Anyone familiar with the Communist-era signs produced to instruct Bulgarian citizens and villagers to keep their surroundings clean and to tell on anyone caught in the act of not doing so might have thought nothing could surpass their stupidity.
Think again! Communism with the highly ritualised rules for social behaviour its omniscient apparatchiks generated may be no more, but the system that followed it, referred by Bulgarians as the ongoing Transition, failed to change the way the former apparatchiks, many of them now businessmen and entrepreneurs, thought.
However, there are important differences now compared to pre-1989. In Bulgaria's democracy, it is private enterprise rather than the government that is the chief generator of signs. Unsurprisingly, its attitude to proper spelling and grammar is rather laissez-faire, just like in the economy. The strict rules for walking on pavements, taking a bath once a week and chewing your food in a factory canteen (see here an extensive selection) have succumbed to informing prospective shoplifters that their bags will be checked for things they may have bought elsewhere and to wishing night-time underwear thieves... less than pleasant lunches.
It is of course silly to generalise and try to draw conclusions about a nation's public attitudes by reading the sort of signs it produces, but the current state of signage affairs in Bulgaria do tell something about the people who write them – and about those who are supposed to read them.
Enjoy, therefore, but do add plenty of Balkan salt!
Your standard signage
In a Strandzha village
YOU ARE NOW ENTERING THE EU
Beware of low-flying men
SHOE REPAIRS: NEW LIFE FOR YOUR SHOES
Yogas are banned from blowing trumpets?
NO VACANCIES (next to an obituary)
UNINVITED ENTRY IS BANNED!
I SUPPLY PEN MANURE
TODOR ZHIVKOV SQUARE
Bulgaria is the only former Warsaw Pact country in Europe that proudly displays affection for its Communist leader
LICKING WITH DOGS
NO PARKING. GARAGE
WE SPEAK FRENCH.
TRIPE SOUP, GRILL, CASSEROLES
PEDERASTS, OLIGOPHRENES, ABORIGINES AND KLEPTOMANIACS, GOD DELAYS BUT DOES NOT FORGET
TOILET HAS ALREADY STARTED WORKING
WORKING TIME: MONDAYS
AND THURSDAYS FROM 9AM
John Lennon lives here?
GREENGROCERY STAND, METROPOLITAN YABLANITSA AREA. THIN PRICES FOR THE POPULATION, THE ROMA AND THE PEOPLE FROM SOFIA
ATTENTION! FALLING BRICKS,
GO TO THE OTHER SIDE
Guess! (Veliko Tarnovo sign)
Guess what they meant!
THE BUTTONS WORKSHOP WILL NOT BE OPEN UNTIL THE MONTH OF APRIL
WELCOME TO RESEN
THE TOLSTOYIST COLONY HAS BEEN WAITING FOR YOU FOR 100 YEARS. WILL YOU MISS IT NOW?
KOTSO, WE ARE GOING TO GET FIREWOOD AND BEER
NOT WASHING WATER
(main road in the village of Jerusalem)
NO SWIMMING! (Sofia City Council water fountain signs in 2009)
Clockwise, from top left: ATTENTION! ESTEEMED CUSTOMERS, DECLARED GOODS BOUGHT ELSEWHERE AND TAKEN INTO THIS SHOP WILL BE PAID FOR!; DEAR CUSTOMERS! PERSONAL BELONGINGS AND LADY'S PURSES, BROUGHT INTO THE COMMERCIAL HALL, WILL BE INSPECTED AT THE CASHIERS!; HYPERMARKET FANTASTICO: ROUND THE CLOCK; ATTENTION! ESTEEMED CUSTOMERS, WE INFORM YOU THAT THE SHOP IS DIRECTLY CONNECTED TO A SECURITY AGENCY. THE PERSONS CAUGHT STEALING WILL BE DELIVERED TO THE POLICE PATROL WITHIN FIVE MINUTES!; ATTENTION! ALCOHOL AND CIGARETTES WILL NOT BE SOLD TO PERSONS UNDER 18!; RESPECTED CUSTOMERS, BEER BOTTLES WILL BE ACCEPTED ONLY WHEN BUYING NEW BEER; THE SHOP IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR LOST OR VANISHED BELONGINGS; ESTEEMED CUSTOMERS, SHOPPING USING BASKETS OR TROLLEYS IS MANDATORY!; ATTENTION! PLEASE KEEP YOUR INVOICES UNTIL YOU EXIT THIS SITE
EN – EXI
STYLE'99 SHOES AND BAGS
In case of emergency... This sign, written not in any known language, is in a hotel in southwestern Bulgaria. It is supposed to read "fire."
EVANGELICAL PENTECOSTAL CHURCH; THU 4PM, SUN 10AM
TITS YOU CAN FIND ALL OVER THE BEACH. PIZZAS ONLY HERE
WE ARE LOOKING FOR A FEMALE SHOP ASSISTANT. MUST BE EXPERIENCED. WE OFFER GOOD CONDITIONS
One for every month?
End of Mexico?
WE ARE ASKING YOU POLITELY, PLEASE COME TO US AND HELP US SAVE FOR A MERCEDES. IT IS WARM INSIDE, TO BEAT THE CRISIS. WE KNOW WHAT GOOD FOODS MEANS. QUICK SPECIALITY: COLD KEBAPCHETA AND WARM BEER. BEANS FOR TOURISTS. YOU MAY BE MAKING A LOSS, BUT IT IS IMPORTANT TO STAY IN BUSINESS
You've been warned
TOILET FOR WOMEN.
