by Sylvia Choleva

Bulgarians, running away from their abominable Bay Ganyo is like running away from their shadows

Aleko Konstantinov

It is impossible to go to Bulgaria and not encounter Bay Ganyo. Born as a fictional character in a series of satirical short stories by writer Aleko Konstantinov in the 1890s, he has been living a life of his own for nearly a hundred years. During this time he has become a byword for a Bulgarian and when saying “Ganyo” in fact people often mean “Bulgar”.

Bay Ganyo is not a pleasant character. He can be described as vulgar, impudent, opportunistic, uncivilised, an unscrupulous profiteer, a skirt-chaser of the worst kind and a crook. Only afterwards you may hear more attractive characterisations, such as ingenious, energetic and pragmatic.

How can you recognise Bay Ganyo when you meet him in 21st Century Bulgaria? It is not difficult.

The first outward signs are a complete disregard for good manners and personal hygiene. As described by Aleko Konstantinov, Bay Ganyo often belches, smells of sweat, pinches women's bottoms and treats foreigners as fools who want to cheat him but whom he will cheat instead. He travels a lot, but not to discover other cultures - his aim is to peddle the goods he carries and, when back in Bulgaria, boast that he has “trodden all over Europe”.

When Bay Ganyo works, he chooses the jobs that will give him an easy life, although they involve compromising his conscience. It is not a problem for him, because he wouldn't recognise his conscience even if he fell over it. Like at the end of the 19th Century, modern Bay Ganyo publishes newspapers whose editorials are adapted to the views of those in power. He is in international trade, which oft en serves as a cover for contraband and bootleg alcohol production. Just like in the 1890s, Bay Ganyo enjoys going to cocktail parties and receptions. Th e difference is that he does not fall upon the cold buff et now and knows how to eat appetisers. He still manipulates election results, but now his methods are more sophisticated. Instead of using force to solicit votes for his candidate, he now buys kebapcheta and washing powder for the people, or simply hands out 20 leva per voter.

Naturally, there are Bay Ganyos at all levels of the social pyramid. When travelling by tram, he does not punch his ticket. He does not buy a Christmas tree if he can take one from the park. He gives short measure if he sells at the market and throws his rubbish out of the window if he does not feel like walking down.

The striking thing is that this rather negative personality and embodiment of Bulgarian national character was created by a writer dubbed Shtastlivetsa, or Lucky Man. Aleko Konstantinov, who was a lawyer, traveller and founder of organised tourism in Bulgaria, was the exact opposite of Bay Ganyo. He wore an elegant suit, but oft en went to bed hungry and signed his letters with “Your incorrigible idealist and altruist”. Unlike many others, Konstantinov did not pretend.

The writer may have been an “incorrigible idealist”, but he was not an inactive one. On his appeal, several hundred Bulgarians walked all the way up Mt Cherni Vrah in Vitosha in August 1895. This was the first organised tourist trek in Bulgaria. In fact, it was the funny anecdotes that Konstantinov and his friends were telling during such outings that gave rise to the first stories about Bay Ganyo.

Bay Ganyo was actually modelled on a real person. His prototype, Ganyo Somov, was an attar of rose merchant from the village of Enina near Kazanlak. The fictional counterpart had a short debut in Konstantinov's travel notes To Chicago and Back about the author's visit to the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893.

Soon afterwards he published the famous satirical short stories in a collection entitled Bay Ganyo Goes to Europe. The first ones have a comical side, born out of the presumptuous Bulgarian's encounter with the cultures of Budapest, Prague, Vienna and Dresden that were obviously beyond him to appreciate. One of the most remarkable incidents happens in a Viennese public baths. For nearly half an hour Bay Ganyo looks for a nail on the wall to hang up his treasure, the bag with phials of attar of roses. Th en he stands naked on the edge of the pool, beats his hairy chest King Kong style, yells out “Bulgar! Bulgar!” and jumps in amongst the flabbergasted Viennese with a splash.

