So we’ve had our first rainy days here in Sofia. Honestly, I think before this it may have rained once since I got here over a month ago. So I’ve been dawdling around my apartment and I realized that I’ve done a poor job thus far of really explaining how life is like here in Sofia, Bulgaria. This is mainly because when things happen which are amusing because of cultural differences I fail to remember to write them down or make enough of a mental note to remember them later for my blog. I realized this especially when reading my fellow Fulbrighter’s blog. While her posts are longer (longer than mine if you can imagine) because she doesn’t blog often, this hasn’t prevented her from remembering the little details. Many of her observations & experiences have been similar to my own.
I stole this semi hilarious youtube cartoon that compares Western Europe to Bulgaria (SEE BELOW). Some of it is a bit exaggerated like the first “Transportation in Europe . . . Transportation in Bulgaria.” I’ve never had a bus pass me by in fact I’ve seen buses just let people on when we were in bumper to bumper traffic despite there not being a bus stop. My only unpleasant experience was getting a ticket/violation for not validating my ticket when I got on the bus. Before I explain, here is some quick background: basically there are 3 different ways to pay to take the bus, tram or trolley here in Sofia – a paper ticket, paying on the bus (need exact change) and the new electronic card which is similar to what we have in the States to pay for the T/Metro systems. I have the paper tickets, because I don’t take the bus often enough to get a card and if you buy a booklet of 10 tickets it only costs 75 stoltinki (cents)/ticket. To validate a paper ticker you need to insert it into a metal hole punch gadget that is attached to the inside of the bus.
I had just gone grocery shopping that day and was carrying several bags with me – so I immediately sat down before stamping my ticket. The next stop a “Transport Enforcer” came on and asked to see everyone’s ticket. I panicked and pulled out my unstamped ticket and then repeatedly said I do not speak Bulgarian — hoping that he would let it go. But no, he grabbed my groceries and signaled for me to get off the bus, which I did. And then the bus left (I had to wait 8 minutes for the next one) and I had to pay 10 leva for forgetting to validate my bus ticket. Believe me, that won’t happen again.
The second scene comparing “Parking in Western Europe” to “Parking in Bulgaria” on the other hand – is completely true. I’ve been told there is actually a system of parking here by zone, actual spots don’t really exist, so people park there cars randomly on the sidewalks in jigsaw puzzle way that makes it difficult for even pedestrians to get by. What I also find interesting is the way a commuter pays to park in the city — they pay by mobile phone. No metered spots, since parking is kind of a free for all by area – they just SMS/text the zone they are in & their license plate # and then walla they are done. The charge will then appear on their mobile phone bill. Not a bad idea if you ask me. I’d prefer that to fiddling with quarters.
The end of the cartoon is showing the EU inviting Bulgaria inside their world. This actually happened in 2007, when Bulgaria joined the EU. This was a very proud & exciting moment for Bulgarians who want to continually look forward and leave the Communist era behind. Funny enough the only major objections to joining the EU by Bulgarians was the tax of all alcoholic beverages – more specifically on Rakia, Homemade Rakia is a longstanding tradition among Bulgarian families and they did not like to idea of having to pay extra money for producing it.
That’s it for now – and like I said I’m going to try hard to remember & document all the amusing details of my experiences here. Nastravay (To Health)!