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  • Ilinca Stroe

Making Wishes in Romanian: Occasions and Phrases

If you’re an expat who has lived in Romania for a few good months, you are very likely to have been told, when you got a haircut or a new hairdo, something along the lines of “May it settle well with you!” – which didn’t make much sense but sounded wholeheartedly positive. Similarly, if you’re a Romanian using English as a foreign language, you’re quite likely to have asked an English native, “What do you wish someone who’s got a new pair of shoes?” (You don’t wish them anything special, or you just tell them, “Nice shoes!” – if they’re nice.)

Both cases are about making nice wishes for someone in a specific situation. But while some situations are equally “wish-makeable” in the Romanian and Anglo-Saxon cultures (e.g. birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, Christmas, etc.), in Romania we apparently make wishes for people in a lot more situations than in other countries, such as when they’ve got a new haircut or when they’ve bought and wear a new pair of shoes.

Why that is so is a question of infinite cultural depth. Are we Romanians more aware of little changes like new hairdos? Are we keener to share in people’s experiences and situations? Are we more gladly prompt in signaling occasions for celebration and wish-making? Who knows? Instead, let’s determine which wish-making situations are common and what we say on those occasions, and which are specific to the Romanian culture, calling for specific wishes/phrases. Close translations included, even if they don’t always make sense.

The more “universal” situations include birthdays and general celebrations like Christmas, Easter, New Year’s Eve, some success or achievement, as well as sneezing, toasting and a day’s or week’s general greetings. In this category, “La mulţi ani!” (“To many years!”) takes you a long way, as this is what we wish one another on birthdays, Christmas, New Year’s and any kind of anniversary, really. (For Easter wishes, see this older post.)

Another general wish appropriate in more than one situation is “Felicitări!” (“Congratulations!”), which you can say when someone gets promoted or gets retired, or when they’ve passed an exam or their driving test. As for “Noroc!” and “Sănătate!”, they both work equally well when someone sneezes or when you make (or respond to) a toast; their non-literal English translations are “Bless you!” and “Cheers!” for the two situations given, but otherwise bear in mind that “noroc” means “good luck”, and “sănătate” – “good health”. Over-the-day greetings include the universal formulas of “O zi/seară frumoasă!”, meaning “(Have a) beautiful day/evening!”, while weekend greetings sound as simple as “Weekend frumos!”, meaning “(Have a) beautiful weekend!”

Now, some of the specific occasions when we in Romania make wishes, whereas in English nothing is said. First, meals. When someone starts eating, it’s customary to tell them, “Poftă mare!” or “Poftă bună!”, the exact equivalent of “Bon appétit!” There’s also a wish for when they’ve finished their meal, and that’s “Să-ţi fie de bine!” (“May it settle down well with you!”). Incidentally, the latter wish we also use when someone has had a haircut, or even when they’ve just had a shower/bath or a swim in the sea or the swimming pool! Secondly, trips. When someone goes on a trip, we wish them “Drum bun!” (“Good journey!”), whereas when you welcome them at the arrival point you tell them, “Bine aţi venit!” (“You are welcome!”), and they tell you, “Bine v-am găsit!” (“We’ve found you well!”). Thirdly, purchases. When someone has bought a new (masculine-gender) something like an apartment, you wish them “Să-l stăpâneşti sănătos!” – and if it’s a feminine-gender something like a car, “S-o stăpâneşti sănătos!”, meaning “May you own it well!” Last but not least, we make a specific wish not only when someone has a new-born baby, but, mind you, every time they mention their children (or grandchildren or godsons or nieces and nephews, for that matter): whenever there’s any mention about any of the kids they’re related to, just say, “Să vă trăiască, să fie sănătoşi!” (“May they live for you, may they be healthy!”)

To sum up: haircuts, new shoes (or sunglasses, watch, Ferrari, and so on), start of meal, end of meal, departures, arrivals and mentions of children – all of these require wishes in our culture, and if you want to feel more integrated (or just have fun making wishes a lot more often than you do in your own culture), stay alert, pay attention to the occasion, seize the moment and say the phrase. After all, making wishes for people does create a nice, positive and caring atmosphere.

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