DO NOT BUY FROM GYPSIES!
SOFIA CITY LIBRARY.
THE ELEVATOR WORKS MONDAY TO FRIDAY 8.00AM TO 7.45PM, AND SATURDAY FROM 9.00AM TO 2.45PM
NO OTHER PERSON DO I RELATE TO THIS PLACE LIKE YOU, ENGLISHMAN! GLORY TO YOUR THICK CIGAR!
Protecting EU's borders
1. VISITORS MAY NOT SPEND THE NIGHT IN THE MONASTERY.
2. IT IS STRICTLY FORBIDDEN TO GET FOOD FROM THE CANTEEN WITHOUT PAYING FOR IT.
3. IT IS STRICTLY FORBIDDEN TO DRINK ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES IN THE MONASTERY BUILDINGS.
4. GAMES, SONGS AND GENERALLY NOISY FUN IS BANNED.
5. EATING EVEN YOUR OWN FOOD CAN BE DONE ONLY AT LOCATIONS DETERMINED BY MANAGEMENT.
6. DEMAND A RECEIPT FOR ANY SUM PAID, EVEN THE SMALLEST.
FROM THE HOLY DIOCESE
Familiarise yourself with your local train timetable
THE SWIMMING POOL IS NOT
WORKING. BATHING FORBIDDEN!!!
SHALOM EVANGELICAL CHURCH OF CHRIST
FOR ICE-CREAM, PLEASE RING THE BELL!
DEAR SPECTATORS, PLEASE DO NOT THROW HAND PAPER INTO THE TOILET BOWLS
THE RUCKSACKS MOVED TO A NEW ADDRESS
FUR COATS, JACKETS AND FOX BOAS REPAIRS
DEAR CUSTOMERS, REGARDLESS OF YOUR INITIAL AIMS AND THE ACCOMPLISHED RESULTS, PLEASE FLUSH THE WATER! IF THE RESULTS EXCEED YOUR EXPECTATION, USE THE BRUSH!
MARIA DAFOVA, FOLK MEDICINE, CLAIRVOYANCE, DIAGNOSTICS. TREATS NIGHT WETTING, SPINAL DISC HERNIATION, PLEXOPATHY, EXOSTOSES, PSORIASIS, GLAUCOMA, PARANOIA, ANSWERS ALL QUESTIONS, POSSIBLE TO WORK FROM PHOTOGRAPH. ALSO SLIPPED DISC AND BLADDER INFECTIONS
MINISTRY OF FINANCE.
PLEASE, USE THE STAFF ENTRANCE
UNDERWEAR FOR DAYTIME AND NIGHT-TIME... FOR LADIES, MEN AND CHILDREN, AND WARM SLIPPERS WHILE YOU MUNCH CHIPS
100 NATIONAL TOURISM SITES STAMPS WILL BE GIVEN ONLY AFTER VISITING THE ETHNOGRAPHY MUSEUM! GUIDES
NO ENTRY FOR NATURISTS!
The Bulgarian version says: "THE LINK TO SERDICA METRO STATION IS OPEN"
RECONSTRUCTION OF A PUBLIC TOILET. DEVELOPMENT OF BULGARIAN TOURISM
TO WHOEVER SNEAKS AT NIGHT AND STEALS OTHER PEOPLE'S UNDERWEAR. THEY STOLE MY PANTS, WHAT DISGRACE. FOR THE HUMILIATING THIEF: A HELPING OF MANURE
PLACE FOR ACCESS FOR DOGS
DAY OF WATERMELONS
MILITARY AREA. NO TRESPASSING
ENTRY ONLY TO OFFICIAL PERSONS
TO THE PRISON
You may be able to read, but you won't be able to understand. (Sing says "CUSTOMS")
CLEOPATRA CHINESE RESTAURANT WITH BULGARIAN CUISINE
ATTENTION!!! THERE ARE NO CHANGE BUREAUX, BANK SAFES OR ANY BANKING INSTITUTIONS IN THIS BUILDING! THIS BUILDING HAS THREE EXITS! YOU COULD BE THE VICTIM OF A SCAM! YOU COULD BE THE VICTIM OF A SCAM!
DO NOT STEAL THE LETTERS!
DEAR CUSTOMERS! PLEASE EXCUSE US FOR THE LIMITED KITCHEN OFFERS AND THE MEDIOCRE SERVICE! YOU KNOW THE REASONS: THE HUGE NATION-WIDE DEFICIT AND SHORTAGE OF QUALIFIED STAFF IN TOURISM AND RESTAURANTEURSHIP AND THE UTTER REFUSAL BY THE LOCAL POPULATION TO DO ANY WORK. WE THANK YOU IN ADVANCE FOR YOUR TOLERANCE!
DEAR DRIVERS! THE POTHOLES IN THIS ROAD ARE STATE PROPERTY. KEEP THEM!
BYALA SLATINA BUSINESS CENTRE.
ALL SMALL PACKETS FOR ABROAD WILL BE INSPECTED PRIOR TO THEIR BEING PACKED!!!
ATTENTION!!! INEBRIATED PERSONS WILL NOT BE ALLOWED INTO THE SWIMMING POOL!
POST OFFICE. LOTTO. ARDA.
CRACKING SEEDS IS ABSOLUTELY FORBIDDEN!