The Republic of Moldova is a mystery to most people outside of the Balkans. Is it even a country? It's a region of Romania or Russia, right?
Today, we are putting a spotlight on this small, landlocked republic and its people, so that you can know what is fact or fiction. From the Moldovan people and their traits to their history and culture, let us present the myths and facts we've heard about Moldova and Moldovans.
Fact: Moldova is its Own Country
Foreigners often don’t know where Moldova is on the map - or the rest of the Balkan countries for that matter.
Many have no idea that it’s a small, landlocked country in Southeastern Europe between Romania and Ukraine.
It’s often confused with Maldives or Malta or seen as part of Romania.
Myth: Nostalgia for the USSR
It’s a common belief in Romania that Moldovan people are nostalgic for the communist regime. The opposite is true, most young Moldovans are becoming more focused on the European Union and away from Russia.
Transnistria is another story - an internationally unrecognised breakaway state on the border of Ukraine. There you can often find relics of the Soviet Union and the Transnistrian Ruble.
Fact: Moldova didn't have a President for Three Years
The currently elected president of Moldova is Maia Sandu, but from September 2009 to March 2012, there was no elected President of Moldova.
Due to a fractured parliament and a political stalemate, it took nearly three years for Moldova to elect a new president. During that time there were three acting presidents.
Myth: A Life of Crime
When traveling abroad Moldovan’s have been known to be accused of being thieves. This is due to people believing they are gypsies from neighboring Romania. Another Eastern European stereotype that is not true.
Petty crime in Chisinau is relatively low. Keep your eye on your belongings, there may be pickpockets and bag snatchers in busy areas like the markets and during festivals.
Fact: Moldova's National Language is Romanian
Many people not only believe that Moldova is a part of Russia or Romania (it's neither) but that Moldovans all speak Russian.
In fact, 82.2% of its people speak Romanian as their first language, while only 14.1% of the population speak Russian on a daily basis. However, most middle-aged Moldovans are bilingual, a result of having grown up in the Soviet Union.
Romanian has been the national language of Moldova since August 31st, 1989 - a few days after the declaration of independence from the Soviet Union on August 27th, 1989. The 31st (Limba noastră) is a public holiday, there's even a street named "31 August 1989" in Chisinau.
There is a Moldovan dialect - which some may argue is its own language - but it's virtually identical to Romanian.
English has been part of the Moldovan curriculum since the 1990s - most young people speak English at various levels of ability.
Myth: Everyone Works as a Farmer
There is a false belief that most Moldovan’s are farmers and that other professions don’t exist.
While agriculture is one of the main industries in Moldova - primarily fruits, vegetables, wine, wheat, and tobacco - it only accounts for 21% of the labor force (about 175,900 people).
There are many other commercial sectors in Moldova, such as food processing, textile, and a growing tech sector.
Fact: Moldova isn't a Tourist Hotspot
The UN World Tourism Organization 2016 report stated that only 121,000 foreigners were reported to have entered Moldova. That makes the republic the least visited country in Europe.
The pandemic has set things back, but Moldova has a lot to offer for tourists and business people alike. We expect numbers to increase year on year as things start to return to normal.
Myth: Moldova doesn’t have Electricity
Now, this has some truth to it. Moldova imports almost all of its energy from Ukraine and Russia. So you could argue that Moldova doesn’t have (its own) electricity but in reality, it has energy resources like other countries.
For those of you with a hunger for data connectivity, Moldova has excellent mobile networks, and very affordable data rates. If you need a SIM card while you're in Chisinau you can visit any Orange or Moldcell store.
Fact: Corruption is Rife
Some believe that Moldovans are corrupt people - but corruption isn't completely endemic. According to a 2017 report by Transparency International, Moldova ranks 122nd out of 180 countries, with bribes being paid by at least 1/3rd of the population surveyed.
The biggest corruption scandal occurred in 2014. 1 billion US dollars (equivalent to 12% of Moldova's GDP) disappeared from three Moldovan banks. Since the scandal and the outrage from the Moldovan people, an Action Plan has been put in place to tackle corruption, but the results have yet to be measured.
Myth: Illiteracy is Prevalent
Some people believe that a large number of Moldovans are illiterate. This is simply not true.
