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The Gypsy Pearl of Bulgarian Pop-folk, Sofi Marinova, will represent us at Eurovision 2012

My favorite time of the year is coming closer! It’s time for Eurovision 2012, the pan-European music contest! It has been such a roller coaster for Bulgaria in the past six years!

We were on the way to greatness in 2007 with Elitsa and Stoyan Yankoulov (with were fifth woohoo!); then in 2008 I was sort of positive about Deep Zone coming up with their very catchy “DJ Take Me Away”; I had to close my eyes in 2009; in 2010 I put all my fate with my all-time-favorite Miro, and then in 2011 I was hoping that the European voters with find Poli Genova at least cute, but now…   now, I’m simply desperate by our choice of representative.

Bulgaria’s 2012 Eurovision contestant is Sofi Marinova with “Love Unlimited”. Don’t get me wrong, Sofi Marinova has an amazing voice and her songs become instant hits, but I think that this one is simply not one of them. Plus, her singing and image are… how can I put it… too Bulgarian for the average European taste (remember, the whole of Europe will vote for their favorite singers in the contest). But Sofi Marinova was elected during Eurovision’s national level finals on Feb 29th. She competed against 12 other Bulgarian singers and earned her title via a combination of jury and viewers’ text message votes. As you can tell, we Bulgarians love our gypsy chalga rhythms.

Sofi Marinova, also called “the gypsy pearl” or “the gypsy nightingale”, is a Bulgarian pop-folk singer of gypsy (Roma) background. She has a phenomenal 5-octave vocal range and is one of our top chalga singers. In her personal life, she is notorious for giving a son to her husband, then divorcing him, and getting with this ex-husband’s other son… but she’s cool otherwise 🙂

Instead of showing you her Eurovision song, I’ll show you my favorite duet of Sofi and Ustata . Of course, it’s a typical chalga video with very intelligent lyrics:

I don’t think she will reach the finals, but I’ll be crossing fingers anyways! Eurovision 2012 will take place on May 22, 24, and 26 in Baku, Azerbaijan.

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More on Eurovision and Chalga:

Eurovision 2011: Poli Genova Urges Young Bulgarians to Stay

Bulgaria’s Heart Breaker Miro Will Compete in Eurovision 2010

Sex and Watermelons in Bulgarian Pop Culture

BBC Close-Up: Bulgarian Pop Folk


When I first went to Disneyland Paris more than ten years ago, I thought I had woken up in a fairytale.  A few years later, when I visited Disney World Orlando, I once again felt like I was being transferred into the land of magic.  I recently visited Orlando twice more as an adult (more or less), and I still felt completely entranced by the place. Disney World truly is an enchanted factory for happiness. I wish more cities could learn from the amusement park’s practices and implement them to make our living environment a little bit more pleasant.

Parents and kids burst out singing and dancing together with the actors on Main Street

What makes Disney World so magically perfect is the attention to detail. Every lamp post has a tiny little ornament, every bench leg has some sort of embellishment, every fence or grating has a little twirl or swirl that makes it look intricate and beautiful. Buildings under reconstruction are covered with panes that display what the façade will look like and pipes or technical equipment are hidden under beautiful covers that resemble bushes or rocks. Such details can make the most mundane or unattractive objects look delightful to the eye.

I wonder if the actors smile for pictures behind the masks?

I remember from ten years ago my mother’s astonishment at the perfect Disney pavement. There is not a single pothole, not a single chipped paving-stone in any of the kilometric alleys. The drainage system is constructed perfectly, so rain water seemingly washes away without forming puddles by the sidewalk. In Sofia, they pave and repave the streets every single summer, but they just don’t do it properly, so cobblestones get pulled out or asphalt cracks up and forms potholes. In Disney you do something once, but you do it at the highest quality and then maintain it.

A sea of strollers inside the theme park

What impressed me even more that some of the attractions is the order put into action in the park. Hundreds of people wait in queues at any single moment, but there is never pushing or cutting in line or any tension. Unobtrusive enclosures form very long and narrow lines that meander in front of the attraction’s entrance, so people slowly move forward in a row of one or two. A clock shows you the estimated time of waiting, which again tells you what to expect and alleviates any negative emotions associated with the wait. Moreover, waiting in these lines is enjoyable because there is music and themed sculptures or interactive screens around you. There is also a system for avoiding the wait – get a “fastpass” now from a machine by the entrance and come back in a few hours at the indicated time, and you will get through the fast lane. I hate to remember how I have to wait for hours when I need to get some administrative job done in Bulgaria in a line that is more like a crowd of aggravated people trying to cut in front of you to reach the single window/desk/counter where the bored bureaucrat sits.