In the second part of the book Bay Ganyo returns to Bulgaria and his character takes on a sinister aura. “You will kiss one hand,” Bay Ganyo says, “and I will kiss both hands; you will kiss the knees and I will kiss the feet; you will kiss a special place and I will kiss an even more special place.”
Repulsive as he may be, Bay Ganyo is extremely long-lived. Having started his life as an embodiment of the muddled times when the Bulgarian bourgeoisie appeared, he flourishes under Communism. He easily adapts and becomes known as Engineer Ganev or Engineer Balkanski, the hero of a succession of jokes. His new reincarnation feels comfortable in the Communist society and grabs every opportunity to enrich himself. Engineer Ganev is not interested in imaginary concepts such as “freedom” or “democracy”. He steals whenever he can, following the principle that “what belongs to the state belongs to everybody”, meaning himself, and even manages to travel a bit.

Like his predecessor, he is not a success in the world. When he went to Paris, as a tall tale goes, Engineer Ganev came across Alain Delon in a café. “Mr Delon, I am your great admirer. Could I ask you a favour?” “Yes, of course,” Delon replied. “I'll go out and come back in a minute with a lady,” the engineer said. “Could you stand up then and say hello to me using my name.” As the lady walked in, Delon stood up and said: “Hello, Engineer Ganev!” Ganev gave him a cold look and said to the woman in a loud voice: “Alain Delon! Big deal! Who does he think he is?!” Then he left.

The Bulgarians are well aware that they can never escape Bay Ganyo. So, even though they do not like him, they have to deal with him. Several years ago the citizens of Kazanlak decided to put up a monument to the literary character. Bulgarian students in Mannheim have called their web page They say that the name challenges them to fight with their innerselves and preserves love for their homeland at the same time. And in Berlin, there is a restaurant called Bay Ganyo.

Bay Ganyo enjoys being part of the global village. A web site for doll collectors is called Its author has justified the choice of name by saying that Bai Ganio[sic] is quirky and funny, with endless optimism and a quick mind, unfortunately not always working for the improvement of mankind. A sort of adult Dennis the Menace transported to a very different country.

Apparently, even if they want to, the Bulgarians can't get away from Bay Ganyo, who represents their national character so well.

You should be very careful, however, when laughing at Bay Ganyo. He can be particularly vindictive. On 11 May 1897, while travelling in a horse drawn carriage, Aleko Konstantinov was shot and killed in an ambush near the village of Radilovo. Historians believe that the real target was the other man in the carriage, politician Mihail Takev, but rumours claim that Konstantinov was assassinated by his own fictional creation, Bay Ganyo. Iliya Beshkov's cartoon “Bay Ganyo killing his author” is still one of the most popular portraits of the writer and his character.

Ironically, some time earlier, when asked about the happiest day in his life, Aleko Konstantinov had answered: “When I had the idea to create Bay Ganyo.”

Bay Ganyo International

Many other European countries have their own versions of Bay Ganyo. Two come to mind immediately: Britain, with its collective image of the stage-Irishman; and Denmark, with “A Fugitive Retraces His Steps,” the 1933 masterpiece of an excellent (and little known outside Scandinavia) author Axel Sandemose. One can safely assume that Sandemose had read Aleko Konstantinov as his description of Janteloven is an almost verbatim rendition of Bay Ganyo's weltanschauung.

• You shouldn't think you're anything special
• You shouldn't think you're as much as us
• You shouldn't think you're smarter than us
• You shouldn't think you're better than us
• You shouldn't think you know more than us
• You shouldn't think you are more than us
• You shouldn't think you're any good
• You shouldn't laugh at us
• You shouldn't think anybody likes you
• You shouldn't think you can teach us anything


Bay Ganyo has been the character of thousands of jokes, most of which are really not for the very squeamish

The Bulgarian Way of ****-ing

Bay Ganyo and a German had a contest to see who could build the best outside toilet. The German created a lovely, fully-furnished shit
house, while Bay Ganyo slapped together a tumble-down shitter. Bay Ganyo went to use the German's loo and the German used Bay Ganyo's.

In the German's WC everything went smoothly, but in Bay Ganyo's there were a few glitches: the German started taking a crap; after he finished doing his business, a breeze started to blow and a scrap of paper floated down to him.

“Wow, it's automated!” the German said to himself.

After he went out, the wind picked up again and blew the door shut.

“Wow, it is automated!” the German said to himself again. He had taken a few steps when a strong wind blew and the ramshackle WC caved in. The German exclaimed in wonder: “Well, what do you know?! The toilet is even collapsible!”

Royal Saviour

Bay Ganyo was sailing on a ship with the English queen. Suddenly the passengers heard loud cries for help coming from the water: as the English queen gazed over the railing on deck, she had fallen into the sea!

