I came to Bulgaria very proud of the fact that I had learned a little Bulgarian in the few months before I arrived. I am currently fluent in “please – molyah”, “thank you – blagodaria” and other basic basic greetings. I also knew a few helpful phrases like “Where is the bathroom?” and “Do you speak English?” The latter of the two has been the most helpful thus far.
So last week when I was in Etar, an outdoor Bulgarian Traditional Museum/Village I was rudely awakened to the fact that my language skills are even more limited than I thought. I went into a jeweler/silver smith’s shop and saw a ring that I really liked. So I asked the owner if he spoke English and when he responded “no” I decided to try out my skills for the first time. It started off great, with me simply asking how much the ring cost, but it went down hill from there. It seems that despite the fact that I can count to 100 in Bulgarian, listening to people telling you numbers is a whole other skill. Even when I asked him to repeat slowly it took me awhile to finally realize he was saying 10. Then he took out the calculator and typed in 10, erased it and then typed the number 20. Now I was extremely confused because I couldn’t figure out if he meant it cost 10 or 20 levs (Bulgarian currency). Finally, his son or employee returned to the shop and translated for me. As it turns out, the shop owner was simply telling me how much the ring cost in both Levs and Euros. How could such a simple exchange go so wrong?
I’ve had many similar exchanges since then with me attempting to use my extremely limited Bulgarian and others trying to use their limited English. That being said at FISI in Trayvna it was wonderful to spend a week with young people from Bulgaria and other parts the World. Everyone was excited to speak & practice their English – but unfortunately that did not help me with my Bulgarian. I was greeted by much enthusiasm and support when I shared that I could speak a little Bulgarian. This gave me a little more encouragement to try and speak it more.
Since arriving in Sofia I have been able to find many people, primarily younger Bulgarians who speak English and have been very helpful. I just hope that I am able to improve my Bulgarian enough over the next few months in order to have a conversation. Tomorrow I am beginning a intensive Bulgarian Language Class that meets everyday from 9am – 1pm for 3 weeks. Wish me luck!
P.S. I learned a Bulgarian word that has no English translation from my friend Alex at FISI – She called me her “Adashe” which is pronounced “Ad-ah-sh.” The definition is a person who shares the same name. So since my legal name is Alexandra, like her own – we are considered each others “Adashe.”