7th March 2014 Sofia, Bulgaria

My Bulgarian Town

by John Mitchell

John Mitchell is a British person who has been living in a small town in the Sliven region for a few years; he speaks Bulgarian and feels fully integrated in the community. Together with local friends, he regularly visits the town’s café, which quite naturally turns into a generator of many colourful, quirky stories.

“If Dave Allen had been a Bulgarian instead of Irish, he would have come from my town!” – John Mitchell

Picturesque Bulgarian countryside © Gowhere.bg
Picturesque Bulgarian countryside © Gowhere.bg

On reaching that time of life where retirement looms and having spent most of my working life outside my own country, I looked at continuing life abroad. Due to my military service, I had seen many countries, some I would consider living in, some not. I managed to reduce my “possible” to five, based on my language knowledge, the economy of the country, etc.

One of those countries was Bulgaria. A friend of mine had lived in Bulgaria from the very beginning of the start of democracy and had many tales of the improvements within it. During my visits to Bulgaria, I decided to settle in the Sliven region because it was equally distant from the borders of Greece and Turkey, close enough to the sea and with a good mountain range. I finally settled in a small town not far from the regional capital. And here the dry stuff stops. How to describe Bulgaria? If Dave Allen had been a Bulgarian instead of Irish, he would have come from my town!

Three days into my new life, frustrated by a builder who was intent on doing what he wanted rather than what I did, my gate opened, in came a man with a big limp, leading a donkey, the donkey was closely followed by a small, elderly man carrying a plough. The three proceeded to my “garden” in a short time; part had been ploughed and planted with 30 tomato plants. I was then invited “next door” to sample the local Bulgarian culture, food and of course rakia. The donkey I was to learn was called Maria, the elderly man, we will call Petko to protect his identity. Petko and his family were to become good, close friends, the first of many in MY small town! My local cafe, the focus of many “happenings”, gained a regular customer. As the people became accustomed to my bad Bulgarian, they introduced me slowly to the local humour.

My earliest recollection of the humour was, one evening, in the cafe, at another table, I heard “John will know; he has just come back from Sofia”. One of the parties at that table asked me if it was true, the government was imposing a donkey tax. Fortunately, I caught the wink and smile from another member of the table. So the answer had to be yes! That person then went on to tell the two with their backs to me that he had heard, from a good source, that inspectors from Sofia was going to make a surprise visit to our town. The next day, I did notice how few donkeys were grazing or being driven round the town!

Another occasion, a well-known artist and inhabitant of the town, explained to me, he had been a dissident under the communist regime and again under the socialist one. A member at the table retorted: “You still are a dissident, you are an artist!”. Yet, another member: “Of course, you are now a pensioner not an artist.” There followed a long monologue by our artist that his profession will always be his profession regardless of age of course with many interjections from other members of the group.

Yet another! Around the time of the first elections after BG joined the EU. The same artist, while sitting at our table, was solemnly informed that as a town we would have two mayors, one voted by the voters, one appointed by the EU. Of course, our artist went into a monologue about democracy. When he started to run out of steam, he was informed by one at the table that I was the one who was to be appointed! Setting him off again. Yet again, as he ran out of steam, he was informed that no less than the President himself was coming to our town soon, to make me an honorary Bulgarian. Yet another monologue about democracy, the state of the government and the President!

Having spent many evenings in our local cafe, there are many more stories to tell.

4 comments on “My Bulgarian Town

  1. Hi john this story made my laugh felt like i was sitting in our Bg bar love my bg friends even if i dont under stand all they say

  2. At last a true observer!

    I think that a ‘warts and all’ approach to Bulgaria is the best way, as well as not taking the Bulgarians too seriously. Unlike many others who are ‘living the dream’ – who see their ‘Bulgaria’ as an extension to their former lives in the UK and consequently take it far too seriously – Bay Ganyo still exists in everyday life in Bulgaria. Full of ignorance and prejudice this Balkan type can still be a source of great amusement.

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