G is for Gypsies (Romas)


Europe is a divided house when it comes to Gypsies (Romas). There are friendships between Romas and non-Romas, and there is serious distrust. According to the media, this is due to marginalization, discrimination, and it starts with their very name. 


Apparently the term Gypsy carries a bad connotation as it derives from gyp (to swindle, cheat). I sympathize. No one wants to be referred to as The Thief. Except the European equivalents carry no such meaning. And that’s where the largest Roma population lives, in Europe — primarily East Europe. Although Romas are known to have traveled to Europe from India, many Europeans initially thought they came from Egypt, and that led to the name Gypsy.

As to marginalization, not sure the theory stands up to scrutiny. Europeans have suffered at the hands of many tyrannical powers. Having faced oppression, we don’t condone it.

Yet many Romanians, and other Europeans, go to great lengths to distance themselves from Romas.


In Romania, close to 6% of the population is made up of Romas. And here is what I know:

The majority of Romas live in their own camps — usually on the outskirts of town — have their own leaders/kings (yes, this is still the case today, it’s not a thing of the past), they don’t give a fig what anyone thinks of them, are vivacious people with a lot to say, and are usually very loud.

By and large, most Romas I know (or knew) are wedding musicians, or lautari. Yes, some have jobs, careers. Those numbers are still very small, at least in East Europe.

The main issue in Romania, is the disregard for societal rules. I’m not talking oppressive laws, but day-to-day neighborly stuff like keeping one’s property clean, no music blaring at all hours of the night, and most importantly not using someone else’s property as your own. Those rules are largely disregarded by many Romas.

Let me stress this: there are exceptions, but those are just that — exceptions, not general guides of conduct. This way of life is changing somewhat (there are institutions helping with education and integration), and it appears they’re making some progress.

We also have to remember that history hasn’t been kind to Romas (from Stalin to Hitler). They have a long and painful past as victims of prejudice at the hands of despots. Today, like anyone else, they should live without fear of prejudice. Say what you want and do as you please, the saying goes, as long as you don’t hurt those around.

That seem fair enough? As long as you don’t harm anyone

For their part, Romas keep their distance from non-Romas as much as the other way around. They have their own Parliament representative, speak their own language (of Indo-European provenance). They speak the language of the country they’ve adopted as well, but many revert to their language quite regularly. 

Some of their cultural practices are incomprehensible to many: marrying very young, living in large groups. The issue, however, is not cultural, but the mentality. One Roma I spoke to at length during my last visit, said: “We are taught to take what we need to survive by whatever means. If someone’s too stupid not see through your fast talk, then too bad  for them.”

In order to truly help, the best way, I think, is to work on changing  the problem, rather than screaming Discrimination! (young Roma education, full integration, jobs). In East Europe — and if anyone traveled there and knows what I’m referring to I’d love to hear from you — we might actually have to start by acknowledging there is a problem, all the while keeping in mind that everyone is entitled, as I mentioned above, to live free and without fear.

Thank you.


Photos: sinfully sensational.com; Gabor-gypsies, Wikimedia commons, CC; by: Milei.vencel; paginiromanesti.com



35 responses to “G is for Gypsies (Romas)

  1. Hi Silvia .. I think you’ve set it out very well and we can see both sides. People are so prejudiced .. yet we need to live together in a content society even with our differences … and sadly if the few things you mention – the societal rules .. keeping their living area relatively clean and tidy, no blaring music, not encroaching on others’ property .. and definitely we must all work together to help each other …

    Society in Europe and Britain is challenging in so many ways – thanks for this well written post .. cheers Hilary

  2. I read a fascinating book recently by someone who grew up as a gypsy. “A field full of butterflies” by Rosemary Penfold is well worth reading. Sue

  3. I grew up with prejudice against gypsies even here in the U.S. in the Pacific Northwest. I never experienced it personally, but my parents sometimes made derogatory comments. I was interested to learn more. I had no idea they may have been from Egypt originally. Interesting they are still so separate from society, with odd customs others find objectionable. You would think after all these years they would have intermarried and moved out of their groups. Very odd. I have been told I should be wary of gypsies, too, traveling in E. Europe.

  4. I had no idea that gypsies were a target of discrimination until I lived in Prague. Now we have TV shows about the Roma and their customs here in the US (My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding is one). Yes, they have some odd customs and are very ostentatious in their celebrations, but they don’t seem all THAT different…except maybe with regard to the women. They marry early and lucky to finish high school.

  5. Until recently, I hadn’t heard that the term ‘gypsy’ was derogatory. I always thought it meant of way of life, a traveling people, nothing more. Strange how these words are used against folks.

