TELLTALE

by Richard Cherry; illustration by Ivan Kutuzov, Imeon-Balkani Foundation

30 warning signs that you are getting Bulgarianised

Ivan Kutuzov-Cherry.jpg

Hey, expat! You've been here a while? Prefer your chips with white cheese on? Ever found your foot tapping along to a chalga song? Concerned about the Balkanisation of your brain? It's time for you to consider!

You remember what it was like when you first came here? In the beginning, you were afraid to stick your head outside your hotel room for fear of getting lost in Sofia's concrete jungle of crooked pavements and scary Cyrillic characters. But now you think nothing of walking down dark alleys at 4am, because you know every little place you can get a drink or a pack of cigarettes. You feel just a touch of sadness to see big shiny new shopping malls sprouting everywhere, because to you it just doesn't seem right to have a Marks and Spencer just down the street.

Buddy, you're a little bit Balkanised already. Take a look at these 30 warning symptoms, and judge the extent of your Bulgarianness!

1. In a restaurant, you resent being automatically given the English version of the menu. You hand it back and ask for the Bulgarian (even though the prices are the same on both versions nowadays).

2. You stop halfway through a meal to smoke. You resume your meal after finishing the cigarette.

3. You consider any meal incomplete without a slice of bread. Or without a rakiya as a starter.

4. You begin to suspect that there might be something to the myth that draughts can be hazardous.

5. You feel jealous of real Bulgarians who have grandmothers sending jars of peaches, homemade fig jam, and other yummy goodies from their villages.

6. You resent foreigners buying up real estate, because there'll be nothing left for the Bulgarians; while managing to forget the fact that you're also a foreigner trying to buy real estate here.

7. You start pretending that the local plonk is good.

8. Doing the housework, you find yourself humming the chorus of a chalga song. At parties, you can impress your Bulgarian friends by singing a few bars of Bulgaria's unofficial national anthem, Moya strana. And, on reflection, you are compelled to admit that Azis has a great voice.

9. You start writing the number seven with a little crossbar on it, so it looks less
confusingly like the number one.

10. It takes you one hour to eat a salad. And if uou get a salad in which the red peppers are unpeeled, you send it back.

11. You get annoyed when you overhear a foreigner saying he can't tell the difference between lyutenitsa and ketchup. And speaking of lyutenitsa, you're disappointed when you go to the supermarket and they don't have your preferred brand.

12. You no longer worry about getting ripped off by taxi drivers because you know Sofia like the back of your hand. And if the guy tries to take you the long way round, you know enough Bulgarian to be able to hurl abuse at him.

13. You prefer drinking warm water on a cool day. And you're not surprised when the waitress asks you whether you want warm or cold water.

14. You don't bother waiting for people to get off the tram before you try to get on.

15. You either unconsciously, or quite deliberately, adopt the habit of shaking your head to indicate "yes".

16. You look at a page of handwritten Bulgarian and can understand more than three words (well done: this is a major achievement).

17. You don't bother recycling stuff anymore.

18. You stop thinking everything in Bulgaria is really inexpensive.

19. You start thinking that a sleeveless T-shirt, perhaps decorated with the Union Jack, may be a good way to show off your hairy, masculine arms.

20. You can name more than two Bulgarian politicians.

21. You're not sure whether you support Levski or CSKA, but you know you're going have to decide sometime in the near future.

22. You walk down Vitosha Boulevard just for the hell of it, and not because you want to buy something. That's because you know you can get less expensive stuff down at Pirotska. Oh, and you no longer come home from a walk down Vitosha with a stiff neck from gawping at all the smokin' babes on the street. You don't notice them so much anymore.

23. You say ciao ciao when you mean "goodbye".

24. You regularly download Hollywood movies (which have Cyrillic subtitles) from a secret little website you know.

25. You often eat things you would've found odd a few years back. You can happily sit down and eat an entire tub of unflavoured yoghurt as a mid-afternoon snack. A one kilo bag of walnuts, or sunflower seeds, is your idea of a satisfying picnic lunch in the park. You eat tripe soup to alleviate hangovers. And you realise you spent many years of your life underrating the cucumber.

26. Walking on "the mountain" has become your number one weekend leisure activity. While hiking, you pluck berries and plants to make tea. Like a bloody hippie!

27. You begin to feel that coffee from vending machines is delicious, in its own way.

28. You feel a little ashamed of the way you were afraid to drink the local tap water when you first arrived: now you drink nothing but "eau de tap" on principle.

29. You have devised a specific route to work which allows you to avoid the more difficult obstacles; such as nasty holes in the pavement, badly parked cars, and the meaner street dogs.

30. When you get behind the wheel of a car, something Neanderthal emerges within you: the act of getting from "A to Я” becomes a test of your ability to frighten other motorists into submission by disregarding your safety and that of others.

So, how do you rate? More Bansko than Birmingham? More Pop Folk than Foreigner? Don’t worry. There’s little evidence to suggest that being Bulgarian is bad for your health (except, maybe, for the smoking like a chimney or driving like a maniac parts).

If you’re still concerned, though, you could try what I call “UK re-immersion therapy”. Lock yourself in your flat for a fortnight. Telly and radio tuned to BBC World constantly. Read nothing but Pelham Grenville Wodehouse novels. If you must listen to music, make it the Spice Girls. Oh, and you’ll need to eat something: so go out beforehand and buy a few dozen tins of baked beans. That’s it: these two weeks of intensive Britishness should just about completely cure you of your tendency to think like a Bulgarian.

Still can’t get that damn chalga song out of my mind, though.

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