THE EXPAT STRIKES BACK

by Richard Cherry; illustration by Porumbita Mihaita, Romania

Tired of biting your tongue in awkward social situations?

Porumbita Mihaita- Romania copy.jpg

Bulgarians are very conservative at heart. They crave the quiet life. They don't want fuss. They don't like hassle. This attitude has many positive sides. In Bulgaria, respectable folk don't have to put up with mouthy teenagers on public transport, as in Britain. You can walk around after dark in relative safety. There are no brawls in the street at pub closing time. The dominant philosophy is “live and let live”. Touch wood.

The downside is that Bulgarians often don't take responsibility in a given situation - it's always someone else's problem. Bulgarians can get away with being inconsiderate to their fellow citizens, because they know others won't retaliate - that would mean trouble.

Be honest: Bulgarians drive you crazy sometimes. But don't feel guilty! You annoy them, too, with your stuck-up foreigner ways and your habit of speaking like you have a hot potato in your mouth.

Just for fun, why not cause a little mischief? What if we spent a day teasing the Bulgarians, indulging in a bit of revenge on the locals? Allow yourself a nervous giggle. Hee hee! Several expats I've met have found creative ways of aggravating Bulgarians for fun. A Canadian guy was a consummate wind-up merchant - he relished telling the locals point-blank that their cuisine, architecture and culture were all tasteless, derivative and inferior. The bloke also enjoyed referring conversationally to Bulgarians as “savages,” even when talking to locals. And he'd dismiss anyone who objected to this by saying, “Trust me - I come from a real country”.

The biggest problem with being rude to Bulgarians is finding a way to be offensive that they're not already used to. You're never going to aggrieve a Bulgarian by lighting up cigarettes in a restaurant, throwing rubbish on the ground, clogging up the pavement with your bad parking, or forgetting to say “please” and “thank you”.

You could always get a T-shirt emblazoned with “Baba Vanga Was a Fake” or one with a Turkish flag on it saying “Here's to 500 More Years” and walk around town in it. You'd probably manage about 30 minutes before your nose got broken.

Nah, you can be subtler than that. Here's a plan for a great day of teasing the Bulgarians.

9 am: Go to a few corner shops and buy something small, like a pack of gum. Pay with a 20 leva note each time.

10 am: Walk around Sofia city centre dressed as a tourist. Maintain a facial expression of disgust and horror at everything and everyone you see, except the women, at whom you should leer, wink and say “Hey, babe” as often as possible. Make sure people see you taking photos of piles of
rubbish and anything broken, dirty or decrepit.

11 am: Go into a nice old church and start taking loads of flash photos. Complain loudly in an American accent (Americans just seem better at offending people than anyone else) about the lack of an elevator and say things like “This place got a restroom, or what?”

12 pm: For lunch, go into a few cafeteriastyle Bulgarian restaurants such as Trops kashta, or Trops House. Walk around and look at the food on offer with the same barelyconcealed horror, then ask the staff loudly: “Is there a McDonald's around here?”

1 pm: Take your quarterpounder to a park crowded with Bulgarians having lunch. Pull a copy of Ivan Vazov's Under the Yoke out of your bag and read it while munching your fries. Wear a derisive expression on your face and laugh scornfully from time to time as you read, just loud enough for people to notice you. When you finish lunch, leave the book on the park bench. If anyone points out that you've left your book behind, wave your hand dismissively and say, “No, thanks”.

2 pm: Pop into a museum displaying Bulgarian history or culture. Look around cursorily for five minutes. Ask for your money back on the way out.

3 pm: Find some cops hanging out on a street corner and take photos of them as if they are a tourist attraction. Say to them cheerfully, as you're snapping away: “You're the corrupt guys, right? Corrupt? Corruption?”

4 pm: Get into the backseat of a taxi. Ask to be driven somewhere that's so close that the driver is sure to refuse. Hurl abuse at him, then get out of the cab and walk away, leaving the back door wide open.

5 pm: Ride the tram during rush hour. Take an accomplice with you to help antagonise the sizeable and captive audience onboard. Have a provocative conversation with your wingman really loudly in English - plenty of people will understand. Your exchange might go something like this:

“So what do you think of Sofia?”

“It'll be better when they finish it.”

(Observing the traffic) “Have you ever seen worse drivers than Bulgarians?”

“No. But then I haven't spent much time in Africa.”

“What do you think of Bulgarian chicks?”

“Greek chicks are better.”

7 pm: It'll have taken you at least two hours to get even a relatively short distance on the tram. Go home and get dressed for dinner. On the way, stop a few Bulgarian passers-by and say, “Can you help me? I'm lost. All the street signs are in Russian.” To those people who do try to help you, feign incomprehension and reply, “I can't understand. Your English is terrible.”

8 pm: Go out for dinner to a fancy Bulgarian restaurant with a few local acquaintances. Make sure to tell them a week beforehand that it's your birthday - that way they'll be expecting you to pay, in keeping with the Bulgarian custom. Invite your chums to order something traditional, but remember to ask the waiter, “Do you have any wines that are not Bulgarian?” Enjoy, inwardly, the ripple of offence this will cause. When the food starts coming, try a tiny taste of each dish, then push your plate away with just a hint of disgust on your face, and say “I'm not very hungry tonight”. At some point during the meal, inquire where the toilet is - but don't forget to ask pointedly: “Is it a proper one?” Ouch. Direct hit! At the end of the meal, don't take out your wallet. Just say “thanks, everyone” until they get the message and grudgingly shell out the dosh while cursing you under their breath.

11 pm: If you've made it this far without suffering grievous bodily harm, you're clearly not only the danger-loving, thrill-seeking type, but lucky to boot. In which case you might even consider going to one of those special nightclubs - you know, the ones with “no cameras” signs and rows of Mercedes with black glass out front. Once inside, start winking, leering and saying “Hey, babe” to all the birds. On any women who seem accompanied, try the classic line: “Hey, honey, lose the zero and get with the hero.”

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