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East Meets Barry West (official website) is an independent movie about two UK tourists’ encounter with the Bulgarian mafia!

An Irish man gets lost while traveling in Bulgaria. In between drinking with old Bulgarian folk, waking up besides goats, and fighting with Bulgarian auto mechanics, he meets Lisa, and Englishwoman who is desperately trying to save her sister from the hands of her lover, the Bulgarian mafioso and boss of the entire hospitality business of Varna, Plamen.

A really witty portrayal of the stereotypes about Eastern European mafia and the Bulgarian culture!  The movie is in English and Bulgarian, with English subtitles; starring English and Bulgarian actors, including Bulgarian r’n’b star Big Sha.

Things I love about the movie:

  • Magazine + pack of cigarettes = 80 English pennies
  • Old ladies singing in traditional costumes
  • Village’s mayor brings rakia to the feast (read my previous post Distilling rakia in honor of tax evasion)
  • Calling the trabant a “sex machine”. My other favorite nickname for the beloved East Germany two-stroke-engine automobile is “sex on wheels”
  • Mafiosos speaking English with thick Balkan accent
  • Hot Bulgarian girls ( and beautiful Veliko Turnovo and Varna scenes)

Find all the parts of the movie in YouTube! And don’t forget to pay attention to the beautiful places!


Boston University's DeWolfe Boathouse during Head of the Charles


Today was the second day of the 46th Head of the Charles regatta.  This is a 3.2-mile rowing race on the Charles River, between Boston and Cambridge, and is the largest 2-day regatta in the world.

I watched it from Boston University’s DeWolfe Boathouse (BU crew official website), where the start line is. The finish line is near Northeastern University’s Henderson Boathouse. I saw the most prestigious races, the Championship fours and eights for men and women, and of course, cheered for the white-and-red Boston University teams.

But as you have already found out, this is a blog about cultural differences, not about sports, so let’s get to my point:

My Turkish friend’s joke was very suitable for the occasion:

There was a rowing race between the Japanese team and the Turkish team. The Japanese team had four rowers and one coxswain (the person in front of the boat in charge of navigation) in charge of them. The Turkish team had one rower and four coxswains telling him what to do. The Turkish team lost by one mile. They decided they needed to do things better. For the next round, the Turkish team had one rower, two coxswains telling him what to do and two chief coxswains in charge of the other coxswains.  The Turks lost by three miles. They decided they had a problem and needed to do things better. They kicked out the rower and redistributed his salary as bonuses for the chief coxswains.

I thought this joke was very applicable to all of Turks, Bulgarians, and Eastern Europeans! Go BU!  🙂

If you liked my Turkish friend’s joke, check out the Polish driver’s joke about the Soviet elephant.

Customer Service at Restaurants in Eastern Europe

  1. Choose the table you want (in the smokers section or the non-smokers section) and sit down. If there’s not enough chairs, pull some over from a nearby table.Grumpy waiter
  2. Try to make eye contact with the waiters passing by. If no one notices you, wave your hand to the idle waiter goofing off across the room. If still nothing happens, call the waiter out loud
  3. Take your time looking through the menu. Read the appetizing description of every dish.
  4. Ask your waiter about a particular dish. The restaurant may not currently have most of what’s on the menu, but you might get recommendations about the what they actually have. Just don’t ask too many questions or you might piss off the waiter.
  5. Order salads, mezze, and aperitif (rakia or ouzo).
  6. These come relatively quickly. Take your time picking on them. Your main task now is to converse with your friends.
  7. When you start to get hungry, call the waiter again (if you see him around). Order the main course with wine or beer. Order a lot of everything.
  8. The food takes some time. No worries, you can keep ordering aperitif and carry on the merrymaking.
  9. evil waiterFinally, an hour after you’ve arrived at the restaurant, the main meal arrives, and the party is at its peak. Maybe you won’t get exactly what you ordered, so you can get in a little argument with the waiter; but do it just for the sport because you know that you’re not going to change anything, right?
  10. It’s ok to try from everyone’s plate with your fork. It’s ok to be loud and to propose a toast to people from other tables. It’s perfectly fine to sing.
  11. In another hour or two, when everyone starts to get a little bit sleepy, order dessert and coffee (or digestive).
  12. Ask for the bill. For once, the waiter will respond quickly.
  13. Only one person receives the bill: the one who invited the rest, the oldest one, or simply the friend whose turn it is this time; if you are students, you can also split the bill equally. Round the bill to the nearest 5 or 10: that’s the waiter’s tip (2-3 Euro, maybe 7-8 if the bill was high).

