Expat in Moldova: Deceived by First Impressions?

by missfootloose on May 7, 2011 · 31 comments

in life abroad, Moldova

I trust you’ve taken careful notes and know that my man and I moved to Moldova a few weeks ago to start a new expat life adventure.  Moldova is a small country in Eastern Europe and the capital is Chisinau (KEE-see-now KEE she now).

“Look at the trolley buses!  Look at the pavement tiles!  Look at the underground shops!”  I said to my husband as we walked around Chisinau for the first time.  “It looks just like Armenia!”  (You know, of course, that we lived there for a number of years.)

“There’s a reason for that,” my mate said, rolling his eyes.

Of course there is.  Moldova and Armenia, although far apart, share a common history and were once sister Soviet republics enjoying the benefits of Communism.

But the traditional cultures are not the same, and neither are the people, which became clear one day when I stood waiting to cross the street and a car stopped to give me the chance to do so.  Really.  I was so flabbergasted, it took me a moment to actually make my legs move, keeping a wary eye on the vehicle in case it was going to come for me. But no.

Although I know this is a different country, I cannot help noticing similarities.  Men wearing black, old men on park benches playing chess or backgammon, Russian everywhere on signs and billboards.

Soon enough I will learn this is not Armenia, so I beg forgiveness if I have offended any of my new Moldovan acquaintances.

One of the first things I did was walk into a phone shop and buy a cell phone.  I did this by asking if anybody spoke English, which was the only way this was going to happen.  And yes, there was such a person, a nice young techie type who didn’t at all make me feel stupid, which I am.  Technically speaking.  (I do have my brilliant moments, but they occur in other realms of the human experience.)

He set the thing up for me, put in my husband’s number to show me how it is done, went to the internet and printed out an English language manual.  The one it came with had seven languages in a variety of alphabets, none of which I could do a thing with.

And more good news:  We’ve found us a dwelling place!  Since we cannot move in until May 20, we’ve vacated the hotel and are temporarily ensconced in a furnished apartment set up for short-termers like us.  It’s comfortable and convenient with a kitchenette and a cute baby washing machine the size of a box of cornflakes.  Unfortunately the color scheme is a sorry symphony in shades of sludge, but am I complaining?  Certainly not: The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and the buds are popping.

And our shipment has arrived!  Fast and undamaged.  The boxes are now decorating the apartment living room, the color of the cardboard boxes fitting nicely into the color scheme.

Needless to say, as the chef in the family, I have scouted out the supermarkets, camera in hand, until I noticed a big sign with a graphic indicating cameras were not welcome.  I don’t know why.  Just have a look at this photo:

What is wrong with that picture, I ask you? Fortunately, no one arrested me, which really would not have been an auspicious beginning for  my life here.

A couple of days ago I went to the International Women’s Club meeting in the hotel where we stayed earlier (the one with the decadent painting of the half-naked dancers) and met an international tribe of expat women as well as some Moldovan women.  This is what I do when I first move to a new country: Find the other girls. I had a nice cup of Earl Grey tea with the young British wife of the Turkish manager of the mentioned hotel.  I met the fun Bulgarian wife of the American consul, and a Norwegian lawyer with whom I shared the worry of where to get one’s hair done.

And what will my mate and I be doing on Saturday?  We’ve been invited to a Cinco de Mayo party!

So you see, things are coming together just fine.  Stay tuned for more missives from Moldova.

* * *

What do you do first when moving to a new country?  Or, if you have any questions, ask me and I’ll see if I can answer them in another post.

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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Ballerina Girl May 7, 2011 at 1:57 am

Glad to hear the transition is going smoothly.
As for cameras, we just had a similar experience here in Atyrau…
I was taking a new couple around to the grocery stores, showing them around, and the wife had a camera. She wanted to take pictures to take back to her daughter that they had to leave behind for their look-see visit. Well, a man in a suit (black of course) came up to us, speaking quite quickly in Russian, and from what I got…wanted either the camera or the card. Well, I made good of what little Russina I have, plus many hand signals, and got her to keep both and him to go away, though with an wary eye on us for the rest of the trip!

