PASS THE REMOTE

by Richard Cherry

A bit of positive attitude helps settling down in Bulgaria

Clearly though, while the rehydration process is still underway, a bit of daytime telly is in order.

An uncharacteristic mood of cultural sensitivity seizes you, and you decide that this afternoon you will eschew the usual fare of BBC World, Cartoon Network, and Discovery Channel (dubbed into Russian). Today, you decide to watch some Bulgarian telly. Yeah! Connecting through culture, celebrating diversity and all that stuff. Get comfy with another cup of instant coffee.

Remote control in hand, become receptive...

Click.

It's a soap opera from South America, dubbed into Bulgarian. You wouldn't get interested in this even if you could understand what they're talking about. It's not even local product! ...Next.

Click.

Ah, this is more like it. You're looking at a nice, old Bulgarian monastery somewhere. Lovely. The kind of place you'd take your mum to. You're treated to views of flowers bobbing in a gentle breeze, courtyards of rustic, old-style houses, and smiling countrytypes churning yoghurt in wooden buckets. A silken commentary describes the historical significance of the places shown (as far as you can tell).

...Minutes tick by, slowly.

At some point you awake as if from a trance to find yourself admiring the carpentry on a particularly well-carved door frame. This isn't entertainment, it's hypnosis! Change channel.

Click.

Just for a second, you're confused. Isn't this the Nice Old Buildings Channel again? Oh, wait a minute. This is the musical version. What you've got here is the same charming scenery, but this time with the "diddly diddly" piano accordion accompaniment of traditional Bulgarian dances. Rosy-cheeked folk dressed in puffy "olden days" outfits skip about merrily in a circle. Strangely, the menfolk seem to be spinning hankies over their heads in what appears to be an almost fetishistic glee.

Some of the chicks are cute though, so you sit through about two and a half songs. Finally that incessant "diddly diddly" begins to grate.

Click.

Yeah, baby! Some well-endowed nymph wearing a skin-tight, pink rubber catsuit, unbuttoned to the navel, is lolling about by a swimming pool in the throes of sexual ecstasy. What is this, the soft porn channel? Nah. She's singing. It's the Chalga Channel, of course.

You've been here long enough to know that chalga is locally produced pop with an Eastern sound that foreigners find hard to relate to, with just a hint of the worst kind of Euro disco thrown in for (bad) taste.

The videos are sexy, anyway, if a bit on the unsubtle side. What's our girl doing now? Still lolling, but now on the bonnet of a sports car. Incongruously, there's a huge bloody snake in the car too. Now that's what I call some thought-provoking imagery. That girl is stacked, though. Are those real? Wait a second, I could look that good if I was wearing that much makeup...

Click.

What have we got here? Some frumpy old bird sitting at a desk. And that's everything, bar the startlingly amateurish backdrop painting, which depicts planets and comets...aha, this must be the Horoscope Channel. The lady in the chair dispenses mystic advice to phone-in callers.

Strangely, there are quite a number of phone-in TV progammes in Bulgaria. Real insomnia cure stuff. Why on earth do they put it on TV? Nothing happens! Where is the visual stimulus, people? Certainly the woman on the screen right now has got an excellent face for radio.

It dawns on you, guiltily, that you've had about enough of this sociological experiment after only 15 minutes. Isn't there something more useful you could be doing? Like washing the dishes? Or checking your email?

Or watching Cartoon Network?

Click.

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