Perfect decorum while waiting in line

The service in Disney, naturally, is impeccable. My friends and I were wondering how is it possible for someone to smile so much. Surely, the dancers, performers, waiters, attractions assistants, actors dresses up as characters, and tour guides, cannot possibly be always in a good mood, but they know that the visitors want to see only happiness during their vacation, so they make sure they play their part accordingly. I was also wondering, do the actors who wear big fluffy costumes with masks smile during photos? My answer is, I am sure they do! Because although the actors are just doing their job at that moment, the joyous smiles on the faces of the kids (and the grown-up kids) surely evoke reciprocal feelings in the actors.

No wonder why everyone lives their dreams in Disney World

And speaking of kids and families, it is funny how much Disney caters to parents in addition to children. With all the crying babies, whimpering toddlers, and sniveling teenagers, a vacation at Disney could soon turn into a nightmare for the parents! So there are huge parking spaces for strollers inside the park for parents’ convenience, a special menu for “little princesses and princes” consisting of macaroni & cheese, peanut butter & jelly, and chicken nuggets (apparently these are American children’s favorite foods?!) at every restaurant, and even a lot of “cooling stations” where you can enjoy tiny water droplets being sprayed on you when the Florida heat becomes unbearable.

Finally, Disney’s fireworks are more magnificent than my capital’s on our national holiday! Disney World has mesmerizing fireworks shows in two of its parks (Epcot and Magic Kingdom) every single night all year round. This makes it the second largest purchaser of explosives in the United States. Unquestionably, Disney knows how to make magic come to life!

 

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It is a widely accepted idea that while Americans are comfortable with displaying violence, they often shy away from eroticism. In most places in Europe, things are reverse (except for in Britain, where they sort of look shun away from both).  In the States, this offers a great business opportunity for stirring the spirits and attracting attention by means of … showing some flesh.

Hooters girls look innocent compared to...

A great example is Hooters (hooter: 1. one that hoots, especially an owl; 2. slang for a woman’s breasts). It’s a casual beach-themed bar/restaurant with over 400 outlets in 44 states and 28 countries. The signature Hooters offerings are the spicy chicken wings, the sports on television, and the girls in scanty white-and-orange uniforms. 68% of the clientele is males, mostly in the age bracket 25-54.

Hooters greatly benefits from the scandalous use of sex appeal that the Hooters Girls are known for: the majority of American women claim that the name of the restaurant and the waitresses’ uniforms are degrading. Still, the restaurant and its huge fan base retort that the girls are as socially acceptable as any cheerleader or swimsuit model.  What is more, the “attractive, vivacious” Hooters Girls are the businesses’ staple according to its mission statement and have allowed Hooters to extend its brand with a Hooters Calendar, merchandise and apparel, and various sports events sponsorships.

...Bulgarian chalga singers and pop idols Andrea and Galena

The reason why Hooters is so notoriously successful is that as a hole, Americans are very conservative and this restaurant is one of the few places where men can commit some “socially acceptable” sins – get drunk off beer, overeat with wings, and hoot a little bit at the young girls. In fact, this is as scandalous as it can get in an American public establishment.

The reason why this restaurant concept will not work in Bulgaria is that it is way too innocent for us! In a country where the difference between the porn channels and the music channels is only in the sound, and where the ideal of beauty involves silicone, botox, and bleach blonde hair, the Hooters Girls will simply blend in (or even look way too sporty). It is very sad that Bulgarian pop culture has been completely taken over by the pop folk (chalga) singers who have plenty of sex appeal, but little other talents. And while the Hooters Girls stay within the confines of the restaurants, our distorted perception of silicone-beauty spills over everywhere: among the highlife, in the nightclubs, in cafes downtown, in the malls, and in high schools.

Read more about Bulgarian chalga pop culture:

Sex and Watermelons in Bulgarian Pop Culture

Throw Napkins in Clubs in Bulgaria and Dollars in the Bahamas

BBC Close Up: Pop-Folk in Bulgaria


My next goal in life: create the best country branding campaign for Bulgaria!

