1. Ordering in
If you try to order food in Bulgaria and still live with your parents, you are in for an hour long tirade by mom and dad on how you don’t deserve anything they’ve given you. Why in the world would you order a sandwich when a Bulgarian mom can whip up a quick princesa (grilled open-faced sandwich with ground beef and butter) for you? And God forbid a Bulgarian grandmother heard you’re trying to eat food other than hers.
2. Shopping online
When it comes to technology, Bulgaria lags by a lot. In the US purchasing items on the Internet is extremely easy due to our well-developed online payment system, and delivery is highly reliable. If you try to buy a pair of shoes from a website in Bulgaria, you take the risk of not getting what you ordered, having to pay more than the site indicated, or simply never receiving those damn Nike sneakers you wanted so bad when you saw them 50% off.
3. Dreading the dentist’s office
Unfortunately, it isn’t that Bulgarian dentist offices are all that fun or that Bulgarian dentists have magical skills that numb all pain. In fact, when they do something minor, they may not even numb the area because they tell you you’re tough and expect you to suck it up. Their services, however, for those who have the basic national health insurance from the Zdravna Kasa, are extremely cheap. When I realized that filling a cavity would cost me only $3 USD, I booked an entire month worth of appointments at my dentist’s office.
4. Following politics
I found that most younger people in Bulgaria are utterly disillusioned when it comes to the country’s political scene. It feels like every time I watch BTV or Nova, there is a new corruption scandal, mostly embezzlement of European Union funds or buying votes; however, no politician ever ends up in jail. Everyone is deeply criticised, all the way from big figures like the Prime Minister Boiko Borisov, down to small town mayors such as Georgi Georgiev of Botevgrad. And I thought US politics was full of drama…
Most Bulgarian women I hang out with hate to sweat. Let’s be honest (ladies), physical exercise is hard work and messes up your hair and makeup. While it’s not abnormal for many Bulgarian men to spend multiple hours daily pumping iron and doing dead squats at the gym, the only time most Bulgarian girls would visit such establishment is too look cute in Adidas sweats while checking out the eye candy.
6. Eating pizza
While exercise doesn’t seem to be a top priority for many Bulgarian women I know, maintaining the svelte figure Easter European women are renown for is crucial. This is why many Bulgarian moms advise their daughters to stay away from carbs in all their forms: bread, banitsa, macaroni, and any popular American fast food restaurant she might run into while shopping at the mall (talking about you, Pizza Hut!). Looking good certainly comes at a price and you will receive brutally honest critique by your baba (grandmother) if you’ve put on a few pounds.
7. Keeping my concerns to myself
A favorite Bulgarian pastime seems to be complaining. Not only is it socially acceptable, but it is highly encouraged. “Ugh, I’m having a bad hair day and broke a nail!” “Me too, also my ex-boyfriend is dating that selyanka (a girl from the countryside) who I hate!”
8. Eating food at cafes
Cafes in Bulgaria are like watering holes for anyone between the age of 12 and 55. People sit down sipping espressos for hours and chat about anything and everything. Ordering food at these places, though, is very rare. Forget the snack runs at Chipotle or lunch dates at Sushi Samba. While in America food is always present, in Bulgaria people tend to eat most of their meals at home and opt solely for drinks (and cigarettes, as you can smoke at outdoor cafes) when hanging out.
9. Paying for entertainment
Buying music and movies is for suckers. Why spend your precious leva, when you can go on Zamunda or Vbox7 and download everything you want? Even the government supports this ideology, since they never shut down any of these websites.
10. Wearing comfortable clothes
Forget the hoodie with your college logo on it or your fluffy, pink Victoria’s Secret sweats. In Bulgaria both boys and girls dress trendy and in tight-fitting clothing. Guys often wear skinny jeans and black Armani T-shirts, while girls go for equally tight pants and skirts with some sort of a designer tank top, be it Mango, Trussardi or Motivi. Looking good always trumps feeling comfortable here.
11. Generalizing the region of Eastern Europe
“You guys use the Cyrillic alphabet, so you’re basically Russian, right?” Oh, so wrong! Before moving to Bulgaria, that whole corner of Europe merged into one big feta cheese-eating, hieroglyph-writing, blonde hair-boasting blob. Serbia, Macedonia, Russia, Bulgaria – it all seemed like the same culture. After spending time living in Bulgaria, though, I realized how rich the country’s history really is — starting with Khan Kubrat in 681, going through an era of slavery in the Byzantine and then Ottoman Empires, taking over most of today’s Greece, inventing the Cyrillic alphabet and so much more. Bulgarians are quite proud of their history, so please, give them some due diligence.
12. Taking technology for granted
One of my favorite things in the US was always being connected and having services be one click away. Outlets on buses or public spaces are non-existent in Bulgaria and with iPhones and tablets costing almost twice as much as they do in the US, owning electronics is a luxury. Automatic doors, central air conditioning and new cars were hard to spot up until about 5 years ago.
13. My personal-space bubble
While in the US having at least enough space to spread your arms on both sides is the unspoken rule, but in Bulgaria all boundaries are broken. People greet you buy giving you a kiss on the cheek, and lean in very closely when speaking to you. Bulgarians are very physical people, who give hugs and high fives left and right. While I really enjoy the sincerity and closeness, I quickly found my personal space limits when a friend asked me if she could chew my piece of Orbit gum when I was done with it.
14. Keeping my life private
Bulgarians can be very blunt about personal matters. At first, I tried to politely ignore questions about my age, marital status and income. I quickly realized though, that the more you ignore them, the more you trigger the circulation of gossip about you, and the more people would think you have something to hide. Just go ahead and tell them when they ask. If anything, they’ll sympathize and reveal something about themselves, too.
15. Fist pumping at clubs
Americans don’t exactly have the worldwide reputation of being sleek dancers. Many imagine us fist pumping and dry humping each other at clubs, and many of us don’t have much more than that. Go to any of the clubs in Studentski Grad in Sofia or Cacao Beach, and your American ways would be put to shame. Dancing seems to come naturally to Bulgarian women, belly dancing and doing figure eights with their hips to the rhythm of chalga or even house music all night. Men aren’t too bad either, leading their ladies by the hand and dipping them low when the song is over.
16. Relying on bureaucracy to get things done
Bulgaria is notorious for its dysfunctional bureaucratic system. The truth is that most government officials, secretaries and bank staff hate their dead-end, low-paying jobs and don’t care enough to learn what exactly their duties are and how to execute them. Going into MTel to pay my phone bill is always a drag, since none of the employees can explain to me why my bill fluctuates every month and what I could do to change my plan. The worst experience I ever had was when the American Embassy in Sofia sent out my passport via DHL and it got lost along the way. Their explanation was “the delivery truck seems to have a hole in it, which we just found out. Sorry.”