misLEADING ADVICE No 2

by Hristo Kyosev; illustration by Gergana Shkodrova

For first-time visitors to Bulgaria*

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One Bulgarian Rose

Bulgaria's traffic police are the staunch and incorruptible guardians of law and order on the nation's roads. They would never dream of accepting money from any driver caught committing an infraction. The only way to appease these tough men is to keep a basket of flowers on the back seat, in order to present each of them with, for example, a rose whenever necessary.

***

Ersatz Souvenirs

The trade in counterfeit souvenirs is flourishing in Bulgaria. For example, when purchasing hand-made pottery, you can make sure you are buying the real thing by deliberately dropping a clay pot on the ground from a height of at least 30 cm. The real stuff should not break into pieces. Likewise, a doll in the traditional men's national costume should have a moustache and a red fez on his head; otherwise it is definitely a fake.

***

No Photography

Most Bulgarians are afraid of being photographed, due to an old superstition. They believe that the picture captures part of their soul, and that as a result their teeth could fall out. Before shooting a photo, never ask them to look into the camera or say "cheese," because this gets them very agitated. They would also really appreciate it if you would turn around three times and spit once over your left shoulder, before taking the picture.

***

Holy Food

Bulgarians hold their national drink, rakiya, in very high esteem. Drinking it is almost a religious ceremony, accompanied by certain rituals. When you're visiting a Bulgarian home and the host offers you the traditional domashna rakiya, or homemade brandy, served with salata, never forget to make the sign of the cross every time you take a sip of the rakiya or a bite of the salad.

***

Report Them!

Soon after arriving in Bulgaria, you'll see many small white posters around, each with a picture of a person on it, stuck on walls, attached to tree trunks, etc. These people are wanted by the police. Should you see someone who looks like a person on a nearby poster, tear the poster down and take it to the nearest policeman, while pointing frantically at the person.

***

Get a Discount

The prices at supermarket chains in Bulgaria, such as Billa or Metro, are not fixed. The cashiers are always pleased to engage in some friendly haggling. You can always get the best bargains or a bigger discount on the items you purchase if you brandish your foreign passport and show it to the manager.

***

Behave!

Tipping Bulgarian taxi drivers is considered extremely offensive. Do always ask for your exact change and by no means leave the cab before you get it; otherwise the driver will chase you several blocks to give you the due coins.

***

Sacred Dogs

You will be amazed at the number of stray dogs in the streets of Sofia and other Bulgarian towns. Make no mistake: these are sacred animals, protected by the law. Don't ever dare chase them away, since this will offend the locals. Always carry a bag of dog biscuits in your pocket, and try to be as friendly as you can to the sacred canines.

*Pleeease, exercise a modicum of common sense!

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