I grew up in a very small town in southern Romania, a rather conservative place where everything moves at a slow pace and not much happens. Four years ago, I finally moved to Bucharest to go to university. Though I had been to Bucharest many times before, I had only come here to visit my relatives, without getting to know or explore the city by myself. It was them who would take me everywhere I needed by their own car, and it was them with whom I would spend most of the time.
My interaction with the city and its vibe was therefore fake and limited, so it was not until I started living here on my own that I wholly discovered how life in a big city actually looks. Based on my own experience, I will present 4 of those aspects that I found shocking and intrigued me the most when I first moved from my small town to Bucharest.
1. Your perception of time and distance changes
In a small town, all the important places are concentrated around the same area: the “centre” is 10 minutes away from you, and in the centre, you have the town hall, the court, the schools, the pubs and the supermarkets. Walk some more 5 minutes and you’ll find the hospital and the bank, and other 10 minutes later you’ll bump into the railway station. And that’s pretty much it!
When you come from a small town, your perception of spatial and temporal distances is certainly altered. Moving to a big city, you will notice that what you have considered all your life as being “far away” is actually an extremely short distance. And if you have believed that 20 minutes of walking from home to school is a lot of time, wait until you start studying in a metropole!
You will be shocked to discover that walking 15 minutes from home to the closest metro station is ideal, and a total of 40 minutes (after you have alternated walking with two means of transport) to get to school is actually not bad at all. And if back home you would have crossed your town from one end to the other in 30 minutes of walking on foot, in the capital a 30-minute ride to go to a shopping centre will all of a sudden appear more than acceptable.
Not to mention that you have a lousy sense of direction and it is very easy for you to get lost. But, hey, this is understandable! How could you have developed it when you have lived in a town with only one main street? You don’t need a good sense of direction when all (the six) roads lead to Rome!
2. You must learn how to use public transportation
In small towns like mine, there are no means of transport other than our personal cars, 5 taxis and 5 shuttle buses for people working outside the town or living in neighbouring villages. Strange as it may sound for most of you, there are such towns in this world where there is no tram, bus or any other kind of public transportation. “Then how do you move around?”, you may wonder. Well, we use our feet: we walk! It’s not such a big deal, since everything is at a stone throw!
In a big city, and especially in the capital, public transportat is extensively used, and the reasons are varied: it is cheaper, more convenient, and most of the times even faster. Due to the heavy traffic, it is time-consuming and nerve-wracking to drive your own car, and walking on foot is not a wise solution when you live some miles away from your job or school.
Maybe you’ll find this funny, but understanding how to use public transport is something that you will really struggle with when you come from a small town where you didn’t have this thing. I lived many adventures with the metro and the busses in the first two weeks of my studying in Bucharest, and it took me a while to understand the “philosophy” behind exchanging the metro lines.
3. You have a cultur shock when you leave your small town
Living in a small town in Romania means not to get in touch with people from abroad. If your hometown is neither rich and developed, nor placed in a touristic area, it is of no interest to visitors, potential dwellers or workers from other countries. Such a town is quite isolated and lacks any contact with foreigners or foreign things. The only people you see around you are white and speak Romanian, and there is no trace whatsoever of any foreign element in your local culture.
Big cities, on the other hand, abound with people of different races and cultures from all around the world. An absolutely normal thing, one would say, and nothing to be amazed at. But for people coming from small towns, social and cultural diversity is something new, so it is incredibly fascinating. This is why we have the weird tendency to gaze at a person of colour or an Asian in a supermarket, or to turn our head when we hear English or any foreign language spoken on the street. We don’t mean to be rude; we are just impressed with seeing all these people in reality, a reality that is different from what we have lived so far.
The only place we have seen black people, Indians, Arabs, Asians, etc. was on the internet or TV, and the only time we’ve heard English, Spanish, Turkish, German or whatever language was while listening to music or watching movies. I still remember my first interaction with a Swede who asked me for directions. I felt nervous because it was my first time speaking in English with a foreigner. I had, indeed, spoken in English with my professors many times before, but that was something else! And I was genuinely happy after that small dialogue. Now I am amused at having behaved in such a silly way, but at that time, it felt awesome!
4. You know nobody and nobody knows you
It is a well-known fact that in small towns, everybody knows everybody! If this sounds strange, think that our friends and we are all enrolled in one of the two schools in town, our parents work together or they know each other due to job interactions, and even some of our relatives live in the same town.
When you have spent the first 18 years of your life in a small town, it is unlikely not to know most of the people living there. And if you don’t know them personally, because they are not in your group of friends or part of your family, you definitely know who they are, or who they are related to; or they look familiar because you have seen them several times on “the street” (yes, there’s only one main street in my town!) or in the supermarket, or you’ve been at the same party. And the boomerang goes both ways!
So, it is almost impossible to go to school or to take a stroll without meeting (and, of course, greeting!) at least two friends of yours or their parents, three friends of your friends, one relative and other two other people you have no idea why and where you know them from, but whom you must greet!
In bigger cities, this feeling of having no space and intimacy disappears completely. You know nobody and nobody knows you. People are so occupied with minding their own business, that they don’t even notice your presence. I felt incredibly relaxed when I could finally go to school without having to look carefully around me not to miss a neighbour or an acquaintance passing by. Because back home, if we don’t notice someone we know and we go without greeting them, a real war starts!