But until then, let me show you what one of our favorite neighbors, Serbia, came up with their 2011 campaign. This marketing campaign puts a very innovative twist on country branding. Instead of focusing on historical, natural, and architectural sites as most such promotional videos do, Serbia has chosen to focus entirely on food.

They are very smart to do so because the Balkan cuisine is one of the most delicious in the world (I’m being objective here, honestly)! And although most of the foods they present here are common to several Balkan countries, Serbia has succeeded in personalizing this spot and making it feel unique. My only little critique is that I wish they had put typical Goran Bregovic rhythms in the background!

The message of the video is very clear: Serbia has great food produced in a clean, sustainable way. The country is heaven for those seeking an authentic food experience, village tourism or bio tourism. The simplicity of Serbian (and Balkan) cuisine is what makes it so tasty: fresh, natural ingredients that are full of flavor, juices, and aromas.  Notice that the spot is focusing on the ingredients themselves rather than the meals that can be prepared with them: so once again, it’s about the simple pleasures in life… in Serbia.

This promo video is a delight to the eye, to the taste buds, and to the soul, and I hope it attracts many tourists to Serbia!

… But, as I was looking through some forums regarding the above video, I came upon another promotional video, this time from out other beloved neighbor, Macedonia. The two videos, unfortunately, are surprisingly similar. The Macedonian one is from 2010 and once again represents a journey through the country as a journey through honey, wine, succulent meats, and enticing spices. The voice over says: Македония, мала земя, голема храна. Македония, вечна. – Macedonia, small country, great food. Macedonia, timeless.

Eh, what can I say… I guess we on the Balkans are not so creative after all… Which video do you like more?

You might also enjoy:

Branding Romania: Creative Ads

Bulgaria: Magic Lives Here. The campaign the whole nation dislikes. 

Socialism Sells: What makes Soc-themed ads so successful in Bulgaria

Dimitar Berbatov, The Brand


Just before Christmas, I visited San Antonio, TX and had my first real rib-eye stake at a restaurant on the Riverwalk!  I must admit, it was a masterpiece – you Americans know your steaks!

But then my friend asked for more barbecue sauce… and some chilly sauce, Cajun sauce, Dijon  mustard, and ketchup.  Why, OH WHY, would you ruin the best steaks in the world with so many sauces?!

And then there is the delicious, fresh, crunchy, natural salad…  and you plop on top of it a big squirt of Caesar, Ranch, Chipotle, Blue Cheese, Honey Mustard, Thousand Island, Santa Fe Blend,  Lemon Mayonnaise, Jalapeno Ranch,  Sesame Ginger, Hot & Spicy, Creamy Style Miso, Romano Basil Vinaigrette, Cranberry Balsamic, Italian, French, Russian, Mediterranean, or Greek Dressings… as well as all their light, reduced fat, fat-free, or organic versions. Does salad really need so many types of dressings?

And then I go to Shaw’s or Whole Foods, and I see entire aisles with sauces, salsas, chutneys, condiments, dressings,vinegars, and marinades. It almost seems to me that you don’t like the natural taste of food because you seem to always want to flavor it with something else.

I have been taught that fish requires only lemon, salad requires only salt and olive oil, and meat requires only salt, if anything at all. Bulgarian food is so much more simple compared to American, and yet I feel like it is more flavorful because you can actually taste the different vegetables or the different herbs in it.

I call upon the readers of this blog to switch the Chunky Blue Cheese Dressing for real crumbled feta, the Fat-free Italian Dressing for freshly chopped parsley and sun-dried tomatoes, and those yellow round plastic containers with real freshly squeezed lemons.

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You Might Also Find Interesting:

Why Do Americans Have So Many Types of Breakfast Cereal

Food, the Best Bulgarian Ambassador to Korea 


A few days ago, I told you about a Po Zhitzata, the First Bulgarian Online School, which offers lessons in Bulgarian grammar, literature, history and geography to the children of expatriates and foreigners wishing to learn the language.

Today, I want to tell you about another entrepreneurial venture that serves as an ambassador of Bulgaria, Zelen restaurant in Seoul, Korea.

Zelen (which means green) was opened by two Bulgarian brothers, Mihal and Filip Ashminov and their Korean partner in 2007.  Mihal, who was previously a chef at the Sheraton Hotel in Sofia came to Korea when he was 21 to work at the Westin Chosun Hotel. There, he noticed that health-consious Korean women love his Bulgarian dishes. When he and his Korean partner came up with the idea to open a Bulgarian restaurant, Mihal called his brother, who was at that time a chef in Ireland, to come and get involved with the brave project.

