One of the most well-known Romanian sayings is “a freca menta” (literally “to rub the mint”) meaning laziness, careless, unproductive work. Unlike some expressions whose provenance can’t be accurately established, but more likely guessed, in this case we have precise information.
Dating back to the ancient Greece, there was a custom that required rubbing the table with mint leaves before eating so that it will have a pleasant smell. The Greeks’ expansion in the Balkans, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries, along with the Phanariotes, brought this custom to the north of the Danube, where there would always be strong communities of this ethnicity. The well-off Romanian families, constantly looking for all things sophisticated, quickly adopted this custom to rub the table with mint leaves, which would give the room a pleasant scent and the feeling of coolness during the hot summer days. From this moment on starts the change in the meaning of the expression as many house servants chose to rub the tables with mint for hours, instead of doing harder tasks such as cutting woods, carrying water etc.
Hence the proprietors’ dissatisfaction with servants avoiding actual work, preferring to rub the tables with mint all day long. A genuine house activity rapidly became a pejorative one, the distance was very small.
As time passed, the aristocracy gave up rubbing tables with mint in favor of the much more elegant table sheets, copying the Western fashion. The saying “to rub the mint” persisted under the “nuanced”, Balkans specific meaning of avoiding chores.