According to UNESCO, Moldova has an impressive adult literacy of 99.4% in 2014. Even in the older generations literacy rates are high (97.1%).
Fact: It’s an Orthodox Christian Country
According to the CIA Factbook, 90.1% of the population identify as Orthodox Christians.
However, most Moldovans aren't practicing Christians as it's more of a tradition these days. Usually church attendence is just for formalities such as weddings, funerals, and christenings.
The largest cathedral - Cathedral of Christ's Nativity, which is part of the Metropolis of Chișinău and All Moldova religious organization - is in the center of Chisinau. It's often featured in photographs and films, being one of the most iconic buildings in the country.
Myth: Moldovans eat a lot of Cheese
Moldovan cheese is a delicacy, that many people in The Republic enjoy eating. However, the myth that they eat it morning, day, and night is not true.
The average annual consumption is approximately 4,500 tonnes, which is about 1.7kg per person.
The most popular kinds of cheese are Brânza de Oaie and de Vaci (Sheep and Cow Cheeses), Rossiyskiy (Russian), Golandsky (Dutch), and Poshekhonskiy (named after a small Russian town it originated from).
Mixed: Moldovans love Polenta (Mămăligă)
Foreigners believe that Moldovans love polenta (Mămăligă in Romanian) so much that they eat it constantly. Now while it is a traditional and favorite food in Moldova, it is not eaten daily by the population.
Moldovans serve Mămăligă with sour cream and cheese - and sometimes fried pork. If you want to try this delicious dish next time you're in Chisinau - along with other traditional foods - make a stop at one of the La Placinte restaurants dotted around the city.
Fact: (Some) Moldovans Drink a Lot
Yes, Moldova is home to the largest wine collection in the world (Milestii Mici), which has more than 1.5 million bottles in a 34-mile underground cellar. But that doesn’t mean that all Moldovans are drinking a lot, or does it?
Sadly - according to the 2018 WHO report - Moldova ranks as one of the highest consumers of alcohol (22.8 liters of pure alcohol per capita across both sexes in 2016) and the highest death rates linked to drinking.
It has been reported that Moldova has the world’s biggest drinking problem, however, the numbers are showing improvements.
Myth: Ten Kids per Family
One common myth about Moldova is that they have massive families with an average of ten children. In fact, the average household size is 2.2 - a little lower than all of its neighbours.
In the past, it was common for Moldovan families to have large families but now it's very rare. It's increasingly difficult to support a family in The Republic.
Myth: Moldovan Women as Caregivers
Yes, some women are homemakers and great housewives. Girls usually learn how to cook and help their mama and babă, but women also do work hard aside from taking care of the house and children.
It’s a common stereotype in Europe that Moldovan women travel abroad to be caregivers for the elderly. This belief stems from another myth - that girls in Moldova don’t have sufficient education to work in other fields.
According to a report by UN Women, the number of migrants is about 10% of Moldova's total population, with women making up 36% of that number. Although employed in high-skilled jobs in Moldova, female migrants are often employed in jobs that do not match their skills - migrating due to economic and quality of life reasons.
Mixed: Most Beautiful Women on the Planet
I'm afraid we're not here to offer any dating or relationship advice. But being kind, polite, and respectful will go a long way if you meet any Moldovan women on your travels.
Beauty is an opinionated topic, coming down to your personal preference. To some Moldovan beauty is legendary, to others not so much.
Myth: No one works harder than Moldovans
Like many people from Eastern European countries, Moldovans are famous for being hard workers. However, there is no evidence that they work harder than any other ethnicity.
Everyone says that Moldovans are very hardworking, they think that we work from morning to evening. Of course, there are those among us who are like this and they do this, but I do not think that we are ranked first in the top among other countries on this matter. There are those who do not want to work at all. Sergiu M.
Myth: Moldovan Men all Work in Construction
People often believe that Moldova men work on construction overseas because they are not good at anything else. Many Moldovan migrants do work in construction - but it's primarily for economic reasons.
It follows on from the myth that all the buildings in Moscow were built by Moldovans.
Myth: Traditional Clothes are Everyday Clothes
Sadly, a lot of Moldovan traditions have been forgotten over time, and along with them the wearing of traditional clothes.