Mihal and Filip Ashminovi, founders of Zelen Bulgarian Restaurant in Seoul

Since 2010, Zelen has two branches and is wildly popular among food aficionados in Seoul. There are four Bulgarian chefs and six Korean sous chefs. Mihal and Filip say that they do not adapt their recipes to the Korean taste: everything is prepared according to traditional Bulgarian recipes: Shopska salad, eggplant salad, tarator (cold cucumber soup), salami and mezze, sarmi (cabbage roll stuffed with rice and beef), stuffed peppers, vegetable moussaka, St. George’s style roasted leg of lamb, kiufte (meatball), shishche (skewers), yoghurt with honey, Bulgarian red wine, and so much more typical BG goodies.

Zelen is featured in ALL of Seoul’s BEST RESTAURANT GUIDES (seoulstyle.com, seouleats.com), and most articles recommend that you call in advance to book a table because the place is always full! MOST articles call Zelen “one of Seoul’s favorite restaurants”.

Well done, Bulgarian entrepreneurs! Keep up the good cooking!

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More on Bulgarian Cuisine from My Blog: 

Buy Bulgarian Specialties at Trader Joe’s (photo)

Taking my Friends to The Crazy Cock, the Bulgarian Restaurant in London (many photos)

Preparing Bulgarian Christmas Eve Dinner (yum-yum photos)

Apres-ski: feasting on in Bansko (more eye-tearing photos)

The best Bulgarian cookbook IN ENGLISH that you can buy on Amazon


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 59,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 22 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

In 2011, there were 77 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 186 posts. There were 226 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 286mb. That’s about 4 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was January 15th with 560 views. The most popular post that day was Restaurant Customer Service in Europe or the States: What’s Your Pick?.

Your most commented on post in 2011 was Google Celebrates Baba Marta

Attractions in 2011

      These are the posts that got the most views in 2011.

Restaurant Customer Service in Europe or the States: What’s Your Pick? 6 comments October 2010

Red Army Soldiers Gone Superhero: Graffiti Artist Transforms Soviet Monument In Sofia 3 comments June 2011

BBC Close-Up: Bulgarian Pop-folk 3 comments February 2010

The Most Beautiful Place In The World: The Seven Rila Lakes 4 comments August 2010

Why Do Americans Have So Many Types of Breakfast Cereal? 160 comments September 2010

Some of your most popular posts were written before 2011. Your writing has staying power! Consider writing about those topics again.

See you in 2012

Dear Dad,

Something terrible happened to your credit card. It kind of slipped away from my wallet into the cashier’s hands… multiple times. But you are happy when I’m happy, right? And I got mom something nice, so that hopefully, at least she doesn’t ask for more for a while.

Love,

Your only daughter

 

Black Friday

Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving and it marks the beginning of the Christmas shopping season – with insane discounts! Hundreds of people camp outside the major shopping malls the night before and rush in the stores as soon as they open doors. This year, the Boston Cambridge Side Galleria opened at 1am!

My friends and I are not the extreme type, so we went shopping at 11am and still found the mall packed! “40% off until 1pm”, “Buy One Get One Free”, “2 for $30, 4 for $45”, “The More You Get, The Bigger the Discount” are only some of the attractive signs that lured us into one store after the other!

No wonder why this day is called Black! We finished shopping at 4pm, completely physically and financially exhausted! Long Live American Marketing!


Prime Minister Boyko Borisov to Arnold: "Look at the camera and smile or I'll beat you up again!"

 

Yesterday, the Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov met with the former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger at New Boyana Film Studio in Sofia. Arnold presented Boyko with a replica of the sword he fought with in Conan the Barbarian.

Boyko’s action movie idol even flatteringly joked that the prime minister should join him, Sylvester Stallone, Jet Li, and Jason Statham in the action-movie movie The Expendables 2.

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Earlier this year, Borisov, a former bodyguard, Secretary General of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and Mayor of Sofia and currently dubbed as “the man of the people”, gave the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin a puppy as a present during Putin’s official visit to Bulgaria. Borisov’s present deeply touched the Russians’ hearts and immediately became a media sensation. Here you can watch a song dedicated to the puppy.