Customer Service at Restaurants in the States

  1. You are greeted by a smiling hostess who asks you about the number of people in your party and seats you at a suitable table.
  2. A grinning waitress immediately comes and introduces herself. She does some small talk. She pours you ice and water and hands you the waiter
  3. Look at the pictures in the menu and choose one.
  4. You put on your jacket because the AC is be blasting.
  5. In 5-10 minutes, the waitress with the 24-carat smile brings you your dish. She refills your ice and water.
  6. In 5 minutes, she comes back to ask you how everything is and to refill your water again. She makes some small talk and looks like the friendliest person in the world.
  7. If there has been some mistake with your order (you wanted Diet Coke but they brought you Coke Zero), or you think it’s not cooked well (stake is way too bloody) you can always return it to the kitchen for reworking.
  8. The moment you put down your knife and fork, she takes away your plate so that it’s not in your way. She asks if you’d like dessert.
  9. She brings the check without you asking for it and leaves it on the table with the words “No pressure guys, take your time.” Customer Service
  10. Some of your friends pull out their calculators. Some pull out cash and some, credit cards. You start calculating how much everyone’s dish cost and how much everyone owes for tax and tip. You give 15-20% tip.
  11. You are in and out of the restaurant in 40 minutes.


So, what say you?

Should we identify any pros and cons and try to change our ways, or should we just shrug shoulders and accept the “cultural differences”?

Which approach to customer service do you prefer and why?

Enrique Iglesias has always had a special corner in my heart, and I can’t believe I missed  his FREE concert AT HOME, in Sofia, on September 29th!

I am sincerely jealous of Ralitza, the Bulgarian fan whom Enrique Iglesias KISSED while singing the song that melts every girl’s heart, Hero!

Enrique didn’t win over his fans’ hearts because he kissed a Bulgarian girl. He won them over because he told her:

“Ralitza, you are Sofia, you are Bulgaria… This is for your country!” Now that’s called great art and great marketing!

Some of the other world-famous musicians who have given concerts in Sofia include: Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Rihanna, Sting, Bryan Adams, Sir Elton John, Seal, George Michael, Lenny Kravitz, Eros Ramazzotti,  Zucchero, Andrea Bocelli, Eric Clapton, AC/DC, Metallica, Depeche Mode, and many more.

Read Ellis Shuman’s review of the concert. Her and her husband’s blog is full of interesting stories about their Adventures in Bulgaria.


Last week, I got in a taxi with a Polish driver. When he heard I was from Bulgaria, he told me the following joke:

Sometime in the early 1980s, elephants were a very fashionable topic in the Soviet Union. People were interested in elephant biology, elephant behavior, elephant popular culture, and even elephant literature. The USSR Academy of Sciences published a 10-volume encyclopedia on elephants. The Bulgarian Academy of Sciences published an 11-volume encyclopedia on elephants: the 10 Russian volumes plus an eleventh called “The Bulgarian elephant: The Soviet Union’s best friend.”

I cracked up!

Not because the joke itself is that funny, but because it is very witty and insightful. The “joke” accurately captures the social and political pro-Soviet leanings Bulgarians had at the time.


One of the absurdities of the regime was that people could be pulling and pushing the elephant in opposite directions, and everyone was still doing exactly what they were supposed to do.


Hearing such a joke from a Polish was like hearing a dirty little joke that only you and someone very close to you can understand. It was like two roommates talking about the skeleton in their shared closet.

In fact Poles and Bulgarians are able to exchange such witty anecdotes because at a point in history, we were both heavily dependent on the Soviet Union. The social and political influence of the USSR was such a big common denominator, that it established a lot of similarities between the mindsets in our countries at the time. We were all part of the same overarching socialist system, recognized the same cultural symbols, encountered the same problems, etc.

This is valid even now, twenty years later, because we still remember or at least recognize the remnants of the Soviet culture. And this is valid for all countries influenced by the Soviets: from Poland and Lithuania, past Bulgaria and Ukraine, as far east as Tajikistan.  There simply are some universal elements from that time that all of us can in some way relate to: the Russian language, the vivid political imagery, the absurdities of the regime, the history that we’ve all studied, the general sense of order, and the disillusionment that followed.

So, what the taxi driver said is funny because it’s an inside joke. It tickles the sensitive cord that only peoples with shared historical influences have. Outsiders just don’t have the same skeletons in their closet.

I love this feeling of being part of a shared common pool of knowledge and experience. We might make biting jokes about each other, but ultimately, there is a piece of history deeply ingrained in our character that brings us together… and always makes for a good conversation starter.

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October 2010

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