17 July 2007–‘Fresh knickers!’ was the unilateral shout heard last night in Grill 66 as exultant girls flung aside their half-eaten pizzas to celebrate the arrival of their delayed luggage from Amsterdam, and with the prized sous-vetements came coloured card, felt tips, glitter paint, and lesson plans bristling with the latest in brainstorming. This morning, a hundred-odd (some very odd) children in the playground disappeared swiftly into classrooms and re-grouped around tables that had only been privy to the pains of history and maths tests. Some wanted to improve their English skills; others, I suspect, were wanted out of the house; some elder ones were evidently more interested in British flesh than British small-talk, while yet to discover that the latter can be a very useful route to the former. It was a suitably merry, enthusiastic, and slightly shambolic start.
Over the past four days I have seen three sets of identical twins dressed in identical clothes. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but it makes me glad that that kind of thing still happens. Perhaps Romania just hasn’t learnt to be wary of clichés…
One of the pitfalls of conversational Romanian – blessed are the Brits in their singleness of purpose – is the difference between the second person singular and plural forms. The French have tu and vous; the Romanians have four. Beware the wrath of the self-respecting young lady addressed as tu; beware also if she is a woman of the world and appalled by the stuffiness of dumneavoastra. Which ‘you’ does one use for one’s former teachers, or for an elderly newspaper seller? How does one address the waiter? What if it is a waitress? Worst, how can you explain treating your mother-in-law as a multiple entity? Over a good and substantial pint, some of the British contingent wanted to find out just that. Some upper-class French couples, we learnt, address each other as vous all their married life; the semantics that can cope with mothers-in-law has yet to be invented.
British-Romanian Connections has been operating in Romania since 1991, and each year Cristina organizes the summer schools staffed with young British volunteers. She says the fascination lies in watching British and Romanians alike teaching and learning, as well as seeing the yearly changes in attitudes, the vernacular, and the home-grown notion of what it is to have achieved the Romanian Dream. It’s a heady mix of old culture, second-hand Western ideals, slight embarrassment about one’s history, and variations on a theme of European unity. Cristina is in Romania with a party of girls from Wirral Grammar School.