Patron Saint of the Village Day and Independence Day are beautiful festivals, which everyone visiting Moldova should attend if they can.
While Moldovans - usually dancers and singers - do get dressed up in traditional dress for festivals, it's not common to wear every day.
Myth: Singing and Dancing All Night Long
Another common belief is that Moldovans love to sing and dance. They do have traditional folk dances, songs, and garb to go along with them, but no more so than their neighbouring countries.
Mixed: The Most Hospitable People in the World
It is often said that Moldovans are the most hospitable people in the world. But even Moldovans would admit it’s a bit of a stretch to call themselves that.
They are famous for welcoming visitors with lots of food and drinks - even more so in the villages during the grape harvest season from September to October. If you are invited in, you'll likely be offered some homemade wine to taste. Lots of people grow their own grapes in their gardens.
Even if you have a question or need directions when you are travelling, everyone will gather around and try to help.
I once witnessed that happen in a public bus, everyone including the driver was trying to explain a passer-by how they can get to their destination. At some point I thought we were all gonna give that person a lift even if that was in the opposite direction. Sveta C.
Fact: Moldovans are really into Rugby Union (But not so much Tennis)
While Trântă (a form of wrestling) is the national sport, Rugby Union is also popular in Moldova, most of all Orhei. While currently ranking 59th out of 110 teams, back in 2014, the Moldovan team was ranked 25th worldwide.
The national sports stadium - Complexul Sportiv Raional - in Orhei draws crowds of over 10,000 supporters show up for home events.
While we can't give you any official facts about tennis in Moldova, Tony Hawk's book about Playing the Moldovans at Tennis provides a lively account and is well worth a read. Although we doubt Tony would win a match against Radu Albot - one of Moldova's top professional tennis players.
Myth: The Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous
Many Balkan people say that when they see a Moldovan abroad, they are only staying in the best hotels, driving the most expensive cars, and sporting the latest fashion trends. Moldova must be the richest country in Europe!
While nice to believe, it's likely that these people have political ties, and are few and far between.
There are quite a few high-end hotels, bars, and restaurants in Chisinau though. If you're coming from the West, you'll find them pleasantly affordable. Just bear in mind that for most locals such things are too expensive, with an average salary in Chisinau of 96,000 Lei (~4,500 Euros) per year.
Fact: Christmas is in January
It’s true, Christmas - known as Christmas of Old Rite - is celebrated on January 7th as per the Eastern Orthodox Church. This is because the Orthodox church uses the Julian Calendar instead of the Gregorian Calendar.
Unlike a Western Christmas, the Orthodox Christmas primarily a religious holiday being more focused on the spiritual.
However, the younger generations have started celebrating Christmas on the 25th, leading to a "double Christmas" in Chisinau, with lights and decorations being put up at the start of December.
They say it's Christmas with your friends on the 25th and Christmas with your family on the 7th.
Fact: The Four Seasons
Moldova has four distinct seasons, with long moderate winters, long summers, and low humidity and precipitation. Spring and Autumn are quite short in comparison but pleasant.
Being landlocked, relatively small, and flat, its climate is somewhat stable, with little variation across the country.
If you'd like to visit, most people recommend coming between May to September.
Fact: Moldovans are Leaving Moldova
According to the UDNP Moldova has the eleventh highest emigration rate in the world. However, official emigration statistics don't really exist, as a majority of emigration goes unreported. Estimates by Moldova's Security and Intelligence Service (SIS) say 45% of the population are working abroad.
It's a difficult situation to be in, and we hope that as Moldova continues to develop with help from organizations like the UN and favourable policies for businesses - like the IT Park - the tides will begin to change.
Fact: A Beautiful and Affordable Country
If you can get past the Soviet-era brutalist architecture and the urban sprawl of Chisinau, there is a lot to say about the beauty of Moldova's countryside and green areas. From fields of sunflowers, and diverse bird species, to ancient complexes like Old Orhei, and newer green spaces like Valea Morilor in Chisinau.
As an expat or traveller living in Chisinau, you can comfortably get by on 1,000 Euros per month, so it's a very affordable city compared to other European capitals. Chisinau has some great restaurants and bars - see our article about things to do in Chisinau - but doesn't cater to tourists quite as well as other capital cities.