Bulgaria - Travels with Matyoo

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By Matthew Wahlgren (digsys250-168.pip.digsys.bg - on Friday, April 01, 2005 - 3:40 am: Edit Post

Travels with Matyoo

Below is an excerpt from Travels with Matyoo

Introduction to the Opposites

Living in Bulgaria I often wonder if I have entered another dimension. On the surface things seem pretty much the same as in the United States, but once you delve in you find some very striking opposites. I sometimes feel like Alice in wonderland, but instead of chasing a white rabbit a rabid dog is chasing me. Run with me and catch a glimpse of a remarkable and interesting land.

Go to any Cafe in Bulgaria and order a mug of coffee. I can tell without any uncertainty that the server will bring it to you in a teacup. Now, order a cup of tea. Guess what? It’s served in a coffee mug. In Bulgaria they don’t drink coffee like in the United States. Here when you ask for coffee you get espresso. One morning I sat down with a couple of volunteers who at the moment craved American style coffee in a big coffee mug. I watched them stumble with their adolescent Bulgarian language skills trying to explain that they wanted “watered down coffee in a big teacup.” The waitress looked as if she had just fallen into a large rabbit hole.

One of hardest opposites to absorb involves body language. When Bulgarians say, “Yes”, they shake their head from side to side. When they say, “No”, they nod their head up and down. This obviously inversely differs to how Americans use the same movements of the head when responding, yes or no.

When I first moved to the beautiful country of Bulgaria the first place I wanted to visit was … of course… the Internet cafe. Once I found the place I was looking for I walked in and motioned to the computer in front of me, indicating that I would like to use it. The man shook his head no. Even though people warned me about the opposite head-shaking thing, it did not compute. So, I asked, “Can I use that computer over there then.” Again the man shook his head no. I eventually grasped the miscommunication and sat down at the spot right in front of me, realizing that I had entered a land of confusion. I must admit, I too have learned how to shake my head no while saying yes. The hard part now is when I meet a Bulgarian that understands this cultural difference and tries to compensate for it by shaking his head in line with the way we do in America. I sometimes feel like reaching over and holding their heads still when they answer a yes or no question of mine. I am sure they think the same thing when I respond to one of their questions.

One of the things I love best about Bulgaria is the dirt-cheap prices. You can get a fancy meal at McDonald’s prices. In fact McDonald’s is one of the finest meals you can buy in Bulgaria. When I say finest I mean expensive, as the quality is no greater than that in the United States. I visited a McDonalds in the capital city of Sofia that had a grand staircase, fine dining furniture, and even a cozy fire place. No, there were no chairs or tables fastened to the floor at this fast-food chain. Who could ever imagine a McDonalds such as this?

There are other opposites! For example, what is considered politically correct in Bulgaria is opposite of that in the United States. People originating from Africa should never be called “black”. Instead, the word “Negro” is often used. To turn a light on in a room the switch is flicked down not up. A shot of Rakiya or any other hard alcohol is always sipped and never downed. At restaurants drinks are often displayed in the front of the menu, not the back.

The opposites don’t end here! Bulgarian weddings include a lot of celebration and can often last several days. When a man finally slips the ring on his brides finger he slips it on her right hand, not left. The "other week" means next week, not last. Cars are parked on the sidewalk and people often walk in the middle of the street. Men wear capri's and hair bands.

I am sure I will encounter many more interesting opposites throughout my two-year stay. And wherever I go in Bulgaria, I will introduce Bulgarians to my odd and sometimes funny opposites as well.

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