Every country has its issues, touchy topics and problems that provoke fights and arguments. Bulgaria is no exception, and if you visit the country for the first time, you should be tiptoeing around the following topics and phrases.
‘I read somewhere that Samuel (Samuil) was a Macedonian king…’
It’s hard to explain in just a few lines the relationship between Bulgaria and Macedonia and why both sides deny most of the other’s history. This subject has become so entangled, it’s no wonder the term ‘balkanize’ has sprung from the Balkan political hodgepodge. But if you want to keep the conversation light and positive, skip all political subjects concerning Macedonia. Or, if you really want to know, be sure to ask the other side afterward, and then judge for yourself what the truth may be.
‘Drive carefully, you are breaking the rules’
Bulgarians are not really good at sticking to the rules, especially when it comes to driving. If you drive in Bulgaria, you should be prepared for the road rage. Signs, speed limits and traffic lights are for ‘losers’, or so it seems when you observe the street traffic.
‘The rakia I tried yesterday was better’
If your host is making his own rakia (the local strong spirit, similar to vodka), it is a matter of honor to praise his alcoholic creation as the best you have ever tried. Bulgarians love preparing food and drinks at home and take pride in their family recipes.
‘I don’t want rakia’
You can’t say this. You just can’t. Or, if you say it, it will most likely be taken for unnecessary modesty and you will be poured a big glass nevertheless. This is the most common gesture of hospitality and Bulgarians don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.
‘Your letters are Russian, right?’
No, they are not. Bulgarians realize that you’ve watched far more movies with Russian spies than any with Bulgarian spies, and you may be confused, but the Cyrillic script was invented by the Bulgarian brothers, Saints Cyril and Methodius back in the ninth century. Then Russians took it from the Bulgarians (then Hollywood movies lead viewers to perceive the letters as being purely Russian).
‘I can tell you an easier way to do that’
Bulgarians, especially men, are proud to be good at a host of activities from repairing home appliances to fixing cars, building houses and keeping the beer cold at the beach. If you try to tell them there is another way, different than their own, you won’t get very far, as Bulgarian stubbornness is legendary.
‘Where is Bulgaria?’
Bulgarians realize that they live in a teeny-tiny country, and yet they can’t help but feel offended when a foreigner can’t point to their country on the map, or even worse, points to somewhere in Africa. The easiest way to think about Bulgaria’s location is to locate Greece and head north/northeast. Remember this and you will make a really good impression on your new Bulgarian friends.