by Anthony Georgieff

Bulgarian agencies try to enforce respect by imposing rigorous dress codes on taxpayers

On one of the hottest days of the summer an English friend and I went to Burgas City Council to get the forms needed to “regularise” some plumbing work in the garden of his newly acquired home. After some time in Bulgaria my friend had acclimatised to the system's eccentricities. But he was still genuinely surprised – even shocked – at some of the finer details of Bulgarian etiquette.

We strolled down Burgas's pedestrian main street. Just as we were entering City Hall I felt a strong hand on my shoulder. “Ne mozhe s kusi gashti!”, a voice ordered me. “Tova da ne vi e plazh!” (“You can't enter in shorts! This is not a beach!).

My friend didn't want to argue with the bouncer, but I did. “Why?” I asked. “It's 35 degrees outside.” “This is an institution (sic), and you have to dress respectfully,” he said. No admission. It turned out that we'd wasted our time anyway – shorts or no shorts, nothing could be done at the City Council offices as their computers were down. Mañana.

I, for one, would pay all due respect to any state agency as long as it provided me with the services funded by my taxes. I demand better pavements (Burgas, a major, expensive city is a particularly bad example as the local mayor prefers spending thousands on building small city parks rather than repairing the crumbling infrastructure), and I'd like to get forms with a smile rather than a scowl. If the mayor of Burgas would oblige me in these respects I'd happily appear in his offices wearing my Sunday best. But I don't get the services I pay for. Forcing me not to wear shorts in order not to get what I am entitled to can hardly make me love these guys more.

Burgas is not alone in trying to extort more respect from ordinary citizens. Plovdiv, Kyustendil and many other places have also imposed strict dress codes at city councils, tax offices and courts. I have seen newspaper reports about a court witness in Dobrich who was supposed to testify in a murder case, but was turned away by face control. He and others like him have provided unexpected business for local merchants: a shop owner close to Dobrich's court was quoted as saying that demand for long trousers had soared as increasing numbers of courthouse visitors were turned away for wearing Bermuda shorts.

The only exception the court in Varna makes is... for suspects. Anyone arrested by the police will be taken to court whatever the cut of their trousers.

There is no consistent rule about permissible attire so it's best to ask questions (bring a friend who speaks Bulgarian and is prepared to probe) before attempting interaction with the authorities. Some agencies, notably the Council of Ministers, proscribed summer footwear. The former speaker of parliament, Ognyan Gerdzhikov, imposed a blanket ban on flip-flops. “I don't care who it is. Turn Ivan Kostov (the leader of the rightwing opposition) away if he's wearing sandals,” Gerdzhikov was quoted as saying.

The mayor of Nesebar, a major resort on the southern Black Sea, has issued an order against “tourists wearing flip-flops and bathing suits as well as contractors in dusty overalls”.

Pazardzhik, traditionally not a very popular tourist destination, but apparently a centre of loose morals, is an interesting example. Mayor Ivan Evstatiev has allegedly forbidden female employees from wearing thongs, short skirts and cleavage-baring tops.

In Blagoevgrad, southwestern Bulgaria, local officials seem to be more cool-headed – literally. “The problem with shorts and flip-flops will go away as the weather gets cooler,” Mayor Lazar Prichkapov told the media.

You can't even go to the Bulgarian National Bank to change money if you're in shorts. Allegedly, Ivan Iskrov, the governor of the BNB, tightened up rules following a visit by M. Christian Noyer, gouverneur of Banque de France, and his wife, in 2004 or 2005. The French were reportedly “shocked” by the attire of many visitors to the BNB. Iskrov was so ashamed that he imposed a dress code the very next day.

As is usually the case with any request for information from a Bulgarian state agency, the BNB refused to provide VAGABOND with a written copy of that order. Thankfully, there are now commercial banks here.


    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

Оne of the (many) notable things Marcus Tullius Cicero said over 20 centuries ago is that "to live is to think" – and if we are not ashamed of what we think we should not be ashamed to voice it.

Where are the Bulgarian Oscars? For years this question – coupled with the notable lack of a Bulgarian Nobel Prize winner in anything – has troubled the Bulgarians, perhaps bespeaking a very deeply ingrained cultural inferiority complex.

From job opportunities to entertainment options: living in Sofia, Bulgaria's largest city, has its perks. It also has its downsides.

"Dimitrina?" I have not heard from her for more than a month, which is unusual. "Почина." "Po-chi-na?" I type the word phonetically in an online translation tool. "What?" "Почина. Me, Dimitrina sister. Bye."
As an airplane is swooping over a field beside Sofia Airport, two horses and a donkey do not look up, but keep grazing among the rubbish. Shacks made of bricks, corrugated iron and wood encroach upon the field.

Everyday Superheroes was the main theme of the event, celebrating the efforts and the energy of ordinary Bulgarians who work in spite of the difficulties and the hardships to make Bulgaria a better place.

As you hold this book in your hands, a Bulgarian song travels in outer space. The song in question is "Izlel e Delyu Haidutin," a traditional Rhodope tune sung by Valya Balkanska.

Attar-bearing roses and beautiful girls in traditional attire picking them dominate the images that Bulgaria uses to sell itself to both Bulgarian and international tourists.

This May, for two days, historians, archaeologists, restorers and experts in other fields shared their findings and ideas about the Bishop's Basilica of Philippopolis at a scientific conference in Plovdiv.

Once you start paying attention to Bulgarians, you will observe some inexplicable actions. Dozens of men and women wear red thread around their wrists. An old woman cuddles a baby, and then spits at it.

Under GERB, Bulgaria's public has become accustomed to scandals of various magnitude that come and go about every second day, sometimes several times a day.
The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month: 99 years ago, the moment when the Great War ended was perhaps chosen to be easy to remember.