Food, Clothes, and Expectations. Romanian Migrants Non-monetary Remittances as Intercultural Exchange

Lucrare prezentată în cadrul Conferintei Internationale „More than Money. Remittances as social practice”, organizată de SIEF (International Society for Ethnology and Folklore) Working Group „Migration & Mobility”, Institute of European Ethnology, University of Innsbruck, Austria, 26-28 septembrie 2018.


The data in this paper come from a field study conducted through the project Migration and identity in the Romanian cultural milieu. A multidisciplinary approach (MIRO) (2018-2020) that involves a historical, sociological, anthropological, linguistic analysis of the phenomenon of Romanian migration in Italy, Spain and France, i.e. three of the most attractive postcommunist destinations for Romanian labor migrants.

The ethnographic questionnaires applied by the two authors to both migrants and their relatives back home were intended, among other issues, to document the different categories of material and non-material things sent to Romanian households from abroad, from ethnic food to foreign traditions, and the social norms by which migrants are influencing their families’ lifestyle.

Going beyond the already accepted view that social remittances promote globalization and cultural diffusion, the paper explores the ways by which products sent from the West highlight the continuing differences between two cultures that are more and more similar due to globalization. The analysis will give an insight into the migrants’ opinions on the type of Western goods that their family would like to experience, and also on the well-established but less well-documented channels for transferring goods abroad, based often on informal networks of friends and acquaintances whose existence strengthens transnational connections. In contrast to impersonal regulated monetary remittances, objects embedded with a strong sense of place coming from the foreign culture represent a more personal and emotional connection between sender and receiver, testifying to the migrant’s cultural adjustment to the foreign culture and on her reflection on cultural difference. Non-monetary remittances also promote social change and raise the desire for a higher life quality, feed hopes of travel and intercultural encounters, and create desire for imitating what is still considered a higher culture.