Thursday, February 1, 2024

1st February

This is the Day of Remembrance and Respect to Victims of the Communist Regime. It’s not a public holiday, but it’s observed every year with ceremonies and wreath laying and, as the name suggests, it commemorates those who were killed or wrongfully imprisoned during the communist years between 1944 and 1989. It’s the 1st February due to the date in 1945 when the new regime consolidated their power by purging their political and ideological rivals (as well as anyone else who was inconvenient) by executing cabinet ministers, members of parliament, generals, colonels, and bankers after trial at a ‘People’s Court’.

Wednesday, January 31, 2024


There’s an interesting phenomenon with bi-lingual people - a kind of switch that triggers in the brain when they’re translating so that it becomes automatic. This can lead to confusion when you start picking up the language and trying to use it. For example, if a waiter asks me something in Bulgarian that I understand and I reply in Bulgarian, my wife will translate what I’ve said into English for them. This inevitably leads to embarrassment as speaking English is usually seen as being pretentious. I definitely won’t be exploiting this quirk or using it as motivation for learning more Bulgarian.

Thursday, December 21, 2023


My wife and I were the only people in the small store that we always go to for our Christmas Big Shop. Inevitably, we had The Conversation - even though the woman behind the counter was quite young. While we were filling up our baskets with non-perishable items, the woman provided a running commentary: ‘ah, you’re shopping really well. Reeaally well.’ She wasn’t complimenting our choices, she was complimenting our spending. ‘Oh, great shopping, great shopping.’ I suppose it’s possible that she didn’t realise she was speaking out loud but the effect was like being on an episode of Supermarket Sweep.

The Conversation

This happens about once a fortnight. It’s usually started by elderly shop assistants and filtered through my poor, perpetually translating wife:

Assistant (in Bulgarian): ‘Where is he from?’
Wife (in Bulgarian): ‘England.’
Assistant (in Bulgarian): 'Ask him if he likes Bulgaria.'
Wife (in English): 'Do you like Bulgaria?'
Me (in English): 'No, I hate it. That’s why I married a Bulgarian and I’ve lived here for five years.’
Wife (in Bulgarian): 'He says he loves it.'
Assistant (in Bulgarian): ‘Yes, we have beautiful nature.'

It’s generally ‘beautiful nature’ but sometimes it’s ‘fresh vegetables’. It's never ‘efficient bureaucracy’ or ‘reliable infrastructure’. 

Friday, November 24, 2023


Although the birthday song is exactly the same - and sung in English, interestingly - if it’s your birthday and you go out for a meal, you’re the one who’ll be paying. Similarly, instead of your work colleagues getting you a cake, you will have to bring in treats for them. Shops are well-equipped with boxes of individually wrapped small chocolates exactly for this purpose: Ferrero Roche or Toffifee or Lindor or, most commonly, Merci. You ceremoniously present this small chocolate to someone and they will respond by giving you a wish which will be something that includes health, happiness and success.

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Zapoviadete (заповядайте)

For foreigners, it can feel very rude and disdainful to hand over money or put cash down on a table without saying anything in acknowledgement. The natural way to cover this is to say ‘thank you’ as you’re doing it - blagodaria or the more easily pronounced merci. This leads to difficulties if you’re expecting to receive change, however, as saying thank you is a signal that the transaction is now finished and you’re including the additional money as a tip. Zapoviadete is a replacement courtesy word to use instead of thank you and translates as something like ‘here you go’.

Thursday, September 28, 2023


Crisps aren’t such a big part of everyday life in Bulgaria as they are in Britain. You can only get them in ‘grab-bag’ size and there isn’t anywhere near as much shelf space given over to them in newsagents or supermarkets. They’re not called crisps either. Like the Americans, Bulgarians call them chips (which has frequently resulted in somewhat disappointing experiences in restaurants). The go-to unhealthy snack of choice is instead Soleti. These are long, thin sticks of a pretzel-like substance that come in different flavours and are sold in vending-machinable bags about the size of a regular crisp packet.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Flicking the Vs

The most frustrating thing about not knowing the language is the inability to protest or argue. You may be able to pick up that you’re being insulted, but you can’t respond in kind. This is why flicking the Vs is so valuable. Bulgarians aren’t familiar with the gesture and will most likely think that you’re suggesting they do something twice. Showing the middle-finger will provoke an instant frenzy of rage, but the Vs will cause confusion while satisfying your own sense of outrage. They may be able to pick up that they’re being insulted, but they can’t respond in kind.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023


8km deeper into the Rhodopes than Leshten and slightly larger with several shops, restaurants and art galleries. The buildings here are older and very picturesque but keep the traditional style of the region with their distinctive stone plated roofs. The streets are paved with rocks and weave up the hill and down the valley as tributaries from the main road which you shouldn’t drive on unless you’re a local - the side streets are way too narrow for cars anyway. Supposedly the houses were built so close together so that rebels could escape over the rooftops in case of Ottoman raids.

Monday, August 21, 2023


Built into the hillside around the road that weaves up through the Rhodope mountains, the village faces the Pirin mountain range so there are views of dramatic peaks and valleys everywhere around it. There’s a shop, a mehana, a sweet little art gallery, two churches, several hotels, and many summer homes. While everything looks quite new, the buildings have all been renovated in the traditional Bulgarian style: the lower halves in rough stone, the upper halves in wood. The most distinctive feature of Leshten - and this region in general - are the roofs which are tiled with thick, flat, stone plates.