In the first of her dispatches from Romania, Jane Bradley gets to grips with a new type of time-keeping. Jane, 22, from Wolviston near Billingham, is spending the next nine months teaching English in Romania.

ROMANIA is not known for its efficiency - people wait literally years to have a telephone installed, can queue for hours to buy a train ticket, and the ex-pat joke about the length of time you have to wait when someone tells you that something will happen 'acum' ('now' - usually at least two hours), or 'immediat' ('immediately', but more likely to be in a few days), begins to lose its amusement value when you've been here a while. But it is a country renowned for its hospitality.

So I was massively surprised when, after a long train journey, I found myself alone in a tiny flat in the depths of the concrete jungle that is the suburbs of Cluj, with nobody to show me where the town centre was, or more importantly, how to get to school for my first class on Monday morning.

However, problems like these do get solved, I found the school (the grandly named Liceul Teoretic Gheorghe Sincai, known for short in Cluj as merely 'Sincai') and I am now surrounded by a positive gaggle of friendly, helpful people who have all told me the best places to shop and who have cooked enormous three-course dinners for me. The other teachers in my department have been particularly welcoming. They even hold the department meetings in English so that I can understand - I'm not sure if they do that usually or not, but it's really nice.

As I write, I'm sitting in my living room, waiting for a school handyman called Mihai to return. I had a problem with my kitchen tap, so the headmaster arranged for Mihai to come and mend it. While he was here (fortunate for me that he was), the toilet sort of exploded and flooded the bathroom floor, so Mihai has had to go back to school to get a replacement part. At least I think that's what he said - we had to communicate in Romanian, and even my very handy Larousse dictionary is of little use when it comes to advanced plumbing vocabulary. Why the school has a spare supply of ballcocks and flush handles, I'm not sure, but if whatever he brings back fixes the problem, I'm happy. Unfortunately, he used the word 'immediat' when he told me when he would be back, so I could be stuck here a while.

A German exchange trip from the Black Forest came to Sincai this week, which was great - it was nice to talk to some people who are also new to Romania and think it is equally weird that cars seem to drive along the pavements as frequently as they do along the roads, or also think that tripe soup is perhaps not the most delicious meal on the planet. However, thye'd been here for three days and had already come across the famous Romanian punctuality (or rather, lack of it), and being German, found the concept impossible to grasp. It's funny how we all revert to our national stereotypes when in a foreign country. I get incredibly over-excited about the prospect of a cup of English tea if I'm ever in a caf that sells it, and my sense of humour is getting more sarcastic by the minute. I even found myself saying 'jolly good' the other day. I really need to do something about that.

Anyway, on Monday morning, I was waiting with the German teachers, Silke and Marcus, for a coach to take us (and some students) on a day trip to the Transylvanian town of Sighisoara - by the way, if you're ever in the area, definitely worth a visit, it's one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. It was supposed to leave at 7.45am, and of course, by 7.50am, there were still no Romanians (or buses) in sight and Silke was getting jumpy. "They said 7.45", she kept repeating, almost maniacally. By 8.30am, when the coach finally began to make its way out of Cluj, she was practically having a nervous breakdown and could utter nothing coherent except the occasional muttering in German about Romanian punctuality, accompanied by disbelieving shakes of the head.

When we finally got there, Sighisoara was spectacular and even Silke had to agree it was worth the wait. It's a traditional medieval town with tiny cobbled streets, beautiful churches and houses painted in delicate pastel colours, giving the overall effect of a smudgy, peaceful watercolour. Although the odd sliver of tourist tack has managed to penetrate the otherwise unspoilt idyll, it is generally limited to the overpricing of traditional Romanian goods such as weavings, paintings and wooden crafts, with only one shop selling such westernised monstrosities as 'I've been to Sighisoara' T-shirts. I don't blame them for trying to exploit a few westerners anyway, if the tourist trade in Romania is ever going to take off properly (which would be both a blessing, financially, and a disaster, culturally), it needs to have a decent economic kick start. So what if we have to pay £20 for a massive original painting of the citadel? It's not exactly a rip-off.

By the way - Mihai came back. Only two hours later, and he fixed the toilet. I had a very interesting conversation with him, where I'm convinced that he told me he had two daughters who were working as butchers in Japan, but perhaps that's just my bad Romanian.

l Jane's trip to Romania was organised by Sharing One Language, which places teachers in Eastern European schools. The organisation can be contacted on 01271 327319 or through the charity's website at

Mike Amos is away