Many Romanians take pride in being "a Latin island in a Slavic sea," thinking of themselves as the most eastern Romance people, completely surrounded by non-Latin peoples. While often under the political and cultural dominance of the Ottoman Empire, it is Western culture that has come to predominate.
While Romanians are proud of their heritage, and take delight in recounting the names of great individuals -- inventors, scientists, poets, discoverers, and leaders -- they are not afraid to engage honestly with strangers about the challenges Romania faces. In fact, you'll hear a great deal on Romania's problems -- its politics, its police, and in more or less the same breath, its rampant corruption -- than about its burgeoning promise. Life under Ceausescu may be a harder topic to broach, though, and use your own discretion when discussing matters such as religion and views on homosexuality. Almost 87% of the population belongs to the Romanian Orthodox Church, so exercise a basic respect for conservative Christian values. Faith is very much a way of life rather than a once-a-week affair; many Romanians live a deeply religious life and you'll see Orthodox believers of all ages crossing themselves -- passionately or casually -- as they pass churches and other sacred places.
Roma: Dancing to Their Own Tune -- If there's one topic that stirs considerable debate and even anger among Romanians, it's the status of the Roma -- or Gypsy -- population, believed to be a widely disenfranchised 1.8 to 2 million, but counted at the polls as a mere 535,140 people at the last census. Many Romanians are overtly intolerant toward the Roma community, largely because of their associations with crime, vagrancy, and social disharmony. Many Roma live in ghetto-style environments at the fringes of villages and towns, earning a living through informal trade and begging. Rightly or wrongly, they are also held accountable for most of the petty crime in Romania. Hatred on both sides has sparked occasional violence. Nevertheless, the Gypsies are widely known for their savvy as well as their musical talent; although generally uneducated and unemployed, they carve out an existence and maintain strong cultural traditions; a few standout Gypsy musicians and bands have become international successes, for example. It's unfortunate that your strongest associations with this minority will most likely be through bright-eyed children asking for money or food on trains or selling kitsch at tourist hot spots.