Good luck and I hope your happiness continues to “bloom” in your new country!


missfootloose May 9, 2011 at 2:46 am

Good story. I know the black-suited, Russian-speaking type you mean; lots of those in the FSU (for the uninitiated: former Soviet Union) countries, still!

As you said, I have no idea what the big deal is about taking pictures of cake and fish in supermarket, a NICE supermarket.


Turkey's For Life May 7, 2011 at 2:27 am

Sounds as though you’re settling in just fine, to me. I wonder why they don’t allow cameras in the supermarkets?
I’m not sure how I’d go about settling into a completely new country (we already knew Turkey quite well when we came here) but going to meetings like you do is a great suggestion.


missfootloose May 9, 2011 at 2:52 am

Having moved a number of times to different foreign countries, I’ve learned what to. It’s actually quite easy to find contacts if you move because of your own or your spouse’s work. What is harder is moving to a place on your own, without contacts. I’ll write a post about it.


claudia May 7, 2011 at 3:23 am

Did you also see the sign that no guns are allowed in supermarkets? I’m still mulling over that one…



missfootloose May 9, 2011 at 2:55 am

Yes, indeed! On the same sign, in the same supermarket. No guns allowed. Also no handbags, or at least that’s what the picture looked like, but I expect they meant shopping bags because all the women walked right in with their handbags.


Mara May 7, 2011 at 7:37 am

Now, it may be the fact that I am still feverish, or perhaps I am just stupid, but you have a washing machine specifically for cute babies? I can’t see them fitting into a cornflakes box though, unless you squash them in, which apparently is not what you should do with babies, cute or otherwise.


missfootloose May 9, 2011 at 3:00 am

You must have been running a high fever when you wrote this, but I hope you are feeling better now. The washing machine in our temporary apartment is very small. No, not the standard small European affair Americans so despise, but half that size again. It is as wide as an ordinary one, but only half as deep, not much deeper than a bookshelf. But it does the job. Every day, over and over!


Mara May 9, 2011 at 6:29 am

I feel better now. And I understand!


Kelly May 7, 2011 at 1:15 pm

You know, we had the same thing happen here in Peru. My sister was visiting and wanted to take some pictures of the different brands (they found a chocolate candy called “Crack” to be hilarious!) and an employee stopped them. It wasn’t as serious as threatening to take the camera, he just asked that we not take pics inside the store. Seems odd to me – what are they afraid of?


missfootloose May 9, 2011 at 3:02 am

What are they hiding, I wonder? Maybe I should google it and see what this is all about…


Aledys Ver May 7, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Hi! Glad to hear that everything is going fine in your new place in the world!
Those pastries and desserts look just …. delish!! Yammmm! How weird that they would not allow cameras inside the supermarket?
Remarkable that men should all dress in black… why is that, is there any reason in particular?
Wishing all the best and I hope you can move to your new place soon!


missfootloose May 9, 2011 at 3:08 am

Wearing so much black seems to be a former Soviet thing. In Armenia, were we also lived, even the women in winter were wearing black head to toe. When I asked a girl why, she stopped for a moment and said: Because we like it. Overdoing the black thing might indicate a sense of depression, so I have heard. Which would not be strange in these former Soviet Union countries. However, the women in Armenia took to color in the following years. Men did not. We’ll see what happens here in the summer. Stay tuned!


Aledys Ver May 9, 2011 at 6:14 am

I will stay tuned! Curious detail, indeed. Maybe women feel more content with the new state of things and men don’t and that’s why they keep wearing black?


edj May 7, 2011 at 4:58 pm

Wow…already a place of your own and your stuff arrived! You are off to an auspicious beginning! Best of luck with feeling settled soon.
I laughed at your reluctance to cross the street–that happened to us too. Now I’m getting used to things, and am to the point where I get annoyed when I am all set to weave my way between cars without inconviencing anyone and they all insist on stopping for me! Most annoying!


missfootloose May 9, 2011 at 3:10 am

I can’t wait now to get into the house. Although I’m perfectly comfortable in this temporary apartment, it’s just sort of hanging around until I can get going making a new house my own. Patience is a virtue. I keep reminding myself.