Boyko Borisov, Vladimir Putin and the puppy

 

 


My Strategy professor opened a restaurant this March. It is called Saus and serves Belgian street food – pommes frites (Belgian style French fries), poutine (fries topped with gravy and cheese), frikandel sandwiches, Belgian waffles made with very fine pearl sugar, and of course an armada of secret-recipe dipping sauces.  Saus is located downtown near Government Center, right next to the Union Oyster House. It has a big sign “Kick*ss Waffles $3.75” on the window, so you can’t miss it!

When my classmates and I visited Saus on Saturday evening, a man with in an apron covered in powdered sugar greeted us cheerfully from the kitchen. We barely recognized the professor we were used to seeing in a suit.  He was very happy to see us and spent almost half an hour chatting with us and answering all our questions about his venture.

I was very impressed to see that the owner, who is already an accomplished businessman and a highly-esteemed university professor, was getting his hands dirty with batter for waffles. It proved to me that in order to be a successful entrepreneur, you have to put your heart, soul, and hands into the work. Indeed, his energy and enthusiasm were filling up the entire place!

My professor told us that Saus is already very popular among Emerson College and Suffolk University students because of its proximity to the clubs and bars they visit. He said that he plans to turn Saus into a chain, to introduce imported Belgian beer on the menu, and to sell their many specialty sauces through retail outlets.  I wonder if my family’s Bulgarian wine will sell well with his Belgian waffles?

My classmates and I devoured the poutine, frites, and waffles with home-made Nutella and licked our fingers with delight! We thanked our professor, promising to spread the word about Saus among our Boston University friends, and left the restaurant utterly inspired by his work.


11 August 2011 – Armin Van Buuren, DJ Number One in the World, played at Cacao Beach in Sunny Beach until 7am on the next morning!

The show was the finale grande of Solar Summer Fest 2011- an annual festival organized by Yalta Club – voted #19 in DJ Magazine Top 100 Clubs, and sponsored by Tuborg.

The concert was absolutely mind-blowing! There is something incredibly inspirational about dancing on the beach all night long under the refreshing summer rain together with thousands of young people!

As the night was progressing, Oriana and I kept moving closer and closer to the stage until we spent the last hour or two on the frontline! When the sun rose, Armin came down from the main stage and reached out to his fans! He touched both mine and Oriana’s hand and signed his name on every hat and flag that his fans threw towards him. Finally, he took a big Bulgarian flag and wrapped it around himself to show how much he loves the Bulgarian audience – and thus completely and utterly won each one of us forever!


On Tuesday, my mom and I went to an ice-cream and wine tasting! The event took place at Gelateria Confetti in Sofia and was organized by Bacchus, the wine and gourmet magazine.  Read the magazine’s article here. These are the six combinations (click on the pics to enlarge):

Vanilla truffle ice-cream with nuts and chardonnay paired with Cluster Chardonnay

Dark chocolate ice-cream with nuts paired with Solitaire Merlot

Strawberry and pistachio ice-cream with fresh strawberries and mint leaves paired with Asti Canti sparkling wine. One of my two favorites for the night!

Lavender ice-cream, cheesecake, and Rudesheimer Berg Roseneck Riesling Spatlese – my definite favorite for the evening, both in terms of ice-cream and wine!

Prosecco ice-cream decorated with melon, paired with Rosé

And the gran finale: Malaga ice-cream decorated with grapes and paired with Gran Feudo Blanco Dulce de Moscatel!

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Read my previous post about sexy Bulgarian ice-cream advertising.


My International Marketing class was all about how differences in culture affect the way business is done in different countries, but this week I had my own mini business-cultural shock!

In the States, the term “team building” is associated with some sort of leadership skills exercises, brainstorming sessions, team discussions, and most of all, fun activities that require group work,  team communication, and the development of interpersonal connections.

Sozopol at Black Sea, Bulgaria

So when I was invited to attend a team building weekend in Sozopol, a beautiful Bulgarian Black Sea resort, I expected to join some organized team activities… eh, American business school brainwashing…

It turns out that in Bulgaria, “team building” means going for a weekend of heavy eating and drinking at the expense of the firm!

What details would you like me to give? Starting on Friday afternoon with a five to six-hour long dinner that starts around 8 and ends with breakfast for the survivors. Many liters of ouzo, wine, and beer. All the festive meals you can find on Easter and Christmas combined. “Brainstorming” is another word for telling jokes and sharing embarrassing real stories. On Saturday:  a yacht trip along the coast, grilled fish and cocktails onboard, and jumping off the deck in the water, then an afternoon nap, and again the “team building” dinner session all over again.

