Category Archives: On Romania

British Comedy in Bucharest

comedy-copy-2nd-april-e1300778516839This article was also published in Romanian on Hotnews.

The most interesting thing about “British Comedy Night”, which takes place on the first Saturday of each month, is the street.  Strada Gabroveni is the last street in Bucharest’s Lipscani area (the old town) that is still “under construction” (i.e. in total chaos). Michael Fraser, the manager of the Mojo Club and the organizer of British comedy in Romania, says “It’s the worst street in Bucharest”.

If you are tired of the uniformity of the streets of Bucharest go to Strada Gabroveni at night. It’s a trip to another dimension.  I savoured the uneven earth surface, the total absence of cars, the dark empty buildings, the wooden boards that people wobble drunkenly along, the orange pipes that spew crazily out of the ground and the contrast with the Cocor Shopping Centre, which is a vast TV screen at the end of the street. With music pumping out of a dozen clubs and images of high fashion being flashed down the street from Cocor, I felt like I was in a scene from Blade Runner. Continue reading

Romanian Senate Relaxes Road Traffic Law

trafic-bucurestiThe Chinese Ambassador to Bucharest once compared the building of motorways in his country to what’s been achieved in Romania.  He said that both countries have been engaged on motorway building for about 20 years and while the Chinese have built over 40,000 kilometers of motorway during that time, Romania has barely managed 150 KM. He offered Chinese help in building a ring road for Bucharest, but his offer was ignored and Romania’s capital city remains in gridlock. Continue reading

Swedes Sue Romanians Over the Name Ice Hotel


Getting to Romania’s Ice Hotel involves a hair-raising ride in a cable car to a frozen lake two thousand metres above sea level.  Every December the family who run it cut blocks of ice from the frozen lake, bind them together with a mortar made of snow and water and build a small hotel that lasts until May. They also construct an ice chapel complete with a kitsch sculpture of the last supper and a frozen Jesus on the cross. Continue reading

Adrian Severin hangs on Gaddafi style

img_01763Romanian MEP Adrian Severin is being hounded by the Bucharest press to resign from the European Parliament for his part in an 8-month long Sunday Times sting operation.  Two undercover journalists from Britain’s biggest weekly broadsheet, masquerading as directors of a lobby company, approached over 60 Members of the European Parliament with offers of 100,000 Euro a year for proposing amendments in the European Parliament. Continue reading

How to Prepare for an Earthquake


This article was also published in Romanian on

I have just walked away from a really annoying talk show on one of Romania’s news channels with a feeling of déjà vu.  Every time there is a natural disaster somewhere in the world the news channels quickly dig up politicians, experts and indignant journalists who proceed to blame each other for not doing anything to prepare Bucharest for the coming quake. None of this intense media scrutiny will translate into policy, political will, or anything that will make a difference.

Now Japan dominates the TV news.  This time last year it was the Chilean quake and ProTV did a rather good campaign about how well prepared the Chileans were for their quake. In Chile the people who invest in a building are forever responsible for its structural integrity, whereas in Romania scores of people (in other words nobody) are responsible for construction standards.  Nothing came of this and building standards in this country remain overly complex and completely unenforced, and nobody knows if the buildings that have gone up in the last 20 years will withstand the next big quake. Continue reading

The Romanian Second Hand Scam

triumph-at-traquairThis article was also published in Romanian on (worth looking at for the intelligence of the comments).

When my brother Moona moved to Portugal  and started to build an eco house out of mud, stone and straw he soon realized he needed a nasty, polluting diesel van (a small sacrifice he was willing to make on behalf of the environment).  We were discussing the issue when driving towards Edinburgh, our home town, and we agreed that the cheapest place to buy a van was Belgium.  Both of us had worked in Romania  in the 1990s and we recalled armies of people traveling to Belgium and Germany to buy cheap second hand vehicles.  The idea of buying a cheap car in UK – let alone Scotland – didn’t even enter our minds. Continue reading

Ordo Quod Chaos

casa-poporului-crw_11298bwThis article was also published in Romanian, on the Dilema Veche website.

My view of Romania over the last 10 years is that it has been developing in a steady, predictable and incremental manner.  The key policies of capitalism which were put into place almost immediately after the 1989 revolution – free elections/press/travel, rule of law, property rights – have been steadily strengthened. Every few years there were rumours in the media that Iliescu, Nastase or Basescu are about to become dictators, but each of these has proven to be a chimera; each one of these leaders has done a bit to consolidate this stability. Continue reading

What’s Wrong with Romania?

delegationThis article was first published in the Hotnews Blog “Contributors”.

Someone recently asked me what’s the main factor that prevents Romania from realising its economic potential and I said, without hesitation, “the inability to delegate”. Delegation is one of keys to running a successful organisation (or countries for that matter) but in Romania the principle of delegation – making people responsible for their work – does not seem to be understood and this is one of the reasons why the public sector is so dysfunctional. Continue reading

Why Romania?

Shop front in Brasov

Shop front in Brasov

This article was translated by Iulia Marusca and published in the Hotnews  blog “Contributors”.


I’m reading a book that has helped me crack a mystery that has troubled me for 20 years: why do I live and work in Romania?  People have been asking me this question since 1990 and my answers – “the people…the warmth…the challenges…” – always sound a bit unconvincing.  I am strangely unable to explain what it is that keeps me here.

Anthony Bourdain, author of Kitchen Confidential, which is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read, gave me the answer even though he doesn’t mention Romania once in the book.  He describes the madness of investing in the restaurant business in New York City: Continue reading

An update about the France-Roma-Romania argument

Nicolae Gheorghe

Nicolae Gheorghe

This article was first published on the Economist’s website Eastern Approaches. It is worth looking at the Economist’s version of the article as it has been quite well edited, tightened up and de-personalised and made suitable for the Economist’s more anonymous style.  I intend to print out both versions and compare them as this will enable me to better understand the kind of article the Economist required (this was how I learned journalism 20 years ago: I would analyse articles I really admired and try and work out the style of the publication I was targeting. Easy.  Many years passed before I found out that you could actually study journalism. Back then I don’t think I ever met anyone who had. Continue reading