Tackiness, provincialism and the impenetrable language don't stop British teenagers enjoying life in Bulgaria
Issue 20, May 2008
by Libby Andrews; photography by Nina Lokmadzhieva
Our teenage years are those when we rebel against our parents, explore who we are and what we stand for, and take comfort in a close circle of friends to help us through life's trials and tribulations. Important examinations loom on the horizon, we start to date and think vaguely about the future. But what happens to those teens who are wrenched from British society by parents chasing their own dreams of life in the sun? Expat teens remember vividly the day their parents sprung the unexpected, life-changing fait accompli upon them with those classic words of insurgency, “We're moving abroad.”
Breaking the Language Barrier
Neil Floyd is a lively 14-year-old lad, who left his native Portsmouth just over six months ago, but embraces his move to Bulgaria with great enthusiasm. Portsmouth, he says, is a busy, dynamic town. “It felt homely, I knew everything about it; where the shops were, where to go, who everyone was.” He feels disorientated in Bulgaria, but with the optimism of the young he brushes this off as being only temporary and says, “I think life will be better here.”
He recalls the day his parents announced that the family was moving to Bulgaria. “They picked me up from school and said, ‘We're moving'. I asked where to and they answered, ‘Bulgaria'. I was speechless. It was such a shock. I'd lived all my life in Portsmouth and I'd never even been to Bulgaria.” Again with a buoyant take on life, Neil embraced the move, although it took him a while to get used to the idea of leaving his friends behind. “I've got to move on in life, I'm growing up and England's got nothing for me.” Indoctrinated by his parents' reasons for leaving he tells me that there is too much taxation and house prices are extortionate.
His initial impression of Bulgaria was that it was amazing. In his mind he had anticipated the worst; a dirty country with decaying houses and nothing to do. He was bowled over by Varna and the surrounding countryside, but most of all the climate was the biggest bonus. “In Portsmouth the skies are always grey other than the odd day and you have to go out in a jumper, scarf and hat, but here I can go round in a T-shirt in November.”
He loves Bulgarian life; the friendliness of the people is something he never anticipated. “In England if you went up to someone and said hello they would blank you, but here everyone says hello, and they stop and talk to you.” He loves the views from his new home, where his bedroom looks out onto the beach and a small forest.
Possibly the greatest advantage for Neil is the freedom suddenly bestowed upon him: “I can go hunting here; in restaurants I can wander around without getting told off; we don't have to plan everything like in England and it's just more relaxed.”
Neil attends a local state school and is picking up the language. He still feels that school in England was better, although his reasons tend to hark back to the fact that he hasn't mastered enough of the language yet. He would love to share his football fanaticism with his Bulgarian peers, but his language skills just aren't up to that level of conversation and sometimes that's frustrating. Exasperated, he explains that communication is the hardest thing about moving out here. In class he sits at the back and listens, but finds the speech very fast and only picks up a few words. He is confident, however, that with his daily Bulgarian lessons he will get there in the end and has already built up a group of Bulgarian friends in his village who visit every day and play pool with him.
Neil is vague about what the future holds for him and what he intends to do in terms of employment. He envisages that he will leave school, marry a Bulgarian girl and become a chef, (although he really dreams of becoming a professional footballer). Bulgarian girls, he tells me, are “much prettier than English girls”. The only way he would move back to England is if his family moved too. It seems that once Neil has broken the language barrier the sky will be the limit for this young man.
70 years ago, on 10 March 1943, Bulgaria's pro-Nazi government decided to defy Berlin and halt the deportation of Bulgaria's 50.000 Jews. This was down to the actions of one man - Dimitar Peshev. Just two years later he faced Communist justice and found himself on trial for his life. His niece Kaluda Kiradjieva remembers