How annoying all the cars stopping for you 😉


Welshcakes Limoncello May 7, 2011 at 5:13 pm

Glad things are going so well and that you have found a nice place to live. The first thing I do when I move to a new country is find a friendly bar [assuming it’s somewhere with a café tradition] where I can make myself known, become a regular and start making some contacts.


missfootloose May 9, 2011 at 3:13 am

Excellent suggestion. We have a restaurant-bar with an outside terrace nearby. Not really a cafe, but it might work for us.


MaryWitzl May 9, 2011 at 7:45 am

So glad your things have safely arrived, and so soon too! What we usually do in a new country is go out and buy whatever piddling but essential thing somebody managed to forget: a sewing kit, fingernail clippers, eye drops. But making friends, especially good women friends, is high on my list of priorities, as is meeting the local food and getting on a first name basis with it as quickly as possible.

It’s funny how sinister the idea of a sign prohibiting photography (or guns!) is. In San Francisco, I used to work in a school with a huge ‘No Spitting!’ sign, prominently displayed. I felt so queasy every time I saw it.


guyana gyal May 9, 2011 at 4:58 pm

I like the way you adjust so quickly to changes, it’s wonderful. I hope you have lots of fun there.

Heehee I have to admit, Moldova still sounds like a ‘made-up’ name. Still Tintin-ish, if you know what I mean.


Madame DeFarge May 9, 2011 at 5:40 pm

Looking forward to hearing more about Moldova. One of those places that sounds like Anthony Hope wrote about it.


GutsyWriter May 10, 2011 at 3:14 pm

In a way I’m envious of all the new experiences you’re having. As you know life in the U.S. is very exciting: Target, Ralphs, library, Peets coffee, gym. I enjoy change, learning about new cultures and exchanging views with others. It makes life rich and exciting. I am surprised how “civilized” everything seems. For some reason I expected drab and dreary. Keep the stories coming. Sonia.


missfootloose May 14, 2011 at 1:54 pm

There is plenty of drab and dreary here, especially the old Soviet apartment buildings, but it’s spring now and there are lots and lots of trees that are hiding them now. This si a place of contrasts. There are big supermarkets, fancy clothing stores, good restaurants and old grannies in scarves and slippers sweeping sidewalks or begging. The villages, I hear, are also very poor.


karen May 11, 2011 at 4:35 pm

Hi! Loving finding out about the new life in Moldova, fish eyeballs, banned photography and everything! Blogger’s nightmare, not being able to take photos of random things in supermarkets, too!


Uta May 13, 2011 at 8:11 pm

Hi Miss Footloose,

nice blog. But I have to correct the pronounciation of Chisinau it is Kee-she(!!)-now.
Supermarket: nice picture and I have to agree that I don´t know why they are shy with the photo taking. They have usually a great offer and display the food nicely.
About the hair doing. My opinion is: try out! Sometimes it works good for several times and than the hairdresser thinks to know your style and becomes creative in a way you could n´t stand. Than you try anonther one and it happens again sooner or later. I changed several times even though I consider myself of being easy concerning the haircut.
See you around!


missfootloose May 13, 2011 at 8:21 pm

Hi Uta! Thank you for your comment about the pronunciation of Chisinau! I will correct it. I am ready to start the adventure of getting a haircut in Chisinau this week. Any suggestions where to start out? See you around.


Sophie May 21, 2011 at 10:19 pm

I remember visiting Chisinau a few years ago. It was early June and the city looked quite pretty. Have you been to that odd “country within the country” Transdniestr yet? So interesting.

About the no-photo issue: I think it’s mostly an individual store (or chain) policy. I’ve been stopped from photographing in shops in Singapore, the Middle East, New Zealand and even California.


bestiutza May 31, 2011 at 12:04 am

How long are you willing to stay in Moldova? 🙂 and why Moldova? 🙂

if you need help with romanian you can write me :p


bestiutza May 31, 2011 at 12:07 am

sorry about repeating myself I thought that it was another person who wrote this article 🙂


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