written by Diana Damian-Martin


The meaning of the Romanian word ‘vamă’ in English:  custom-house, customs, pike, toll, tollbooth, receipt of customs.

The meaning of the Romanian word ‘graniţă’ in English: barrier, border, bound, boundary, bounds.

In English, border is either a noun, meaning a line separating two countries, administrative divisions or other areas, the edge or boundary to something; or a verb, meaning to form an edge along or beside, to provide something with a decorative edge.


When I was little we used to cross the border between Romania and Bulgaria quite often, via a bridge over the Danube river, the biggest combined bridge built in the 1950s. In 2013 a second bridge was built of 1.8km, the biggest in Romania.

When I was little we used to talk about crossing the frontier between two checkpoints and four sets of passport control. Sometimes you’d have to walk through some water for decontamination. There was a faded sign just before we reached the border on the Romanian side that said ‘Have a nice trip’, but only five letters were visible. My parents used to tell me that they still felt they had no permission to engage with borders. And I remember feeling confused about a bridge acting as border.

In my extended family, there are four known members who died by trying to flee Romania in the 20th century, killed swimming the in Danube by border control or by the strength of the tide and the temperature of the water.

The border between Romania and Bulgaria dates back to 1878 following the Congress of Berlin. Parts of Romania were still under Ottoman rule at the time, so territorial disputes are deeply ingrained in the histories of occupation in the region.

The border with the Danube is a constant point of dispute between Romania and Bulgaria, as is their shared access to the Black Sea. The border currently is estimated to be 631.3km long; land border is 139.1m long, 470km is river border and 22km sea border.

The 2007 enlargement of the European Union saw Bulgaria and Romania join the European Union on 1 January 2007. Together with the 2004 enlargement of the European Union, it is considered part of the fifth wave of enlargement of the European Union.[1]

Full EU rights were extended to Romanians and Bulgarians in 2014.


On 1 January 2014 British labour markets will be open to Romanian and Bulgarian nationals (the “A2”) as they are to people from the rest of the EU. Many are wondering what the effects will be – although some impacts of Romanian and Bulgarian free movement have already happened, with an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 people born in the A2 currently living in Britain.

Three days after Andrei Opincaru, a 29-year-old Romanian, arrived in Britain this year, police officers saw him smoking a cigarette on the street. They stopped, searched and questioned him about having marijuana.

“I asked them: ‘What are you doing? You cannot do this to me. You’re treating me like a criminal, ” he recounted. The officers, he said, laughed and went away.

The tension became more apparent last month when Nigel Farage, leader of the U.K. Independence Party, expressed discomfort at the idea of having Romanian neighbors, suggesting there was a high level of criminality among Romanians in Britain. “This is not to say for a moment that all or even most Romanian people living in the U.K. are criminals,” he said. “But it is to say that any normal and fair-minded person would have a perfect right to be concerned if a group of Romanian people suddenly moved in next door.”


In 2014, there were now 4,000 fewer people from the two countries employed in Britain since ‘floodgates’ opened.

Latest data of UK’s Office for National Statistics in 2016 show that of all Romanians and Bulgarians who came to the UK in the year ending September 2015, 45,000 – 87 per cent- came for work-related reasons. Around two-thirds arrived with a definite job to go to.


When I was young we travelled to Bulgaria and the distance to Sofia, the capital city, from Bucharest, our capital city, changed four times over the course of the journey.

When I was young we travelled to Bulgaria and stopped at a gas station close to the border and I met a Romanian sex worker in the toilet fluent in Bulgarian who used to be a police officer in Sofia.  She taught me basic Cyrillic in five minutes.


Last year, a colleague forwarded me the website of Alexandru Adamescu, the son of a Romanian businessman, owner of the far-right newspaper Free Romania, who is currently launching a call of international support on account of unfair imprisonment. He studied at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, where I also studied and now work.


The latest data from the National Office of Statistics in 2017 shows that net migration from Poland, Lithuania, Estonia and other members of the EU 8, who were given freedom of movement in 2011, fell by 22,000 to 19,000. But immigration by Romanians and Bulgarians, who were given freedom of movement in 2014, rose by 16,000 to 64,000 in the same period and they now account for 28 per cent of all immigrants to the UK from the EU. The latest figures show the net migration figure dropping from a near-record high of 335,000 before the Brexit referendum to 273,000.

The Migration Observatory did a recent study of the mention of Romanians and Bulgarians in British press. It reveals that mentions of ‘Romanian’ and ‘Romanians’ by themselves were the most frequent in the corpus, followed by mentions of ‘Bulgarian’ and ‘Bulgarians’. Mentions of either group by themselves were more prevalent in both tabloids and broadsheets, suggesting that newspapers’ coverage tended to focus on one group or the other rather than as a unit. Tabloids made greater reference to the two groups together compared to broadsheets. Compared to broadsheets, tabloids made about 9% more references to the two groups together, and about 3% more references to ‘Romanian’ or ‘Romanians’ separately, in relation to their total number of items published.


In tabloids and newspapers, the top nouns used for Romanians are: side, abbatoir, gang and migrant, followed by criminal, woman and gang. Top verbs are: move, come, arrest.

In taboloids and newspapers, the top nouns used for Bulgarians are: woman, midfielder, town and capital, followed by Roma, couple and mother. Top verbs are: move, sell and kill.


When I was a teenager we used to take the train to a place by the Black Sea called the Vama Veche, the Old Custom-House, and swim parallel to the beach until we got to Bulgaria. The guards would start walking towards us, and we’d swim back. We’d also trade with local teenagers: for cheap cigarettes we’d provide beer, and for books we’d trade rock cassettes, AC/DC being most popular.


The following are 16 Romanian phrases that British people find hilarious according to

“Like an old lady with a machine-gun”

Leap like a frog into the concrete

Stare like a cat at a calendar

Walking with the painted crow

The TV has fleas

Making a stallion out of a mosquito

Hit your own testicles with a claw hammer

Walk the bear

Like a donkey in the midst

You have dwarfs on your brain

Make it of sheep

Have you stepped on a lightbulb

Was this house built on a slope

Making a whip out of shit

You have a carrot up your ass

Did you come with your palm between your butt cheeks


The most common numbers associated with both Romanians and Bulgarians in tabloids and newspapers: 29 million- the approximate combined populations of both countries- and 50,000, a prediction from pressure group Migration Watch that campaigns for reduced migration to the UK, signifying how many migrants will add to the UK population each year for five years following end of transitional controls.


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