All of a sudden they heard a second body hitting the water - “splash!” It was none other than Bay Ganyo.

Bay Ganyo rescued the English queen. Curious reporters surrounded him and asked: “Hey, Bay Ganyo, you're so brave! How did you find the courage to jump into the water and save the English queen?”

Bay Ganyo replied, “Yeah, I may be brave alright, but just wait ‘til I get my hands on the guy who pushed me!”

Sizing Up

Bay Ganyo, a Frenchman and an African were having drinks in a bar. The African said:

“I bought myself an apple… and it was so big that when I got home and put it on the table, the table collapsed.”

Not to be outdone, the Frenchman replied: “That's nothing. When I bought an apple, it was so huge that when I put it on the scales, they broke.”

Bay Ganyo said: “That's nothing. I bought an apple and when I put it into my cart, it collapsed and a worm came out of the apple and ate
my donkey.”

In a Hurry

Bay Ganyo was in Italy and he desperately needed to take a shit. He found the toilet at the train station and knocked on the door of the first stall. From inside he heard, “Momento!”

He knocked on the second door: “Momento!”

And the third: “Momento!”

Irate, Bay Ganyo yelled, “Momento, momento, but I'm gonna do a dump on the cemento!”


Once there was a contest for the best safe-cracker. The contestants were an American, a German and Bay Ganyo.

The rules were as follows: the lights would go out for a minute, during which time the contestants had to open the safe and take the money.

The American went first. The lights went out. When they came back on after a minute, he was still trying to open the safe.

The German went next. The lights went out, and when they came back on, he was just grabbing the cash.

Finally it was Bay Ganyo's turn. The lights went out, and after a minute the judges tried to turn them back on, but they wouldn't work.

Suddenly a voice shouted from the darkness: “Hey, Ganyo, you just stole 100 million bucks! What the hell do you need that light bulb for?”

Public Attitudes

Bay Ganyo, an American and a Frenchman were flying on a plane. The American stuck his hand out of the plane and said, “We're in America.”

“How can you tell?” the others asked.

“I just touched the Statue of Liberty.”

After a while the Frenchman stuck his hand out and said, “We're in France.”

“How do you know?”

“I just touched the Eiffel Tower,” he answered.

Finally Bay Ganyo stuck his hand out and said, “We're in Bulgaria.”

The others asked him how he knew.

“They stole my watch,” he replied.

A Question of Loyalty

In a training camp for secret agents, only an American, a Frenchman and Bay Ganyo managed to make it to the final round. In the last test they had to prove their loyalty to the secret service. The instructors gave the American a gun and pointed to a room, saying: “You'll find your wife in this room. To prove your loyalty and show that you'll never hesitate in your mission, you have to shoot her.”

He went into the room, stayed there for about 10 or 15 minutes, then came out very upset, saying, “I can't kill her. I've lived with that woman for 20 years, I can't do it!”

He failed the test, so they sent him back home.

Then they called the Frenchman and told him, “In this room, you'll find your wife. To prove your loyalty and show that you'll never hesitate in your mission, you have to shoot her.”

The Frenchman went into the room, stayed there for about 10 or 15 minutes, then came out very upset, saying, “I just can't kill her. I've lived with that woman for 20 years, I love her!”

So he failed the test, too.

Finally they called in Bay Ganyo, gave him a gun and showed him a room, saying: “In this room, you'll find your wife. To prove your loyalty and show that you'll never hesitate in your mission, you have to shoot her.”

Bay Ganyo went into the room. The door had barely closed before they heard: “Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Boom! Boom! Boom!”

Bay Ganyo came out of the room enraged and yelled, “You bastards! You gave me blanks so I had to finish her off with the footstool!”

High Tech

Bay Ganyo went to visit a friend in Japan. Just as he knocked on the door, something hit him on the head and he fell into a coma. When he woke up, he saw his Japanese friend and asked what had happened. He replied, “Nothing special, just a little Japanese technology - karate!”

The next year, the Japanese guy came to visit Bay Ganyo in Bulgaria. As he was walking up to the door, something hit him hard on the head and he fell into a coma. When he woke up, he saw Bay Ganyo and asked what had happened. Bay Ganyo replied with a smile, “Just a little Japanese technology - the axis of a Toyota!”


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