WHEN OK IS NOT O.K.

by Helen Keezer

Riding a bus in Bulgaria may include being taken for a ride

I've been an official Bulgarian resident for two weeks now and will bring my American take of the English language to the teenagers of Pazardzhik soon as I become their EFL teacher. I love many things about my new home in Bulgaria, but I also find that it is essential in any transitional time in life to maintain a high level of humour. Quirks about the magical land of Bulgaria that seem quite bizarre, looked at with an eye of absurdity, become quite entertaining.

For example, that simple, basic essential: the bed pillow. Pillows in the United States are light and fluffy and cuddly. Pillows in Bulgaria are not. The average pillow in Bulgaria weighs 23 kilos! When Bulgarians have pillow fights, there are fatalities. I heard of one American blonde who accidently broke both her wrists: half asleep, she attempted to fluff her pillow.

Elevators are also different in Bulgaria, at least in my little part of the world. The natives here recognise Americans because they are the silly blokes who stand staring at the elevator waiting for the door to open! Americans also expect to get themselves and three large pieces of luggage into the same elevator. Ignorant folks, those Americans.

Elevators are not the only interesting mode of transportation in Bulgaria. I have an enjoyable time putting around my little city on the trolley system. It is an amazingly simple system to get used to. There are regular stops, you get on, give the ticket taker 40 stotinki and exit at whatever stop you need. I assumed all of Bulgaria had such a userfriendly approach to public transportation, and then I travelled to Sofia for a weekend excursion. I arrived at the Central Train Station and with a little help from young Bulgarians with English skills, I found the correct trolley for downtown. I ignored every taxi driver who offered to take me because I had been told about taxi drivers in the city. I was told only O.K. taxis were okay. Not pretend OK taxis without the dots after the O and the K; those are not okay even though they look like they are OK. Even if you find an O.K. taxi, if they realise you are foreign – which I obviously am – they may overcharge you.

So, straight to the trolley I went! I found number 1, quite simple even for a country girl from Pazardzhik. I had my 50 stotinki ready to pay (I knew to expect big city prices). I settled back for the ride to the city centre. As we bumped along, I noticed the ticket taker coming down the car, but I had no fear, I would buy my ticket from him and go on about my business. Soon I realised things were not O.K., OK or okay. He was not interested in my 50 stotinki. He was angry at me. He was showing me his badge quite proudly. I was smiling and offering my 50 stotinki and saying "billet" in my best Bulgarian. He was grabbing me by the elbow and lifting me from my seat. The trolley stopped, he escorted me from it and showed me a 10 leva bill, indicated that is what I owed him if I were to get my elbow back and be able to go downtown. I paid him, and he gave me a piece of paper (an official "you-have-been-bad" receipt) which he tore in five different directions. I nodded my head, meaning yes, "I have been bad," but he thought I was nodding my head "No, I do not like this." This did not improve his mood. He escorted me to a ticket kiosk and demanded another 4 leva. For my 4 additional leva, I earned the right to ride any trolley all day long, but I was no longer in the mood.

I could have taken any taxi, O.K., OK or definitely not okay, and paid less than 14 leva to finally see the Alexandr Nevskiy Church! But I wasn't just covering city blocks; I was making memories! Trolley from my flat in Pazardzhik to the train station, 40 stotinki; train ticket to Sofia, 9 leva; trolley from the train station to Sofia city centre, 14 leva: memory of arriving alive and not being jailed: priceless!

The important thing when visiting or moving to a new country is to keep your sense of humour, go out and explore, and always bring extra cash.

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