Late autumn is a special season in Bulgaria.
The overwhelming majority of Bulgarians wait in earnest for the sauerkraut, or kiselo zele, to ferment, or vtasa. Given the right preparation (in a plastic container called bidonche, stored in a basement, daily circulation of brine, or pretakane) and favourable weather conditions (neither too warm, nor too cold) the year's yield of sauerkraut should be in just ahead of Christmas.
But the 2020 holiday season was like no other since 1989, when Christmas was reinstated as a public holiday after 40 years of being declared just an ordinary working day. In 2020, in addition to all the goodies (slightly higher pensions, promises of bonuses for medical workers) handed out by Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, Bulgarians have become used to the sight of speeding ambulances with their sirens on and lights blinking. Add to that the horror stories of people waiting for up to 12 hours for emergency to arrive or of patients dying on the doorstep of hospitals refusing to take them in. Not very funny, not by any civilised standard.
Yet Bulgaria's pervasive sense of black humour can and does defy the calamities of the times, notwithstanding the coronavirus. And unlike the dark Christmasless times when jokes had to be told in a hush-hush manner for fear the neighbours might be listening in, now Bulgarians have Facebook where anything at all goes.
So, it did not take long for some anonymous user to devise the above collage of a Sofia ambulance, suggesting its cargo consisted of... cabbages being transited for sauerkraut preparation. Those unfamiliar with local practices might be puzzled, but Bulgarians are used to seeing carrier wagons of all shapes and sizes full of fresh cabbages this time of the year. So, the ambulance prank appeared realistic. Perhaps an ambulance driver was just stoking up on cabbages.
The collage in question gained such a momentum on social media that Sofia emergency services issued an official press release denying the allegations an ambulance carried "vegetables." The ambulance seen in the photos, the press release went on, carried "biological refuse" to the Aleksandrovska Hospital incinerator. The plastic sacks were marked with a hazardous sign, in keeping with established protocols. "Insinuations like that, given the extremely tough situation faced by the emergency services and the whole health care system, are, to put it mildly, not in order," the press release concluded.
Not very funny for a not very funny holiday season.