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11 Sayings and Proverbs to Help You Understand Bulgarian Culture

Local Bulgarian wisdom
Local Bulgarian wisdom | © Gellinger / Pixabay
The wisdom of Bulgarians, like that of many Balkan nations, is rough, somewhat peculiar, and often cause for raised eyebrows from foreigners. Delve into the heart and soul of Bulgarians and understand some of their good and bad traits with these sayings and proverbs.

If I feel like working, I sit down and wait for it to pass

This life approach is mainly attributed to people from the Shopluk region. It alludes to the cunning way in which they’re said to get their work done and to their relaxed attitude on life’s hardships. Basically, they’re always in search of the easy way.

Even if I’m alone on the tram, I’ll push and poke anyway

This is another piece Shopluk of wisdom that has been part of the urban folklore for several decades. On many occasions, their mischievous character and strict beliefs might cause them to act irrationally at times.

A tram in Sofia © NakNakNak / Pixabay

It’s not important that I’m OK, it’s important that Vute is bad

Similar to the man who walks into the bar in many Western jokes, Nane, Vute, and Pena are mainstays in colloquial jokes in Shopluk, which often start with something to the effect of, “Nane meets Vute and …” These jokes tend to be made at someone else’s expense, and most Bulgarians will confirm that they have a tendency to tease others for their failures, especially if they feel it’s been deserved. It’s at these times that people might say, “It’s not important that I’m OK, it’s important that Vute is bad.”

You shouldn’t complain about the teeth of a horse given as a gift

When Bulgarians receive a present, they are grateful for their luck. There have been many times in Bulgarian history when the people have faced poverty and deficiency, and today they appreciate all the free things in life.

If it’s a crow, let it be shaggy

When you know that something can’t be perfect, you should let it be as imperfect as it can get.

Keeping white money for black days

Saving money seems to be in Bulgarians’ blood, and having a savings is considered a necessary precaution for tough times. Even today, when the economic situation has considerably improved compared to the first years after the communist era, Bulgarians are not as eager to get loans and credit cards as perhaps the Americans are, for example.

Every frog should stay in its own puddle

This proverb reflects the very widely held belief that everyone should stay within their own circle and shouldn’t mingle with those outside of it. As a whole, trying to aggressively climb up the ladder is considered suspicious and is frowned upon.

A hungry bear doesn’t dance horo

This literal translation is true, and it serves as a metaphor to say that if you want someone to do a favour for you, then you should give them something first. However, the origins of the saying are rather fascinating. The horo is the national dance of Bulgaria, and there was once a show that travelled the country with captive bears who were taught to do the dance to traditional gadulka music. The shows were banned in the late 1990s due to the cruel treatment of the animals, and the remaining tamed bears are cared for at a recovery centre in a town called Belitsa, which is on the narrow-gauge train route.

Every train has its passengers

For everything someone doesn’t like, there is someone somewhere in the world who does. This expression is used in situations when something seems so absurd and illogical that you can hardly believe it could be useful. Then you remember that every train has its passengers.

Don’t leave today’s work for tomorrow if you can do it the day after tomorrow

This funny twist of the original proverb, “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today”, is a perfect example of the laid back approach Bulgarians take to life. Although they take pride in being a hard-working nation, working yourself to death is not considered a virtue. Being diligent in what you do and knowing how to enjoy a good meal and a drink after is equally important in the Balkan country.

The dogs are barking, the convoy is going on

There are things that you can’t change because they are simply out of your control – such as a dog barking at a convoy; your efforts to stop or change the direction of events are sometimes futile. This expression is mainly used when talking about the political situation in the country, as corruption scandals are a regular part of the news.