastern Europe have fully transitioned from Communist dictatorships to modern, integrated economies. Romania is one of those countries. Romania encompasses an area equivalent to the US state of Minnesota. Its population of 21.5 million people includes two million who live in Bucharest, the capital and largest city of the country.
The Carpathian Mountains circle Romania, with the Transylvanian Alps to the south. The Danube River runs across the region and creates a natural border with Bulgaria and Serbia before flowing into the Black Sea. The Romanian forests are some of the largest in Europe, with about half (13% of the country) set aside from logging and placed in watershed conservation programs.
The integrity of the ecosystems in the Romanian forests provide diverse habitats for plants and animals. Romania claims to have the most European brown bears and about 40% of all European wolves living within its borders.
Tourism is growing in Romania. Almost 5 percent of Romania is placed in protected areas, including thirteen national parks and three biosphere reserves, all of which are attractive to tourists. Tourist attractions also include medieval castles as well as historic Transylvanian cities. Rural tourism focuses on folklore and traditions including such sites as Bran Castle, referred to locally as the castle of Dracula, a mythical person patterned after the stories and legends of Vlad III the Impaler.
Romanian cuisine is a diverse blend of different dishes from several traditions with which it has come into contact, but it also maintains its own character. It has been mainly influenced by Turkish and a series of European cuisines. Before Christmas, on December 20 (Ignat’s Day or Ignatul in Romanian), a pig is traditionally sacrificed by every rural family. A variety of foods for Christmas are prepared from the slaughtered pig, such as garlicky pork sausages and black pudding made from pig’s blood.
The southern Adriatic is home to the small country of Albania.
A biodiversity hotspot, Albania possesses an exceptionally rich and contrasting biodiversity thanks to its geographical location at the center of the Mediterranean Sea and its remote mountains and hills.
The rugged mountainous country of Albania has a Muslim majority.
Poverty, unemployment, and a lack of opportunities to gain wealth have plagued the country. Albania has even received Communist support from China. As a result of the war in Kosovo, Albania suffered a major setback in its progress toward an improved standard of living and integration with the rest of Europe. When stability is established, Albania can progress toward becoming more integrated with the European economy and raise its standard of living for its people. A parliamentary democracy has been installed since the Communist era, and foreign investments have aided in developing updated transportation and power grids.
Albanian cuisine uses many fruits such as lemons, oranges, figs, and olives. With a coastline along the Adriatic and Ionian in the Mediterranean Sea, seafood is a popular part of the Albanian diet. Otherwise, lamb is the traditional meat for different holidays for both Christians and Muslims. Tavë kosi (“soured milk casserole”) is the national dish of Albania, consisting of lamb and rice baked under a thick, tart veil of yogurt.
Located in the crossroads of the continents, Bulgaria has a major trans-European corridor running through its territory that connects all the way to Asia. The country is home to diverse landscapes, which include the sunny Black Sea coast and the higher elevations of the Balkan Mountains, which reach an elevation of 9,596 feet. The Danube River flows across the border with Bulgaria on its way to the Black Sea. About one-third of the country consists of plains, which provide for extensive agricultural activity. Ore and minerals can also be found in Albania, which has allowed the country to gain wealth.
Upon declaring independence from Russia, Bulgaria held multiparty elections. Its economy is emerging, but the transition to a capitalist system has not been without the difficulties of unemployment, inflation, and corruption. Bulgaria became a member of NATO in 2004 and was accepted for EU membership in 2007. The transition to a free-market economy is still in progress, with mining, industry, and agriculture as the main economic activities. Tourism is an emerging segment of the economy that has been gaining international attention in recent years. The country has a milder climate than the northern states of Eastern Europe and has been marketing itself as a major tourist destination. Main points of interest include historical monasteries, coastal resorts on the Black Sea, and the capital city of Sofia.
Special Section: A Story of “Yes” and “No” in Bulgaria
Here is an example of cultural differences between the United States and Bulgaria. This story is from Elizabeth Kelly, a US Peace Corps volunteer working in Bulgaria (2003–5).
“I’ll have coffee,” I tell the waitress at a cafe during my first week in Bulgaria. She shakes her head from side to side. “OK, tea,” I say, thinking that maybe there’s something wrong with the coffee machine. Again, she shakes her head. “Um. cola?” Once more, she shakes her head. By now, she’s looking at me like I’m crazy, and I’m totally confused. Then I remember: A shake of the head by a Bulgarian means “yes,” and a nod—what the rest of the world does for “yes”—means “no.”
Early on, when I communicated with Bulgarians, it seemed like my head was moving in ways my brain hadn’t told it to. Sometimes I wanted to grab my ears and use them as controls. Learning a language with a completely different alphabet was challenging enough without trying to figure out whether to nod or shake.
When I began teaching, all this head bobbing made communication in the classroom interesting. Although I had made sure my students knew about this cultural difference on the first day of school, we all frequently forgot what we were doing. My students would answer a question correctly or say something really great, and I’d nod. A second later, they were trying to change their answer, since they thought the nod meant they had been wrong. But the confusion went both ways. Sometimes I’d ask a student a yes-or-no question and he or she would answer with a nod or a shake, without saying anything. Not remembering the difference, we’d have to go through the motions several times before I understood. Frequently I found myself saying, “Da or ne—just tell me one or the other!”
I also had to deal with confused colleagues who couldn’t figure out why I kept nodding my head while they talked, as if I were arguing with them. In truth, I was just trying to show that I understood and was following along with the story. And then there was the even greater problem of how to act with Bulgarians who spoke English and were aware of the nodding–shaking problem. Was I supposed to nod or shake for “yes” when I was speaking English with them? And what was I supposed to do when we were speaking Bulgarian? What if we were in a situation where both languages were being spoken? To make matters even more complicated, after going a couple of weeks without any contact with other Americans, we’d finally get together and I’d find myself shaking when I should have been nodding. My head was spinning!
Tuning in to how the people around me communicate has brought me closer to the people and the culture of Bulgaria. And whenever we slip up and forget to control our heads, the laughter that follows brings us together. Luckily, a smile is a smile the world over.
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Additional information and image credits:
By Dr Brains – Own work (backgroung : http://www.maps-for-free.com), GFDL 1.2, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20017376
Peace Corp special section – Source: Peace Corps Coverdell World Wise Schools program. Used by permission.
By https://www.facebook.com/george.bufan – https://www.cazaneledunarii.com/imagini/, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=77997776
By VictorCozmei – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=77583054
Bran, RomaniaBy Photo: Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20576195
By L.Kenzel – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6562841
By Sacha47 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=60829350
Albania regions map
By Burmesedays, Shaundd – own work based on the UN Map of Albania and OpenStreetMap, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22742751
Albania relief map
By Uwe Dedering – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9735213
By Equestenebrarum – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4155813
By Regularcheese – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=78912301
By Pasztilla aka Attila Terbócs – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=79838482
By Rocky – Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2947840
By Pilgab – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11398816
By Biblioteca aga – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26747929