In the States, time is money. But in the nations of south-east Europe, we have all the time in the world. That’s why Bulgarians (and Greeks, Serbs, etc) take their sweet time to get to know each other in the way they consider most personal – at the table, with good wine and good food, laughing together, and making real relationships. To an American-trained business student like me, the Bulgarian “adaptation” of team-building at first seemed like a waste of time. But then I realized that it is perfectly suited to our culture and very, very effective for us! As my international marketing professor said, in order to make business in a foreign country, you first have to understand its culture.

ACTUALLY, I’m not sure that what I said above is right. In Europe, Bulgaria is second to last in terms of productivity per worker per hour. We are at $17.8 per worker per hour compared to $57.5 for Luxembourg at the first position and $34.2 for Spain, which is in the mid-positions. Only Romania is behind us with $10.0 per hour per worker. Enough said. 


Sofia's Monument of the Soviet Army transformed with Western symbolism, anonymous graffiti artist.

This is probably the most clever (and certainly the boldest) street artwork that Bulgaria has seen for years! On Saturday, June 18th, an anonymous graffiti artist transformed Sofia’s Monument of the Soviet Army by painting the Red Army soldiers over as Western pop culture symbols.

Sofia woke up to the sight of That Yellow Bastard, the Joker, Wolverine, Santa Claus, Superman, Ronald McDonald, Captain America, Robin, and Wonder Woman. The former-Soviet-soldiers-gone-superhero had replaced the USSR flag with the American. The message under the statues reads “keep abreast of the time”. The “Bulgarian Banksy”, as the Herald Sun nicknamed the artist, remains a mystery.

And the Monument of the Soviet Army before the graffiti, surrounded by a skate park.

The Monument of the Soviet Army is one of the landmarks of Sofia, but it is also very controversial.  It was erected in 1953-6 in order to commemorate the Soviet soldiers who rescued Europe from the Nazi. Still, many young Bulgarians perceive it as a celebration of those who forced communism onto Bulgaria in 1944 and consider it out of place. Ever since the fall of communism in 1989, the monument has been a bone of contention among “anti-communists” and “anti-capitalists”.

Today, the park around the monument is a skaters and bikers park. At night, it is full of young alternative people having fun. To me, this speaks that as long as the park is beautiful and well-kept it doesn’t really matter if the monument is outdated or not. However, I also think that it would be good to replace this monument with something that better relates to the young people of the EU.

But then again, the graffiti artist brings up a good point by replacing the symbol of the “communist occupants” with the symbol of the “capitalist occupants”.  Fifty years ago, we glorified the world power of that time, the Soviet Union. Today, as indicated by the movies we watch, the fashion we wear, and the food we eat, we are simply glorifying the current world power, the USA. Probably it is time to create something of our own and be proud of it: be it high art or graffiti.

***Several Facebook groups were created for and against the work of art/vandalism.  It was announced that city officials will clean up the monument on Tuesday at 8am, so several Facebook activists urged people to go see the graffiti in the morning and thus show their support for the anonymous artist. However, the superhero and pop culture characters artwork was cleaned between midnight and 6am last night! The citizens who visited the monument around 8am went home highly disappointed. 


This is a great interview with Gencho Genchev  about a very interesting trend in Bulgarian advertising. If brief, it notes that since 2005, many of our TV commercials have revolved around the theme of the “good old” socialism.

The idea is that everything used to be better in our socialist past: fresh produce and meat tasted real and without genetic modifications; human interaction was genuine, not online; life was simple and beautiful.

Many Bulgarians over the age of 30 associate socialism with the idea of high quality and high productivity. Not surprisingly, many of the brands that became popular during those times remain some of the market leaders today (these are mostly foods: Regular Biscuits, rose lokum, liutenitza Purvomai). Even when multinational companies bought some of these brands and pretty much changed the ingredients and the production process, the brands still remained and so did their customer loyalty.

I think that not all Westerners will understand our urge to idealize socialism in advertising. Although it’s widely accepted that most people look at their past with tenderness and nostalgia, the Western world often doesn’t realize that those who lived during socialism make no exception.

What makes the commercialization of our past such a successful marketing tool in Bulgaria? Could it be simply nostalgia for the olden days? Could it be some sort of a reaction against the modern consumerism and its overwhelming array of branded choices?

