Issue 20

UNTRUE, BUT WELL CONTRIVED

Bush offered Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev one of his daughters, nobody would have believed it. But the report appeared some time later, caught the attention of The Washington Post and prompted an explanation from the White House: “The president certainly is not spending his time at the NATO summit in search of a match for either of his daughters,” said spokeswoman Sally McDonough.

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45 YEARS IN A ROOFLESS PRISON

Stalin managed to force the Bulgarians to do something even Hitler couldn't make them do. After the Communist coup on 9 September 1944 the Bulgarian army did enter the Second World War. The Bulgarian Army stopped the German withdrawal from Greece, and in December it helped beat back the German counteroffensive near the Drau River. Bulgarian soldiers celebrated the end of the war on 9 May 1945 in Austria.

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ZAGREB

I like seeing cities wake up. There's something special about those early morning hours when shopkeepers are sweeping pavements, groggy dog owners are out for the first walk of the day, and the smells of breakfast start to waft through the air.

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MY BIG FAT BULGARIAN PROM

"This day will never come again. So I will spare no expense or effort on it,” says a middle-aged woman while her daughter is trying on dresses that cost as much as the annual income of an average Bulgarian family. An hour earlier the two bought gold jewellery and expensive shoes and argued whether it would be better to hire a limousine or a second generation Porsche Cayenne. The mother is wearing an old raincoat and cheap shoes that have been to the cobbler's more than once.

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MIRROR, MIRROR ON THE SEA

Wanna-be matadors take note: the Times has announced that Bulgaria and other poor EU countries will never become “the new Spain”. The reason? According to the British newspaper, “the club of the rich countries” is not ready to invest the same amount of money as it did in Spain. In the real estate sector, however, Bulgaria has already been emulating, if not replicating, the Spanish developmental pattern. Whether this is good or bad is a burning question for everyone who has invested in Bulgarian properties or intends to do so.

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MY OWN CHOICE: HAPPY EATING

Lunching, dining out or having coffee in Sofia is an absolute thrill and challenges your decisions due to the multitude of restaurants available. I never thought, when coming here, that I would be confronted by such a variety of places, which seem to multiply by the month.

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GB-BG

When the first British expatriates arrived in Bulgaria, the Bulgarians were kind of surprised. Immigration (as opposed to emigration) was something new for them. Being a nation that lives at the crossroads of civilisations, they were used to foreigners passing through rather than wanting to stay, even though in history many had opted for the latter. Some had been refugees running away from persecution (like the Jews), massacres (like the Armenians) or civil war (like the White Russians).

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GROWING UP ON THE BLACK SEA COAST

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?

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BAND-AID BRITS

Remember that initial move to Bulgaria: the excitement of a new life in the sun, that fresh lease of life, the endless round of lounging on the beach, drinking rakiya, making friends and living in permanent holiday mode? Many expats claim their move to Bulgaria is to get away from the drab British climate or to escape rising prices, crime rates and increasing debt, yet few will admit that the underlying reason is the hope that a new start will resolve fundamental marital problems. Indeed, for many it is a last ditch attempt to avoid a break up.

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BRITISH & GAY IN BULGARIA

He loves the Bulgarian tomatoes, red wine, sunny weather and the good-looking people. He doesn't like the bling fashion, the potholed roads, the grey, crumbling buildings and the fact that Burgas airport shuts in the winter. Oh, and one other thing - he's gay.

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BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE BRITAIN

“We've been burgled, had our business vandalised, our tyres slashed and been victims of various violent confrontations in just one year.”

Does this sound like experiences in a gangland suburb in London? Racial hatred in Manchester? Yet another testament to “broken” Britain? It may surprise you, then, to be told that the above account is an experience not encountered by an ethnic minority, social outcast or council estate resident, but by a British expat living in Bulgaria, experiencing intimidation, slander and violence from other expat Brits.

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EXPAT BUSINESSES

Truck Driver Turned Kennel Owner Dave Smith, 68, moved to Bulgaria from Grimsby in May 2005. Although he had visited over 80 different countries as a continental truck driver, the lure of cheap property in Bulgaria was his deciding factor for settling in Klimentevo, a quiet village populated by pensioners.

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GET BORN, GET DEAD

In Bulgaria they hang dead people on trees, not to mention walls, doors and, in particular, on the gate of their former home. Not literally, you understand, although my five-year-old daughter is inclined to believe otherwise. These necrologs are sheets of paper each depicting the deceased and mostly set out in a standard format. The word is derived from the Greek necro meaning dead or death. Uniquely, the first of these paeans to the dead to be posted does not include a photograph, there being a set period of 40 days before it is deemed correct to include one.

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THE ENGLISH NEIGHBOUR

This story also begins with an English Opening - a retiree from Albion buys himself a house in a Bulgarian village. His name is John and he loves Bulgaria. He's visited the Black Sea a few times and even knows a little Bulgarian - he understands almost everything, despite his broken speech.

John's neighbour is the villager Ivan. Their gardens are divided by a common fence with a komshuluk, or little gate. Ivan immediately hops through the komshuluk to meet his new komshiya, or neighbour.

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A COLLECTOR OF AMOROUS SENTENCES

He lives in Plovdiv, his mother is Greek and his father is an actor. Born in 1964, the writer was captivated by the theatre before graduating in Bulgarian philology and developing a serious interest in literature. He studied in the Secondary School for Stagecraft together with artist Kolyo Karamfilov and producer Dimitar Mitovski. Literature and journalism prevailed and he has published three verse collections, a book of essays, a play and a novel entitled A Collector of Amorous Sentences.

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COPS & POPS

Current scandals in the Bulgarian Interior Ministry have confirmed what the ordinary Bulgarian has suspected for years - the close ties between organised crime and those empowered to fight it. The recorded phone conversations of high ranking police officers with members of the mafia, printed in Bulgarian papers recently, showed that not even a thin line exists between the police and the gangsters - they seem to speak the same language.

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'ANTI-BULGARIAN CAMPAIGN'

Lately, there has been too much state blather regarding the “anti-Bulgarian campaigns carried out by certain circles in the West”. Since the BBC made a documentary about the abandoned, that is dying by the dozen, children in the Mogilino social care home this has been an incessant refrain of the high-ranking officials in this country.

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WILL IT DO?

Passing comment on workmen as they botched things together or attempted to lift heavy loads used to be a light-hearted joke. Tongue firmly in cheek, I would turn to my companion and jibe; “How many workmen does it take to dig a hole?” The answer - eight: one to dig; three telling him how not to dig; three, with folded arms, watching him dig; and one to keep the barbeque/fire going.

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IN TOUCH WITH THE DUTCH

Most of my fellow “Nederlanders” do not like to be called “Dutch” because it sounds too much like our word for German (Duits). We attribute our dislike for our neighbours mainly to the 1974 World Cup Final. But since then we have fought other finals and we now play war with common enemies who blow themselves up, so what do I know. In reality, we truly are just the remnants of some Germanic tribes that drifted a little too far down the old River Rhine. During the days of the Romans most of what is now known as the Netherlands was called Germania Inferior, so there you are.

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GETTING ALONG WITH THE 'M' WORD

When it comes to “Macedonia,” it's hard for most expats in this region to understand just why this name is so divisive. As you must be aware, the name is the centre of a bitter dispute between Greece and its northern neighbour calling itself the Republic of Macedonia. The Macedonia name issue is one of those highly emotional subjects that foreigners in Greece avoid when possible - but that's getting harder to do.

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