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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


 

IRé is a combination of imagination and reality, the artist says. Her music is a beautiful marriage of jazz, world music, pop, folk, soul, and blues.

You can trace flamenco, African, Brazilian, and Oriental motifs in IRé’s first album, but the artist clearly gets most of her inspiration from the Bulgarian folklore. Visit her MySpace page, YouTube channel or Facebook page. 

IRé, or Irina Zhekova, is a mathematician from Bulgaria who discovered her strong bond with Bulgarian folk music while studying in Paris. There, she met with her partner, Charlie Dalin, with whom she shares a passion for music that transcends styles and flows like pure imagination. Together, the artistic duo conquered France – Irina with her voice, guitar, and piano, and  Charlie with his percussions, whistles, and special effects.

IRé, as Irina’s friends and family have nicknamed her, describes her work as ethno jazz, but in fact it is a mixture of many styles.  IRé transfers her love for Slavic mythology into the lyrics she composes – for example her songs about beautiful samodivi maidens and vicious zmei dragons. The duo captured audiences throughout France with their “modern folklore” and unconventional performances of traditional Bulgarian songs.  Most of her lyrics are in Bulgarian, but some are in a melodious made-up language, where the sound takes precedence over content.

After her enormous success in France, IRé was warmly welcomed by the Bulgarian audience as a promising young ambassador of our culture and folklore.

 

Read more about Bulgarian music and folklore:

The Bagpipe Festival in Gela and Shiroka Luka in Rhodope Mountain 

Legends of the Bulgarian Samodivi

Festival of the Bulgarian National Costumer in Zheravna

The Kukeri Dance: Scaring Away Evil Spirits

 

 


Today we drove through Buinovo gorge, a spectacular 10-kilometer canyon over the Buinovska river. The river has carved the vertical walls of the gorge, and they rise so close to each other that, according to the locals, wolves can jump from one side to the other. The region is rich in caves and other notable natural formations.

We explored the Yagodinska Peshtera (Strawbery Cave), arguably the most beautiful cave in the country. In addition to the more well-known cave formations such as stalactites, stalagmites and stalagtons (or pillars), we saw other less common shapes: cave pearls and leopard skin patterns on the walls.

These stalactite and stalagmite will "kiss" in 300 years.

I especially liked the biggest hall in the cave, the Christmas Hall (called after several rocks shaped like Santa and his elves). This is where many speleologists and cavers gather every year to celebrate New Year’s in a behooving manner – under the ground. This hall is in fact an operative ceremonial hall and many cavers have gotten married here. However, the Yagodinska Cave performs marriage ceremonies only. For divorces, the spouses have to go in the nearby Devil’s Throat Cave: where two go in but only one comes out!

And speaking of relationships, Oriana managed to stick her coin to the wall of fidelity, which means that she has no sins. The coins of those who have been unfaithful will fall on the ground.

Oriana managed to stick her 5 stotinki coin to the wall - she is not a sinner!

We spent the evening in Plovdiv, the second largest city in Bulgaria. We walked around the old town, the modern shopping streets, and the ruins of an ancient Roman amphitheatre. We almost lost my mother to a big antique shop – after almost an hour of digging through aged thingamabobs, she finally bought a very old book of recipes. The pages looked like burnt and were falling apart and its language was old-fashioned and pretty funny. Still, as my mom said, the book contained timeless housewife wisdom.

The Plovdiv amphitheater

The old town in Plovdiv

By her third night in Bulgaria, Oriana had already discovered that almost every meal, be it drinks, soups, salads, or main dishes, had cheese and/or yogurt and/or tomatoes. On the last day of the trip, she actually confessed that before visiting me, she had hated tomatoes with passion but since trying her very first Shopska salad, she had been devouring our tomatoes with great appetite. Here, she also tried for the first time rabbit stew, grilled octopus, cow’s tongue in butter, and pork (the last one, by mistake, oops!)


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!


Poli Genova, Bulgarian contestant for Eurovision 2011

It’s that time of the year again: time for Eurovision 2011 – Düsseldorf. (read my post about Bulgaria in Eurovision 2010)

This year, the Bulgarian contestant is the lovely Poli Genova!

I still remember Poli as the face of the children’s music TV show Bonn-Bon. Born in 1987, she now hosts and stars in many shows while also pursuing a degree as a Director.  Poli took part in the national level of Eurovision 2009, but her song One Lifetime is Not Enough became second in the finals.

This year, she became the national champion with a new song, Na Inat (In Defiance)!  The lyrics go: “I will find the strength inside me, I know there is so much that I can achieve. There is so much love in me, there is a reason for me to stay. We will stay and we will find a reason to stay in spite of everything. There is so much we can achieve here.” Thus, the song urges young Bulgarian people to stay in our country and to try to achieve their dreams here, “in defiance”! Poli is the perfect person to sing such a song because she is the epitome of successful Bulgarian youth!

Listen to the Bulgarian Eurovision 2011 song below and comment if you absolutely love it!!! Do you think that Poli should translate the lyrics?

