Tired of biting your tongue in awkward social situations?
Issue 19, April 2008
by Richard Cherry; illustration by Porumbita Mihaita, Romania
Bulgarians are very conservative at heart. They crave the quiet life. They don't want fuss. They don't like hassle. This attitude has many positive sides. In Bulgaria, respectable folk don't have to put up with mouthy teenagers on public transport, as in Britain. You can walk around after dark in relative safety. There are no brawls in the street at pub closing time. The dominant philosophy is “live and let live”. Touch wood.
The downside is that Bulgarians often don't take responsibility in a given situation - it's always someone else's problem. Bulgarians can get away with being inconsiderate to their fellow citizens, because they know others won't retaliate - that would mean trouble.
Be honest: Bulgarians drive you crazy sometimes. But don't feel guilty! You annoy them, too, with your stuck-up foreigner ways and your habit of speaking like you have a hot potato in your mouth.
Just for fun, why not cause a little mischief? What if we spent a day teasing the Bulgarians, indulging in a bit of revenge on the locals? Allow yourself a nervous giggle. Hee hee! Several expats I've met have found creative ways of aggravating Bulgarians for fun. A Canadian guy was a consummate wind-up merchant - he relished telling the locals point-blank that their cuisine, architecture and culture were all tasteless, derivative and inferior. The bloke also enjoyed referring conversationally to Bulgarians as “savages,” even when talking to locals. And he'd dismiss anyone who objected to this by saying, “Trust me - I come from a real country”.
The biggest problem with being rude to Bulgarians is finding a way to be offensive that they're not already used to. You're never going to aggrieve a Bulgarian by lighting up cigarettes in a restaurant, throwing rubbish on the ground, clogging up the pavement with your bad parking, or forgetting to say “please” and “thank you”.
You could always get a T-shirt emblazoned with “Baba Vanga Was a Fake” or one with a Turkish flag on it saying “Here's to 500 More Years” and walk around town in it. You'd probably manage about 30 minutes before your nose got broken.
Nah, you can be subtler than that. Here's a plan for a great day of teasing the Bulgarians.
9 am: Go to a few corner shops and buy something small, like a pack of gum. Pay with a 20 leva note each time.
10 am: Walk around Sofia city centre dressed as a tourist. Maintain a facial expression of disgust and horror at everything and everyone you see, except the women, at whom you should leer, wink and say “Hey, babe” as often as possible. Make sure people see you taking photos of piles of rubbish and anything broken, dirty or decrepit.
11 am: Go into a nice old church and start taking loads of flash photos. Complain loudly in an American accent (Americans just seem better at offending people than anyone else) about the lack of an elevator and say things like “This place got a restroom, or what?”
12 pm: For lunch, go into a few cafeteriastyle Bulgarian restaurants such as Trops kashta, or Trops House. Walk around and look at the food on offer with the same barelyconcealed horror, then ask the staff loudly: “Is there a McDonald's around here?”
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