I don't spend lots of time at this office, but when I do I like to breathe air not so choked with days of second-hand cigarette smoke from the staff or skin-dissolving chemicals from the cleaning crew. So I open the window when I can, common sense permitting of course. During a January blizzard, I probably wouldn't. But today was a typical Bucharest summer day, meaning the air outside was already 30 degress C and climbing. But it was also a good deal fresher than the air in the office, and when you consider the former is metropolitan Bucharest city air, you get an idea of just how bad the latter must have been. So, as I said, I opened my window. Immediately, the chap across the hall jumped up from his seat and apologetically closed his door, explaining that I had created "curent." And thus we come to one of the few remaining (of an admittedly shrinking list but I think this one will stay forever) phenomena of the culture that consistently blow my mind (pun, of course, intended). The Eastern European mortal fear of the breeze.
This concept has already been surprisingly well-documented in several other blogs and forums, so as usual I'll cut corners and just quote them:
- (Roughly translated) "Curent" = movement of air between two or more points (such as 2 or more open windows in an apartment) or simply from one strong point (open windows of the moving train/car). "Curent" is probably one of the greatest Romanian national obsessions. Whatever the historical province you are, if you go by train, it is quite possible that your neighbors in the compartment prefer to endure 50 degrees Celsius + onion odors than to open a window. Similarly for cars without air conditioning, nobody opens the window because you'll "catch the 'curent.'" Same at home. Windows stay closed so that they do not form "curent". And often when you have a headache or toothache, so often the explanation is automatic, "probably because you "took the 'curent.'"
- Wait until high summer, until the temperature is around 45 degrees, and then board a train. Wait until it reaches full speed [...], then open a window and see what happens. You will be set upon by everyone else in the carriage, who will shout at you for [...] attempting to kill them. Basically, any kind of moving air (known of course to perfectly sane people as ‘a nice breeze’) should be considered curent and therefore lethal.
- Romanians are also afraid of having any two windows open which might cause a draft ("curent") which they say causes death and other illnesses. Romanians would rather die than be exposed to the curent.
- They believe it causes illness, tooth aches or ear aches. You'll often see people walking about town with cotton stuffed in their ears to prevent the 'curent' from entering (sometimes they use garlic). While riding on trains or in cars, it's often seen as a bad thing to have the windows open. For many people, it's preferable to sweat in the uncomfortable heat than get an ear ache.
- It was late august, temperatures over 40 Celsius and everything to the leaves in the trees was completely motionless. I opened the window of the room I was staying in, hoping some air would enter the room and refresh me a little. In less than a minute, my friend’s mother rushed from the other side of the apartment: “CURENT, please close the window!” CURENT, or the draught that circulates when two windows are open, is blamed for almost every ill one can think of. Toothache, headache, cold, flu, meningitis, paralysis - all are apparently the result of moving air.
Granted, views on breezes are universal between East and West up to a certain degree, literally. Opening a window in winter is usually silly. Freezing air, while not carrying pathogens itself, does distract your body's resistance to them and thus the link between cold air and sickness is perceived. But in mid-summer? Common sense and Eastern Europe clearly go on separate holidays. To consider hazardous a calm breeze containing air of 35 degrees C is not only incredible, but irresponsible, particularly when the preferred alternative is to sweat profusely at your desk, risking heat fatigue or at least true sickness from breathing in the same cigarette-smoked air that just came out of someone else's lungs along with who knows what else.
And this last bit may seem like a cheap shot until you've experienced it first-hand: As reported in The Bucharest Herald in April, a Romanian consumes an average of only two tubes of toothpaste and four bars of soap per year. Virtually all the Romanians I know seem (smell?) to be well above that average, which means for the average to be what it is, others need to operate well below it. A short trip on any Bucharest public transit will instantly reveal their whereabouts. And if that's not an argument in favor of opening a window, especially in warm weather, then I truly don't understand it.
EDIT: Just thought of this last bit, which is almost certainly a cheap shot but funny nevertheless. If Romania is so intolerant of hot wind, then how do you explain Parliament? Har har har.