One Romanian word that soon became a favourite among my classmates doing a summer language course in Sibu, Transylvania, was “imediat“. Look it up in a Romanian-English dictionary and you will find that it is both an adjective meaning “immediate”, and an adverb meaning “immediately”. In Romanian, as a general rule, each syllable is given equal stress, so when someone says “imediat” it does sound punchy and emphatic, like they mean it. I can imagine a Romanian sergeant-major bellowing out that word to a terrified subordinate, whereas an English sergeant-major yelling “immediately” has to grapple with an extra syllable or two.
However, in practice, as we discovered, “imediat” can have many subtle meanings, depending on the situation. Let’s look at its application in Romanian restaurants, for example.
- Ask for a menu, and when the waiter (chelner) or waitress (chelneriţă) says “imediat“, this means they will bring it in about five minutes.
- Having finally been given the menu, you study it and make your choice. Then comes the game of spot the chelner or chelneriţă. They seem to have vanished! Finally one appears in the distance. You wave energetically to indicate that you are ready to give your order. The chelner/chelneriţă nods and says “imediat” and scurries off to another table. This means they will come back to take your order in about 10 minutes.
- You are now in a hurry and need to eat something quickly. You ask the chelner/ chelneriţă how long it will take to bring a salată or salad. The answer is “imediat“. This means it will take about 15 minutes. Yes, that’s right, 15 minutes to shred some lettuce and chuck some tomatoes and cucumber and maybe some cheese on top of it.
- Now you’re in a real hurry. You have wolfed down your salată and want to pay the notă de plată (bill). You play spot the chelneriţă once again. There she is, scurrying to every other table but yours! You wave once, you wave twice, but she is as blind as un liliac (a bat). Eventually you accost her. You’ve gotta go, you need the bill. Yes, yes, she understands, imediat! This means she will rush over with your bill in about six minutes.
I might be exaggerating, I might not. In Romania, like everywhere else, in some places you get great service, in others you don’t. Sibiu is one of Romania’s top tourist destinations, in summer it holds many festivals and more often than not it is packed. In the fortnight I was there, there was a huge international folkloric dance festival and a gothic rock festival, and the place was teeming with tourists. Every night the restaurants and cafes were crowded, and the poor staff were rushed off their feet. Well, most of them, not all. I remember waiting in one restaurant (I was the customer, not a staff member on duty!) for what seemed like an awfully long time for the food to arrive. Our table had a good view of the kitchen and we could see the solitary bucătar (cook) or bucătar-şef (chef) in action. We soon understood why things were a little bit slow. Every now and then when the chelneriţă came in with an order, the bucătar would down tools and give her a good snog. That’s right, he dropped his tongs and gave her tongue! He lowered his splatter guard and splattered her! He couldn’t keep his oven mitts off her! Still, they do say that food made with love is the tastiest, and that all things come to those who wait…
To wait in Romanian, you should know, since you might be doing a lot of it, is a aştepta, and a aştepta cu nerăbdare means to look forward to, as in I can hardly wait… although literally it means “to wait with impatience” (răbdare is patience, and răbdător is the adjective meaning patient). From this you should guess that the sala de aşteptare sign on the right is the hospital/doctor waiting room.
To hurry or hurry up is a se grăbi, and ‘I am in a hurry‘ it is Mă grăbesc.
The moral of the story, I think, is never be in a hurry or impatient in Romania, or anywhere else for that matter. Just sit back, relax and enjoy the moment. And the next moment. The many moments. Say to yourself, Nu pot să mă plăng … I can’t complain.