I'm a great believer in the ancient wisdom: "Just love women. Don't try to understand them!" And that, I've found, goes double for Bulgarian women. But in the Vagabond tradition of courageous and insightful journalism, here goes.
I first experienced the charms of "The Bulgarian Woman" from 15,000 kilometres away. Here's what happened...
When I was given the opportunity, I had a hard time deciding whether or not to move to Bulgaria. What I knew about this country, before actually moving here, would have filled the back of a postage stamp.
So I scoured the Internet for information. Especially pictures. Pictures say so much, don't they? Open "image search". Question: How do people in Sofia live? Answer. Row upon row of big old apartment blocks. Hmmm. Question: What do Bulgarians eat? Answer. Cucumbers and tomatoes with grated cheese on top. Right. Question: What do Bulgarian women look like?
I can still clearly remember the day I opened the Miss Bulgaria website to find the answer to that question. Of course, you open up the Miss (insert name of any country here) website and you'll find good-looking girls. But there was one... a special one... it was, I recall, Miss Montana. Wow! I knew immediately that here was a woman I could willingly, nay, happily, lay down my life for.
Well alright, perhaps I exaggerate. But I did think "Sweetheart, if there's a few more at home like you, put the kettle on. I'm coming over". And I did.
Of course, actually stepping off the plane, I feared that Miss Montana might have been an aberration and that Bulgarian women would turn out to be moustachioed weight-lifter types after all. But I needn't have worried. Bulgaria is just chock-full of gorgeous chicks. Hurray!
Now don't get me wrong. Like anywhere, not every girl you look at is an oil-painting. But BG just seems to have more than its fair share of what the British would call top totty. What an American would call hot chicks. Or what an Australian would call great-looking Sheilas.
Just why, I couldn't tell you. Something in the water, perhaps. Bacterium Bulgaricus. Or, more likely, the product of millennia of genetic mingling at the very crossroads of East and West.
Bulgarian women dress to optimise their womanly goodies. It can in fact be a little daunting for the foreign man first setting foot on Bulgarian soil, confronted with an ocean of hips and heels, bellybuttons and boob-tubes. Looking around at those swivelling, swaying, perky, curvy bits, you could be tempted to think "Blimey, that's a bit much. Put those away, love". But then it's remarkable how quickly the eye becomes accustomed to the seething mass of Bulgarian eye-candy around you. And then you go for a week back home in Middlesbrough and you're dismayed to see what a load of heifers the hometown talent consists of.
While your expat bloke cheerfully zig-zags down Vitosha Boulevard rubbernecking at the local ladies, Bulgarian men seem not so easily distracted. Maybe they're desensitised. Kids here grow up on chalga (BG pop) videos, after all. Have you seen them? Miaow. They're unofficial, televised "sexy education" for BG boys and girls. So, fellas, you're here for a while and you fancy snaring a Bulgarian girlfriend? There are a few things you should know...
BG girls, as a general rule, don't drink. But conveniently, they seem prepared to accept that you, as a man, do. Same goes for other manly pursuits like football, and food. You wonder how BG ladies keep those trim figures? Well, buddy, it isn't by throwing down loads of banitsa and tripe soup every day, that's for sure!
BG women eat like birds; or more accurately, rabbits. Take one out for dinner and she'll politely peck her way through half a small bowl of lettuce over the course of two hours. Don't worry. She had a huge lunch. At least two or three of those little pretzel-stick things. One thing you should bear in mind is that those babes you've been trying to make meaningful eye contact with in the nightclub are probably either too young for you, or married. People get hitched pretty young here, and there's a reason. BG blokes are, from boyhood, spared the ignominy of domestic duties such as cooking and cleaning.
This preserves their sense of machismo for a lifetime, but also tends to make them a tiny bit dependent on women for such tedious day-to-day necessities as eating, and wearing clean clothes. So when the canny young BG man is ready to move out of mum and dad's, he doesn't waste any time latching onto a good little homemaker, and... presto!
No single birds left for you, I'm afraid.
And even if you are fortunate enough to snag one of these Balkan goddesses, inevitably the dreaded "cultural difference" will take a bite at you sooner or later. You can forget reminiscing about the good old days. "Do you remember when a bag of Walkers cheese n'onion crisps cost only 10p?" ...Nope. And don't make her watch your collection of Monty Python DVDs, because she will fear for your mental health. Just as you will be completely baffled by her conviction that
Judas Priest make great music.
You may be accustomed to relationships like this: "I'm my own person. I have a life. You're your own person. You have a life. Sometimes I want to do things without you". No, no, no, no, no. Whatever you do, never tell your BG girlfriend that you're having a week's holiday without her. In a relationship with a BG girl, you'll discover that she expects you to play a role - just as she plays hers. While you might find her refreshingly willing to get busy in the kitchen, for example, remember that you have your part to play. The man is the one who gets things done; repairs the broken things, makes the hotel reservations, is decisive.
There's no doubt that the girl back home in Middlesbrough has a strong sense of individuality. But I say the Bulgarian girl has an elevated sense of femininity. That's what makes her simultaneously so sexy, and yet often so maddening, so damn precious.
Get in her bad books, and brother, you'll know about it. Maybe she won't say a word: you suffer the slow agony of the silent treatment. You know. Like being dumped in the middle of Antarctica.
But inevitably the clouds will part. And then the Bulgarian girl will come out to shine with all the warmth of the sun. "...hello, travel agency? I'd like to cancel my ticket to Middlesbrough..."