The shopkeeper: “Ooo Pepi, you look beautiful today! The new hotdogs Leki: the same taste as in those days!”

In her memories, the shopkeeper years ago: “Ooo Pepi! They just brought in the hotdogs!”

“Give me a kilo!”

Tagline: Delicious memories. Hotdog Leki.

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Read my previous post: Why do Americans Have So Many Types of Breakfast Cereal?


Watching Love.net, the newly released Bulgarian movie about love and sex on the Internet, provoked me to write about online dating from (my friends’) experience.

I just came back from studying for a semester in London (I normally study in Boston, MA). The Bosotn University study abroad program I attended was very well organized in terms of academics, internship, accommodation, and travel opportunities, but it significantly lacked in the social aspect: the classroom program was entirely of American students and we (the Americans and I) were in no way integrated with British students. Thus, our main way of meeting British students was through pubs, clubs, and… online dating.

Model and actress Dilyana Popova in a scene from Love.net

My girl friends came up with the idea. The four of them were disappointed that they couldn’t really make friendships at a club (you know, loud music and drinks do not presuppose deep conversations), so they created profiles in http://www.OkCupid.com, the UK’s largest free dating website. They put up some pictures and info and a status “looking for friendship” (at least that’s what they said) and started talking to boys online. According to them, this was the easiest way to learn about English culture.

My friends even went on several dates! One of them even took notes after her dates and called them “social/cultural experiments”. She actually turned up with pretty good cultural observations after these dates, which completely undermined my conservative position that online dating is sketchy (dodgy, if we use the British term). She learned about the London underground and alternative life from a tattoo artist and about the peer pressure that married couples exert on their male friends from a “chap” in his 30ies looking for his future Mrs.  Of course, online dating enabled my American friends to have their “Euro fling” too.

So the moral of my story is that: 1) To my surprise, online dating can actually provide real cultural immersion and a chance to meet interesting people that you might never think of approaching otherwise. 2) But still, Boston University should provide its students with safer means of meeting Brits that do not include the web and blind dates.

I’d love to hear your stories about online dating as a cross-cultural experience.


The tagline of the new Bulgarian movie Love.net says "What do you think about love from first email?"

The Internet has changed every aspect of our modern society, even love.

Love.net is a Bulgarian movie about love and sex on the Web. The movie unwinds the intertwined stories of eight online dwellers and explores their motivation for looking for fun or understanding among the profiles of strangers on dating websites. As the characters of Love.net  struggle with unhappy marriages, suppressed desires, teenage curiosity, and moral degradation, they understand that the Internet is both what brings them together and what grows them apart.

In 2007, the producer Ilian Dzhevelekov cooperated with the administrators of Bulgaria’s biggest online dating site, www.elmaz.com, and asked its visitors to share their stories for the upcoming movie. In two months, their profile received 7,000 responses and over 50,000 views. These true stories, with all their sorrow and perversion, are portrayed in the movie by some of the best Bulgarian cinema and theatre actors: Hristo Shopov, Zahary Baharov, Koyna Ruseva, Dilyana Popova, Diana Dobreva, Lilia Maraviglia, and more.

Elmaz.com has over 1.6 million registered users (Bulgaria’s population is 7 million).  At every moment, there are about 10,000 users online. The movie captures the modern social phenomenon of online dating and provokes the audience to think about its controversies.

The movie is in cinemas in Sofia since this April, but will soon be available online and on DVD. I strongly recommend it!


By Eliza Ivanova

Eliza Ivanova is a promising digital animator from Sofia.

She graduated from the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) in 2010 after having graduated from my high-school, the American College of Sofia, in 2006. I remember her impressive art from back in the day and definitely think that she is a very interesting person to follow.

I especially love her digital illustrations on her personal webpage.  Also make sure to check out Eliza’s short film Piece of Cake on her Vimeo, which was her third year project at CalArts and won their Walter and Gracie Lantz Award in 2009.  During the same year, Eliza interned for Pixar studios, which is an amazing achievement in itself!

I like how modern her art is, yet how it captures certain traces of her Bulgarian background like the theme of the boy cleaning the cars’ windows at the traffic light and the street artists in the film Hard Lines or the occasional gypsy imagery in her illustrations.

Eliza Ivanova’s art is outstanding! I wish her all the best of luck!

Update: Eliza is currently an animator for Pixar, and is working on Cars 2.

