Ethnic discrimination, violation of language rights, disrespect and humiliation – these are just a few of the problems that ethnic Hungarians working in a store in Transylvania’s Szeklerland have recounted to the Transindex news portal. Szeklerland – the historical and ethnographic area located in the eastern part of Transylvania – is still inhabited by a population with an ethnic Hungarian majority. The report published by Transindex is based on the anonymous accounts of two former cashiers who worked in the store of a multinational company and faced several forms of ethnic and linguistic discrimination, petty teasing, spite and threats.
In some supermarkets and stores operating in Szeklerland, management and ethnic Romanian staff show respect and consideration for their predominantly Hungarian-speaking customers, they even make an effort to communicate with them in Hungarian.
Nevertheless, this is not the rule: Multinational chains usually employ ethnic Romanian workers from all parts of the country, who typically have a negative attitude toward Hungarian-speaking customers, at times, they can even get annoyed if a client addresses them in Hungarian.
The first cashier cited by Transindex has been publishing blog posts these past couple of months, telling the story of a Hungarian employee working for one or more zealous Romanian nationalist bosses. To avoid any possible retaliation, she uses the name “Lizzie” in the blog and the article.
“Lizzie” worked as a cashier in a shopping center in Szeklerland from the autumn of 2017 until mid-January 2020. At first, “Lizzie” had a department manager who “benevolently accepted” the fact that she would correct the erroneously written Hungarian tags on products during her own free time. And yet, the corrected labels never ended up on the products, instead they somehow landed in the boss’s office.
Then, a new department manager came, wrote “Lizzie”, who had the habit of scolding Hungarian employees for talking to each other in their native tongue.
“At six o’clock in the morning, while skittering about near the pallets of goods, we discussed extremely important issues in Hungarian such as: Will there be enough room for more sour cream on the shelves or not. We must have seemed like vicious conspirators, as our department manager yelled that we had no permission to speak in Hungarian at the workplace,” “Lizzie” noted.
“In this shopping center, although it is located in the middle of Szeklerland, employees have to greet customers in Romanian first, then in Hungarian; if the client replies in Romanian, the conversation must be carried out in Romanian, even if both parties are, in fact, Hungarian. Cashiers can greet customers in Hungarian if case they know them personally,” detailed “Lizzie” in a post; she also added, that she had to wear a headphone with the microphone turned on so that the manager could hear all of her conversations. On the other hand, it was not really a matter of importance if a Hungarian customer complained because of the faulty labels; but if a Hungarian cashier talked to a Romanian customer in Hungarian by chance, that was motive for a scolding or even dismissal.
“At first, I tried to weigh my options and get other opinions on how my superior’s nationalist attitude might be managed. I probably was not the first to experience this; some people advised me to quit, but no one had any idea what steps I should take after quitting. It seems that since we belong to a minority in Romania, we are somehow afraid to get into these kinds of issues,” wrote “Lizzie” after quitting the company.
“It might be high time for those affected by these problems to truthfully recount their experiences: the discrimination, the pressure they have to face while working for these multinational chain stores,” stated “Lizzie”, adding that it is very understandable how hard it is for many to make “their wretchedness public.”
“I hope that my blog can be the first step toward a change. These situations are quite complicated, as not only language rights are being infringed upon, but, in some cases, employees are also threatened and pressured, with some having to work overtime unpaid,” concluded “Lizzie” in the latest post.
Another former cashier confirmed to Transindex that on many occasions, a major scolding was in order for talking in Hungarian with Hungarian customers. According to this source, everyone was fully aware that the normal business approach should always put the client first. It “just became a customary law for some to threaten and humiliate staff members for using Hungarian,” declared this former employee of the multinational chain store. The company has not yet answered the news portal’s questions on the matter.
Title image: “Use Romanian when you talk to each other.” This is sometimes a demand for the ethnic Hungarian employees. The photo is an illustration.