Friday September 8, 2006

Just accept the slippers


So the summer is now winding down in Sunny Beach, the tourists that for the last 3 months have packed the streets, beaches and bars with their alcohol boosted loud chatter, rubber rings, sun cream and beer have all but disappeared. There's a few early September last minute holiday makers strolling round the resort but they seem generally more civilised and blend into the calmer surroundings. There's something eerie about walking round a quiet place that is usually so chaotic and loud. The shops are slowly closing up, signs being taken down, the make-shift bars being emptied and forgotten about until it all starts again next year. A cool, gentle breeze has replaced the scorching heat and with the sun no longer casting its searing heat over the resort it seems its time to move on.

But where? And to do what? Oddly enough I haven't given this any thought. I've only been earning 3 leva an hour during the summer, which usually worked out at most to be 15 leva a day plus tips. I'd been spending more than that each day so I don't have any money left either.

When I was doing my Bulgarian course in the modern languages department of Sofia University the English teachers would sometimes ask me to come and talk to their classes as a native speaker. I really enjoyed this, turning up and just chatting, answering questions, saying a few tried and tested jokes in Bulgarian. The students in return would love teaching me some modern Bulgarian slang that the youngsters use. The teachers often looked a bit embarrassed when this happened. I sometimes feel that Bulgarians think British people are always extremely polite, never use rude words, only ever use exemplary etiquette and maybe know the Queen. Having been in Bulgaria now for almost a year it seems in fact that the Bulgarians have more etiquette than we do in the UK. Apparently stretching while sitting at the dinner table is considered very bad etiquette in Bulgaria. Is that the same in the UK? I can remember no elbows on the table but I can't remember being told to stop stretching? I've always thought a little stretch after a nice meal shows how much you enjoyed it?

The Bulgarians also seem to be huge slipper fans and slippers in the house is an important part of Bulgarian house etiquette. Every Bulgarian house has got at least 15 pairs of slippers just inside the front door, all classical Grandad slippers that guarantee to clash with your ripped jeans and latest fashion wear. In fact whenever you go over a Bulgarian's house for dinner the very first task is the very important one of allocating you your very own pair of slippers for the evening. Try telling your Bulgarian hosts that you're fine just wearing your socks and they'll look at you and each other as if you've just told them you'd prefer to eat dinner while hanging upside down. They will think it very bizarre and maybe that they misunderstood, but then again they dopn't want to offend you if it is some strange foreign custom of yours just to wear socks in the house. If you do choose to go down this bizarre route of refusing slippers be ready to reassure your hosts 10-15 times throughout the evening that your feet aren't cold. You will also be told more than once by one of the family elders that you are making them feel cold just by looking at you, with your 'naked feet'.

Just accept the slippers at the start of the evening, having warm feet will make everyone happier. And to be honest, when you get used to the slippers you'll end up not being able to do without them.

Where was I? Oh yes, summer job winding down in Sunny Beach, almost a whole year in Bulgaria already. I can speak the language pretty well at last and I'd really like to stay here now that I won't be struggling so much with the language. Surely the easy part starts now? But what the hell am I going to do?


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