  6. Excellent post, Silvia. Thank you.
    When I arrived in Switzerland in 1978 as a student, one of the first things I heard about traveling around Europe was to ‘beware of the gypsies.’ We were told horror stories and, as impressionable 20-year-olds who’d never been away from home, these stories resonated.
    When I first traveled to Rome, Italy, my friends and I were surrounded by a group of gypsies who stuck newspapers in our faces to distract us. But we’d been warned – and all of our money, and our passports, were next to our skin, under layers of clothing.
    “We are taught to take what we need to survive by whatever means. If someone’s too stupid not see through your fast talk, then too bad for them.” This attitude isn’t unique to Romas, unfortunately, but it is enlightening. No one should live in fear of others.

  7. I’ve heard about them being labeled as thieves, but I also saw a book once where they were also considered as magic folks in the old days.

  8. Thanks for educating us, Silvia. I find the Gypsy way of life fascinating in our modern culture.

  9. This was so interesting, Silvia. I grew up with just a stereotype vision of gypsies: dancing, wearing colorful skirts and loud jewelry, etc. Thank you for another enlightening post.

  10. I knew I could count on you to give me something to read that is so interesting I want to come back to it again and again.

  11. So much I didn’t know! Thank you! Short of exaggerated movie presentations, the Roma are a mystery to me.

  12. I watched some episodes of the horrible My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding awhile back, and some of the people on the Television Without Pity board said exactly what I suspected, that these people aren’t real Roma, or at best only have a bit of Roma blood. Real Roma aren’t that trashy or scandalous.

    My 8th grade Spanish teacher said it’s illegal in Spain to arrest a Roma, since all their friends would come to the prison and sing all night. The jailers didn’t want to deal with all that noise. I have no idea if that’s actually true.

  13. There are many different types of ‘Gypsies’in the UK, from Irish tinkers, Irish and Scottish travellers, Show people (fairgrounds), and Romany (Romani). I’m Romany on my grandfather’s side… I’m Jewish on my Grandmother’s side…imagine what they faced in the 1800’s, a Jewess marrying a Romani. Even today some people distance themselves from me when the know my background…sadly we all get tarred with the same brush, regardless of how well we live! Great post.
    On the A to Z Challenge Maggie@expatbrazil.
    P.S. according to Google there are over 800,000 Roma in Brazil…who knew!

  14. Yes they are very discriminated against. A book The Time thief has a main characters Roma – and one does learn about the culture from the book

  15. You’ve done a nice job of representing them and presenting the “issue.” Cultures have changed significantly and the “Nomadic” existence is not accepted. Difficult issue to be sure. Thanks for your visit and comment

  16. My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding vs Lunik IX, Kosice
    Opposite sides of the spectrum

  17. This is an interesting post. Gypsies have always been so fascinating.

  18. This was a very interesting post, especially in regards to discrimination/prejudice. I like on the Texas Gulf Coast (USA) and in the area the word “gypsy” is a bad word, a racial slur. I never knew, until we moved here, that it was a derogatory word.

    I enjoyed your post. Have a great week!

  19. This is really fascinating. I didn’t know much about Romas. Thanks for posting!


  20. Such an interesting post! I hadn’t realized that there was still such a vast separation happening. I had thought it a thing of the past.

    I have been intrigued when reading about gypsies. I always thought the way they lived was fascinating. Although, I can see where others would not appreciate it.

    Carrie~Anne at That Dizzy Chick

  21. Hi Sylvia, I must admit I thought gypsies were something from the past. Your post is very interesting.

  22. charlesallenjr

    Very interesting. I read a news article a while back about gypsies, but I didn’t fully understand the dynamics of the culture. It was great hearing your perspective. Thanks!

  23. I’m sure it’s a complicated situation. They are people who have a way of life, a culture, and it doesn’t always mesh with the larger society. It made me think, a little, of the hippies of the 60’s and 70’s. Communes, free love, free thinking. There’s good and bad in all of it.
    Play off the Page

  24. Hi SIlvia .. I noticed they had something on the Sussex Gypsies and Travellers .. it finishes on Monday at the Library .. I’ll try and get down to it – but time is mighty tight! Co-incidence I thought .. They had a few snippets on AV with some basic facts .. I’ll definitely try and check in .. Thught you’d like to know!! Cheers Hilary

  25. Hi Silvia .. this is for me to look at – go down physically to our local library .. I’ve put a note out for myself! So I hope to get there!

    Your signature link sent me off toTalk Talk – Yahoo …saying it had an error .. so can you check it works your end .. thought you’d like to know – H

  26. In my native country Sweden, the situation is not quite as black-white as in Eastern Europe, but still, it was not long ago that a Roma guest was denied access to the hotel breakfast room. Ironically she was invited by the government to speak about discrimination: http://www.thelocal.se/20140325/swedish-luxury-hotel-denies-breakfast-to-roma-guest
    I remember reading a very interesting book years back, Bury me standing, by Isabel Fonseca.
    Interesting post, Silvia!

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