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Put a Smile on Romanian Tourism

Put a Smile on Romanian Tourism

It’s morning and I’m in Maramureş, the land of wooden churches and the unique “Merry Cemetery,” the region of Romania’s famous ţuică (also known as palincă or horincă) – a strong, plum brandy sometimes made with apricots, apples or pears. Maramureş is also especially known for the genial warmth and hospitality of its hard-working people.

As soon as I enter the room where breakfast is being served, our host greets me with a big smile. She’s happy to see me, and also eager to give me the day’s news. “Be careful today – it’s cloudy outside and it might rain. Take umbrellas for yourself and your tourists.” As soon as she finishes the first sentence, she’s asking me where we will be eating. “Oh, now there is another restaurant which recently opened in the center. It’s very good, so go there and try the specialty of the house.  I could eat three of them – my husband told me that I’ll become an elephant there. Oh you dear silly man,” I told him,”you love me so much that you can’t see I already am an elephant!” A big smile and a hearty laugh accompany these comments. It’s at this moment that my tourists came downstairs and our host starts to present the breakfast choices. ”On the table you have fried eggs and omelets, smoked bacon, smoked sausages, fresh organic vegetables, milk from our own cow, tea, coffee [NB: the only imported product], home-made cheese, honey, and lots of home-made jams. Oh, and just in case you want something more, you can have some palincă. Maybe you want to see life a little differently today,” she says with another big laugh. My tourists immediately start to laugh with her. “You’re right, it’s all we really wanted for breakfast. You can take the food away – just leave us the brandy!”

Later that day I take my tourists for a walk on the dirt roads of the village. In this way they get to know the real Romania, both the good and the bad. They love it. It’s the genuine world of a Romanian village, not a fancy, state-of-the-art resort. It is here, on these roads, where Maria always greets me. She never lets us to pass by without a good chat. She wants to know everything about my tourists – where they are from, where they have stayed, what they have eaten. Then she tells them the story of her life, with each and every detail. I ask Maria how old she is – she pauses for a moment and then answers with a laugh “I’m 17, but only if you read from right to left!”

Once, I was passing her house with a retired Canadian couple. Of course she stopped us, and we chatted for a while. Somehow, we got to talking about marriage. “Oh my dear lady,” she said with a big laugh, “if you are ever tired of your husband, give him to me. I will certainly take him – he still looks strong enough to work my land!”

All my tourists loved this guest house in Maramureş, and not because it’s fancy – in fact, it’s very simple. But they loved it because it is here where they were treated like human beings, like friends, not like tourists – or even worse, like walking wallets. It is here where someone gave them attention and offered friendship; it is here that they had someone to really talk and connect with. Someone who gave them a genuine smile, free from any ulterior motives, and they love Maria for these reasons.

Many times I have asked my tourists what was their favorite part of Romania. Most of them gave the same answer: the village in Maramureş. “But you’ve stayed in luxury hotels, you’ve eaten in the best restaurants, and still, you like this place better?”  I ask them.  “Well of course, Daniel – it’s because of their warmth, their smiles, and the genuine hospitality they offered us. No one else has treated us like this.”

So, my dear hotel and restaurant owners, my dear tour guides, and all the folks involved in Romanian tourism: let me suggest to you that we try harder to put more warmth and smiles into our tourism. And preferably genuine warmth and smiles!  Otherwise, there really is little reason to build all those fancy hotels, highways and luxurious resorts – they are not enough. Let’s learn from these simple people – it seems that they already know how to do this quite naturally and from the heart!

About the author: Daniel Gheorghita is an experienced Romanian licensed tour guide living in Bucharest and manager of Covinnus Travel. He is very passionate about photography, hiking and biking. His motto is "Life must be fun". That's why his hobbies are part of the daily work.

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