Nightmare By Eliza Ivanova


The authentic Berbatov T-shirt cost £67 but was selling like hot bread at the Manchester United Megastore! I admit, I got a much cheaper version from a street vendor.

My UK travels have kept me away from my blog for too long! But don’t think that I’m not observing the culture and taking mental notes about future articles!

I just had a lovely sunny weekend visiting a friend at the University of Manchester. Thanks god she’s a sports fan or I would’ve overlooked visiting the famous Manchester United Stadium and would’ve missed out on a great opportunity to see probably the currently strongest Bulgarian brand in action!

In a previous post, I wrote about who Dimitar Berbatov is and why Bulgarians are so proud of the Man United striker. But now, I actually witnessed that he has the potential to become an endorsement superstar (although of much lesser proportion) similar to Tiger Woods or David Beckham.

Among the merchandise, the highest proportion of course was dedicated to the team as a whole (Man United has always tried to put the spotlight on the collective rather than the individual, even during the time of Beckham), but surprisingly, probably the next most-popular images were those of Owen and Berbatov. It felt so good to see scarves, mugs, t-shirts, and posters with his handsome face and resonant name!

I learned that the Bulgarians at the University of Manchester are constantly buying Berbatov merchandise and shipping it to friends at home.

Berba is certainly the most successful brand Bulgaria has exported in the recent years. He is not only a good player, but also a celebrity whose good looks and status of a fashion icon are additionally enhanced by his socially responsible initiatives(the Dimitar Berbatov Foundation for the development of children’s talent). This winning combination has won him loyal fans from all over the world.

However, so far, he seems to be endorsing mainly products and services in Bulgaria: he has been the face of UNICEF Bulgaria, First Investment Bank, Vivatel telecom company, and more (follow the links to the ads). His image is one of the hard-working and successful man. But on a global scale, Berbatov is still only part of the Manchester United brand. His name is rarely evoked outside the Man United context, and he hasn’t really moved beyond endorsing his team’s corporate  sponsors like AON or Turkish Airlines (check out these cool commercials). From what I saw in Manchester, I’d like to think that he could further leverage his potential.

We randomly met these guys who had flown from Sofia just to see the Man U vs Fulham game and cheer for their idol.


Read Me tag on Alice in Wonderland edition illustrated by Iassen Ghiuselev

A new edition of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland came out this month in Bulgaria, illustrated by the prominent Bulgarian artist Iassen Ghiuselev.

Iassen is one of those people who are more famous and recognized abroad than at home, despite the fact that he lives in Bulgaria most of the time. The illustrator works for major publishing houses in the USA, Europe and Asia, and has won several international awards. Among the stories he has illustrated are Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Pinocchio, Don Quixote, Oliver Twist, the fairy tales of Brothers Grimm, Oscar Wilde, and John Ruskin, and more.

The illustrated edition of Lewis Carroll’s book that just came out in Bulgaria has been in circulation in Canada and parts of Europe since 2000 thanks to Simply Read Books, Vancouver. In order to draw Alice, Iassen mixes Gothic imagery with Escher-style impossible perspective and modern techniques to convey his interpretation of the dream-like Wonderland.

Take a magic tour through the Iassen Ghiuselev’s official website.

*

Last week, I visited Christ Church College in Oxford, where in 1856, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, met his inspiration for his famous novels Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

Alice and the Queen of Hearts, illustration by Iassen Ghiuselev

In 1856, while Dodgson was a mathematics tutor and a logician at Oxford, a new Dean, Henry Liddell, arrived at Christ Church together with his family.  Dodgson became close friends with the Liddell family and began inventing stories to amuse their three girls: Lorina, Edith and Alice.

Dodgson based his novel on real life elements but with a magical twist: the Mad-Hatter’s tea party and the Queen of Hearts’ game of cricket are fantastic allusions to typical British past-times. The Dodo is a caricature of the author himself who stuttered and often mispronounced his last name as Dodo-Dodgson. The White Rabbit is based on Dean Liddell himself. The book is also full of anagrams and logics problems which contribute to the twisted sense of time and space in Wonderland.

Walking around Christ Church is amazing because you recognize many of the novels’ elements: in the college’s marvelous Great Hall, you can see the brass long-necked ornaments around the fireplace (remember, Alice’s neck grows tall like a serpent’s), the dodo in the stained glass window, and the downward spiral staircase behind the Dean’s table (the rabbit’s hole).

Curious to learn more about Bulgarian fairy tales? Read my post about the Slavic samodivi.

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