DÉJÀ VU

by Christopher Buxton

Communist-style surly service is de rigeur even in private Bulgarian banks, even in 2008

Rejoice all you oldies who pine for the atmosphere of Communist Bulgaria. It is alive and well (despite a few cosmetic alterations) in a now private, formerly stated-owned, bank in Burgas. There is no need to sit at home dabbing Kleenex to the eye as you watch your seventh re-run of Goodbye Lenin. Hurry on down to re-experience the thrill of being put in your proper place.

Brey! (A Bulgarian village expression of wonderment.) What have they done to our bank? Connoisseurs of Communist interior design will be horrified to learn it has been modernised. Where is the dingy beige marble? Where are the dusty central tables for filling out endless forms? Where is the low all-enclosing semicircular counter and multitude of dirty glass windows that used to separate you from the clerks? Where are the inscrutable notices by each window promising such a bewildering variety of services that you inevitably joined the wrong queue - thus improving your chances of meeting lots of new people? And most sadly, where are the shuttered holes in the window panes through which you were privileged to speak and gain invaluable exercise while craning your neck and bending your back?

Gone!

My fingers twitch. Should I write a letter to Ataka, complaining about this latest evidence of Europe's insidious corruption of Bulgarian values? But there is not even a table at which I could write.

Ts! Ts! Ts! (A Bulgarian pensioner's expression of disapproval.) What have they done? They've removed the Berlin wall of tight little windows. The floor has a carpet. The walls have a fresh lick of paint. The whole place is flooded with light and the clerks now sit fully visible and apparently unprotected behind an open counter. There is even a notice in green addressing us no longer as citizens but as esteemed clients.

But as any lover of Bulgaria will tell you, appearances can be deceptive. As we wonder to which clerk we should address our enquiries, a self-important ex-militsiya man directs us to the back of a queue. Waiting clients jostle between two central pillars and behind an invisible line that leaves half the bank floor free for our conductor to march up and down as if he were on parade.

On one pillar a notice is posted advising us that the queue is for Complex Transactions. My enquiry about a possibly shorter queue for Simple Transactions is met by an angry frown. Ahead, beyond the parade ground, six clerks sit behind the counter, with signs advertising readiness to deal with "complex transaction." However, only two of them seem to be working with clients. The others are either counting money or watching the others count money. They all avoid eye contact with members of the increasingly restless queue.

Ooorah! (A Bulgarian expression of joy.) At last, on the far left a client has completed her business and the woman at the head of the queue steps forward to take her place. However, in the militarised zone between the pillar and the counter, the patrol forcibly stops her, grabbing her by the shoulder. The indignation is all one sided. No one is allowed to move from behind the invisible line without the direct permission of our ex-militsiya man. Her mild protests are stifled. So easily do we shift back into compliance!

As she is returned to the head of the queue, a new arrival goes straight to the available clerk. It becomes evident that there are two kinds of complex transactions - one for important business people and one for esteemed clients like us. So for the time being there is only one clerk available for a queue of by now 12 people.

This does cause some comment in the queue as mathematicians work out what 12 times five minutes comes to. But our man in power will tolerate no satire. The bank deserves the respect due to a church. Irreverent whispering must cease. Silence is appropriate. I wonder when he will get around to measuring our hair and skirt lengths.

What is deeply reassuring for those nostalgic for the good old days is how patiently, how unquestioningly people in the queue accept all this. As the late lamented leader Todor Zhivkov might have said, "Wasn't there wine? Wasn't there laughter? Wasn't there patience?"

  • COMMENTING RULES

    Commenting on www.vagabond.bg

    Vagabond Media Ltd requires you to submit a valid email to comment on www.vagabond.bg to secure that you are not a bot or a spammer. Learn more on how the company manages your personal information on our Privacy Policy. By filling the comment form you declare that you will not use www.vagabond.bg for the purpose of violating the laws of the Republic of Bulgaria. When commenting on www.vagabond.bg please observe some simple rules. You must avoid sexually explicit language and racist, vulgar, religiously intolerant or obscene comments aiming to insult Vagabond Media Ltd, other companies, countries, nationalities, confessions or authors of postings and/or other comments. Do not post spam. Write in English. Unsolicited commercial messages, obscene postings and personal attacks will be removed without notice. The comments will be moderated and may take some time to appear on www.vagabond.bg.

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.

Discover More

THE VELCHOVA ZAVERA HIKE
Еvery April, since 2020, hundreds of young Bulgarians gather in Veliko Tarnovo and embark on a meaningful journey, retracing the steps of a daring rebellion that took place in the town and its surroundings, in 1835.

LES FRANÇAIS EN BULGARIE
Before English took over in Bulgaria, in the 1990s, mastering French was obligatory for the local elite and those who aspired to join it.

BULGARIA'S NEW 'PATRIOTISM'
In the summer of 2023, one of the news items that preoccupied Bulgarians for weeks on end was a... banner.

WHAT WAS THE SEPTEMBER UPRISING?
Raised hands, bodies frozen in a pathos of tragic defiance: Bulgaria, especially its northwest, is littered with monuments to an event that was once glorified but is now mostly forgotten.

WHO WAS RENÉ CHARRON?
Not all people who make a big difference in history, or attempt to make one, are ahead of great governments or armies.

REARVIEW MIRROR OF BULGARIA AND AMERICA
When John Jackson became the first US diplomat in Bulgaria, in 1903, the two nations had known each other for about a century.

200 VAGABONDS
When the first issue of Vagabond hit the newsstands, in September 2006, the world and Bulgaria were so different that today it seems as though they were in another geological era.

LAPSE OF TIME
Sofia, with its numerous parks, is not short of monuments and statues referring to the country's rich history. In the Borisova Garden park for example, busts of freedom fighters, politicians and artists practically line up the alleys.

WHY DOES 'SORRY' SEEM TO BE THE HARDEST WORD?
About 30 Bulgarians of various occupations, political opinion and public standing went to the city of Kavala in northern Greece, in March, to take part in a simple yet moving ceremony to mark the demolition of the Jewish community of northern Greece, which

BULGARIA'S LAST MONARCH
On 3 October 1918, Bulgarians felt anxious. The country had just emerged from three wars it had fought for "national unification" – meaning, in plain language, incorporating Macedonia and Aegean Thrace into the Bulgarian kingdom.

WHO WAS ALEKO KONSTANTINOV?
In Vagabond we sometimes write about people whose activities or inactivity have shaped Bulgaria's past and present. Most of these are politicians or revolutionaries.

RUSSIA BRINGS ON... VANGA
The future does not look bright according to Vanga, the notorious blind clairvoyant who died in 1996 but is still being a darling of tabloids internationally, especially in Russia.