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Travel Bulgaria
Getting the meaning right

Carrie Luker

Travel Bulgaria: the most obvious and immediate difference a person will encounter is how to say yes and no. Something as simple as a head shake or nod becomes difficult when it is the opposite of what you have grown up doing.

  • "Are you hungry?" Nod your head and you’ve just said no, so you can keep right on being hungry.
  • "Do you like Bulgaria?" Nod again and you’ve just insulted your host by telling them you dislike their country.

The easiest way that I found to adjust to the opposite yes and no head movements was to start with the no. Instead of nodding your head down first, as you typically do when saying yes, toss your chin in the air. If a Bulgarian adds a little tongue click to this, it becomes an emphatic no. It is a good start to remembering the up and down head movement of no.

For yes, I found it easier to begin agreeing while the person I was talking to was still in mid-sentence. Just move your head back and forth slightly in agreement while someone is talking to you. It is good practice for the back and forth yes.

All of this can of course be even more confusing if the person you’re talking to knows that you are new to the country. Then they are guessing that you have not adjusted to the change yet, so even when you do it correctly they will be guessing you mean the opposite.

Be prepared to laugh about it and if you really can’t figure it out, just speak up. Da for yes and Nay for no.

An example of this typical mix-up happened to me one of the first times I was invited to eat dinner with some Bulgarian friends. Bulgarians are very welcoming when they invite someone into their home. They love to show off their delicious Bulgarian foods and will serve plenty of it.

The trouble for me was when I was lulled into a stupor by a delicious dinner and my host asked me if I was full or would I like to try some more. I tried to say I was too full by nodding my head, yes I am full, and then shaking, no I could not manage another bite. Imagine my surprise when another full plate appeared before me. Too embarrassed to admit my mistake I forced down each delicious extra bite.

Being an American, I felt it rude to refuse the food after it was given and cleared my plate. Little did I know, that Bulgarians are generally very straight forward and honest and my friend would not have been insulted in the least if I had explained that I was too full for more food.

--Carrie Luker

Carrie in Bulgaria

Carrie in Bulgaria

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