1. A normal friend dances, a Bulgarian friend gets on the table and starts ripping napkins.
Remember seeing one of those movies where a big baller goes to a Vegas club and starts throwing cash? We Bulgarians aspire to do the same, but since the majority of the club crowd consists of broke university students, we jump on the table in order to attract everyone’s attention and “make it rain” by ripping white napkins instead.
2. A normal friend cooks for you, a Bulgarian friend just takes you to grandma’s for banitsa.
In our defense, we were never taught how to cook, since we grew up being babied all the time. Whenever hungry, we drop everything and go to grandma’s or auntie’s, where we are treated as a guest of honor and fed until our pants don’t fit anymore.
3. A normal friend sends postcards, a Bulgarian friend sends you bottles of homemade honey from Kuystendil in the mail.
Pampered to oblivion, those of us who somehow managed to relocate overseas enjoy giant care packages full of bottled honey, medicine, martenitsa bracelets, magazines, Nescafe instant coffee, Turkish lokum and a ton other things, which if detected at the border would be immediately considered as smuggling.
4. A normal friend appreciates your differences, a Bulgarian friend judges them.
Society in Bulgaria is quite homogenous. A deeply ingrained Soviet Union mentality has taught the past few generations to conform in terms of appearance, dress and behavior. Whenever we see someone of different race or sporting a quirky style, we immediately deem them “odd” and start rumors about the person.
5. A normal friend takes ibuprofen to deal with pain, a Bulgarian friend is massaged with brandy.
Whenever faced with an ache of any kind, normal friends turn to modern medicine. We Bulgarians prefer more natural remedies. When you have a tooth ache, you gargle with boiled smradlika, a yucky-tasting magical plant from the Southeast. When you have a fever, your mom massages rakiya, our national brandy-like drink, on your body and sends you sweating under a blanket. All of these may sound weird, but they work like magic!
6. A normal friend has one social media account, a Bulgarian friend has 10.
A normal friend believes that one Instagram account is enough to showcase their adventures. A Bulgarian friend on the other hand, aims to gain as much internet exposure as possible. This is why we have one account dedicated to fashion, one to food, another to that time we took the bus to Turkey, etc. Our most beloved social media outlets include Instagram, Facebook, Vbox7 (the Bulgarian version of YouTube) and a variety of small websites, such as “glog” in the early 2000s, powered by the Dir website, which let you create your own blog.
7. A normal friend plays sports, a Bulgarian friend insists that dancing at the club is cardio.
A Bulgarian friend is naturally lazy. We always have “injuries” we supposedly need time recovering from when it comes to gym class. The only cardio most girls get is wearing high heels and dancing at the club on Saturdays to the beats of chalga music, which is a fast-paced mix of Bulgarian pop, and Turkish instrumental beats, often involving girls shimmying with a jingly coin belts around their waists.
8. A normal friend follows the rules, a Bulgarian friend cheats the system.
We firmly believe that following the system is too hard and frankly useless. We always look for shortcuts so that we have more time to be lazy and eat banitsa. Why would I read 200 pages of a book when I can look the content up on the internet? Why would I sit in class for 45 minutes when I can fast-forward the teacher’s watch and get out in 30? This view applies not only to school but also shopping, driving, dealing with the law or taking an eye exam.
9. A normal friend wears clothes, a Bulgarian friend wears only the latest fashions.
Which is frankly ironic, given our perpetual state of being broke. We love our Roberto Cavalli, Chanel, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Nike and Adidas. Girls religiously flip through the glossy pages of the latest Grazia magazine and head to the mall. For the majority, though, these luxury brands are out of reach, so there’s always the Ilientsi market in Sofia, a knock-off paradise, where we get our closets decked out with all of the above for less than $100. Also, we would never be caught dead wearing sweatpants in public, regardless of gender.
10. A normal friend has control over their weekend, a Bulgarian friend is forced to go to the countryside.
The majority of our parents were the first generations of “city kids” in Bulgaria, meaning that their parents raised them in the country before relocating to the nearest town, where gardening and doing chores was the norm. We, the cosmopolitan “city kids,” dread leaving the dirty, busy streets of Sofia, because God forbid we may inhale a breath of fresh air in the Vitosha Mountain and miss out on the latest celebrity gossip. For us, life is truly put on hold when we have to miss a weekend of clubbing for that visit to grandma’s house.
11. A normal friend is proud to be from the country, a Bulgarian friend would deem them a “peasant” and tell them why the city is so much better.
On that note, we despise admitting that we are from the countryside. In Bulgaria, the word “peasant” is one of the worst insults one could utter. It stands for someone old-fashioned, illiterate, clueless about culture, poor and unsophisticated. In reality, however, those scrappy “country” kids have achieved a lot more in life than the spoiled city kids, but no one wants to talk about that. Some famous “peasants” include media royalty Slavi Trifonov and the prime minister Boiko Borisov.
12. A normal friend speaks one language, a Bulgarian friend speaks at least two.
Constantly complaining about the dismal economic situation and lack of jobs and growth in Bulgaria, our parents have us learn at least two more languages besides our own. English is the mandatory second language, no questions asked, while there is more wiggle room with the third language, which could be Spanish, French, German or Russian.
13. A normal friend fist-pumps, a Bulgarian friend dances horo and kyucheck.
Growing up, the majority of us have participated in all-nighter weddings or family celebrations. I learned how to perform the traditional horo dance back in 1999, at my uncle’s wedding, where the whole family (around 30 of us) held hands and swung our legs to the left and then the right in a very specific rhythm, doing a little in-between jump every 4 steps. When I was in my teens and old enough to enter a club (not legally, of course), I was able to tie a coin belt around my waste and perform the crazy shimmy belly dance known as kyucheck.
14. A normal friend treats the mall as a building with shops, a Bulgarian friend sees it as an amusement park.
One of the best attractions in Sofia are the luxury malls and high-end stores of Vitoshka Street. Our society is extremely status-oriented, meaning that you always have to look your best and sport expensive items in order to be deemed successful, be envied and make friends. To us, a trip The Mall of Sofia on Aleksandar Stambolyiski Street is a day-long venture, where we systematically hit Celio, Beauty Zone, United Colors of Benetton, Bobo Zander, Sisley and more, after which we get a nice lunch at the third floor food court, maybe go to the 3D cinema and return to shopping.
15. A normal friend studies to get good grades, a Bulgarian friend studies in order to move abroad.
Chances are that you didn’t meet your Bulgarian friend in Bulgaria. Most of us have been pushed by our parents our whole lives to work hard in hopes that one day we move to Western Europe or the United States. We are constantly reminded about the bleak economic outlook in our own country, which is why we religiously study English and math and apply to colleges abroad. The upside of having to leave our native land, families and friends, is that upon return, we automatically acquire a successful rock star status.
16. A normal friend gets a job, a Bulgarian friend thinks that working is the end of life.
Typically, there’s nothing wrong in getting a summer job to increase the cash flow. For Bulgarians though, working inevitably means that we have been abandoned by mom and dad and have to face the “real” world we’ve heard about, whatever that is. A job or a summer internship is the end of our spoiled existence and in some cases can be seen as something shameful, since getting a job means your family can’t afford the luxurious lifestyle you boast on Instagram.
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