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7 Bulgarian idiosyncrasies that are puzzling to foreigners

Photo: Pixabay

Bulgaria is a beautiful, safe and secure country, Bulgarians are welcoming people, ever ready to show the world their best. But there are some Bulgarian idiosyncrasies that a foreigner finds hard to understand. Here are some of them:

“Do not embarrass yourself in front of foreigners!”, is something Bulgarians say often, though of late, ironically. But, typically, foreigners are taken care of and pampered. Why? So as to dispel even the hint of a doubt that Bulgarians are not hospitable – a point of honour for any Bulgarian opening the door of their home to a foreigner. And, yes, sometimes they overdo it, treating their guest as an old-time friend, refusing to take a “no” for an answer if they do not join them for the family meal, or for feasting into the small hours, or they will insist on tagging along everywhere you go to show you the local sights…

Nod for “No” and shake your head for “Yes”. When they first come to Bulgaria, foreigners may find they are at sea when they see us answering their questions. Why? Because when we nod and shake our head it means the exact opposite of what it means in the rest of the world. In Bulgaria, nodding means “no”, and shaking your head from side to side means “yes”.

Bulgarians rarely smile, they do not like to show emotion in front of a stranger. This somber expression, which we are rarely actually aware of, makes a deep impression, and is often taken to be a sign of bad manners and a cold heart. But having got to know Bulgarians’ true character, foreigners quickly change their minds and even regret having been “taken in” by appearances.

Feasting and partying until dawn. If there is one thing Bulgarians have mastered to perfection it is the art of “letting their hair down” and partying, come hell and high water. Foreigners are left puzzled as to how, in the poorest country of the EU, restaurants and bars are always full – from the pub in the obscurest village to the trendy cafes, taverns and gourmet restaurants in big cities.

Leave your shoes at the door! If you are invited to someone’s home, there is one thing you should know – Bulgarians are finicky about hygiene. So, you should be ready to be asked to take your shoes off at the door, so as not to bring street dirt into the house. You might even be handed a pair of soft slippers, to make you feel at home…

Bulgarian cuisine is spicy, often salty, sometimes greasy, and more often than not Oriental. True,shopska salad, banitsa, mixed grills, chips with grated cheese are all appreciated by our guests from abroad.

But sometimes the spicy, salty, hot food with lots of herbs may be too much for them. And they are not always very keen on the kinds of food and drink that are so popular in this country, like boza, salty ayryan, tripe soup, headcheese or grilled pork ears, and a host of other weird, sometimes insipid, or too spicy or greasy kinds of food that are so alien to the foreign palette.

A splash of water in front of your feet for “God speed!” Traditionally, Bulgarians believe in the purifying life-force of water. So, don’t be alarmed if, just as you are leaving for the airport, the family you have been staying with suddenly splash some water onto the floor in front of your feet. When a family member leaves the home for some special event – like the first day of school, prom night, an exam, a wedding or a trip abroad - Bulgarians invariably splash some water at the front door, with a ritual wish of “God speed” or “Good luck”. But there is one thing you should know – never go back to fetch a passport forgotten on the nightstand, because the magic will be gone, and your good luck will fizzle away!

Photos: BGNES, library

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