“GO TO BED WITH THE HENS” AND “GET UP WITH THE COCKS”

by Petar Popdimitrov; illustration by Gergana Shkodrova

An old Bulgarian idiom which does not mean what any Englishman would think it does if spotted in literal translation. The main reason is that it gained popularity due to a French couple, who lived in the north of Bulgaria, not far from Dve Mogili near Ruse, at the end of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th Century

bulgarian idioms 8.jpg

Jean-Pier, a 19-year-old lad from Rouen, was travelling across what was then the Ottoman Empire and, attracted by the natural beauty of the Danubian Plain, decided to settle there. As luck would have it, a 30-year-old Parisian named Olympia already lived near Dve Mogili.

The two took to each other, initially because they could freely converse together in French, and soon fell in love. Trouble came a year later. Jean-Pier was strongly attracted to Desislava, a young and beautiful Bulgarian wench his own age. The pair began seeing each other increasingly often. The most suitable spot for their trysts was the chicken coop. A devout Catholic, Jean-Pier was rather God-fearing and would slam any manifestation of explicit infidelity. So he would innocently tell Olympia: “Je me couche avec les poules,” and go to bed with the hens.

There is no evidence to suggest Olympia knew about Jean-Pier's nocturnal adventures, but before a lot of water had flown under the bridge, she acquired a lover too. And whenever Jean-Pier came home after a wild night with Desislava, Olympia would slip out saying: “Je me lève avec les coqs.” And there, in the coop, a Bulgarian lad named Asen was waiting for her amongst the cocks.

At that time, an English traveller arrived to stay in Dve Mogili. He immediately came up with a rather eccentric translation of the village's name: “Twin Peaks”. The Englishman was rather amused with what the locals had to tell him about what they viewed as a typical French affair of the heart, amply sprinkled with strong Balkan pepper.

In modern Bulgarian, however, the two idioms are devoid of any erotic connotation. “Go to bed with the hens” means “go to bed at sunset” and “get up with the cocks” is to “get up early in the morning”.

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