Watch Bulgaria’s performance on the Eurovision semi-final on May 12th and vote for Bulgaria!


Happy 8th March, the International Day of Women!

I wanted to tell you more about Bulgarian women today, so I browsed the web and found several forums with previous years’ polls about the Greatest Bulgarian Women from the past to the present. These are my top ten Bulgarian women-idols, in no particular order:

Valya Balkanska – the folklore singer we are most proud of, as her song “Izlel e Delyu Haydutin” became part of the Voyager space odyssey in 1977. 

Baba Tonka – Tonka Obretenova was a revolutionary during the movement for our independence from the Ottoman yoke in the 1810s. She was an elderly but courageous lady who greatly supported the secret revolutionary committee and offered shelter to many of the heroes of that time who in turn affectionately called her Baba Tonka (grandmother Tonka).

Raina Kniaginia and the flag of the April Uprising, 1876Raina Kniaginia – Have you seen the woman- personification of the French revolution in the painting Liberty Leading the People? Raina Kniaginia is that person for us, but she was a real historical figure. When she was 20, she famously sew the flag of the April Uprising against the Ottoman yoke in 1876 and waved it together with the revolutionary hero Georgi Benkovski.

Baba Vanga – Blinded by a wind storm as a child, Baba Vanga received the mystic powers to see the future. She lead a very pious life in a region with hot thermal waters called Rupite near the Kozhuh mountains. Many ordinary people and even doctors and government officials went to see her and believed in her advice. Many of her prophecies have come true. I should write a longer article about her soon!

Stefka Kostadinova – she is our most celebrated female sports champion. In 1987, she set a world record in high jump, 2.09 meters, which still has not been surpassed. She is currently the president of out Olympic Committee.

Nevena Kokanova, "First lady of Bulgarian cinema "Nevena Kokanova – the “First Lady of Bulgarian cinema”. One of the most beautiful and talented actresses ever to live!

Dora Gabe and Elisaveta Bagriana – I can never decide which one of these two ladies I like more, so I will just include them side by side. Dora and Elisaveta were contemporaries: socialites, beauty icons, best friends, rivals for the heart of the same man, and the two most talented poets of their time.

Raina Kabaivanska – one of the world’s best opera singers. Luciano Pavarotti once said, “Tosca of the past was Maria Callas. Tosca of the present is Raina Kabaivanska”.

Neshka Robeva – a genius choreographer who intertwines modern ballet with tradition folklore dances. Her magical performances have inspired audiences from every continent to fall in love with Bulgarian dance and rhythm.

Lily Ivanova – She has been the prima of Bulgarian pop music for over 50 years and has delivered over 10,000 stage performances all over the globe. Her songs have and will continue to bring joy to several generations.


 

The Bulgarian Rose is an essential ingredient of Katy Perry's debut fragrance, Purr.

 

Pop diva Katy Perry launched her debut fragrance, Purr, in early November. The perfume is sold at Nordstrom for $45 for 50 ml and $65 for 100 ml. The Nordstrom description reads:

“Purr by Katy Perry begins with the aroma of peach nectar and forbidden apple, evolves with a distinct floral bouquet of jasmine blossom, Bulgarian rose and vanilla orchid, and slowly reveals accents of creamy sandalwood and musk. Like the singer herself, Purr is playful yet sophisticated. Katy Perry transcends barriers with her music—so does her new fragrance.”

Let me tell you more about the legendary Bulgarian rose.

There is a place in Bulgaria, between the Balkan Mountain Range (Stara Planina) from North and Sredna Gora Mountain on the South and Stryama River to the West and Tundzha River to the East, called the Valley of Roses (Rozova Dolina). For centuries, people here have cultivated the Kazanlak Rose and extracted its valuable Rose Oil.

 

The Kazanlak Rose is one of Bulgaria's national symbols.

 

The scientific name of the Kazanlak rose, named after the major town in the Valley of Roses, Kazanlak, is Rosa Damascena. It has very small but very fragrant pink and pink-red flowers. From its petals, we produce the world-renown Bulgarian Rose Oil, also known as Rose Otto or Rose Attar.

It takes about 3000-3500 kilograms of rose petals to produce 1 kilogram of rose oil, which in turn costs about $7,000. In the past, the price of rose oil almost reached that of gold, so to Bulgarians, Rose Otto is “the liquid gold.”

 

Young rose-pickers throw petals in the air along the streets of Kazanlak

 

Bulgaria is the largest producer of rose oil in the world. Other top producers are Turkey, Morocco, Iran, France, and Italy. The rose oil is widely used in the perfume, cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries (Read more about Rose Oil Info and Uses). Some of the perfume brands that use rose oil as their essential ingredient are Dior, Givenchy, Kenzo, Gucci, and Nina Ricci, but undoubtedly the most famous perfume containing Bulgarian Rose is Chanel No.5. The oil is contained even in the most expensive perfume in the world, Imperial Majesty by Clive Christian, which sells for about $300,000 per 500 ml bottle.

Rose oil production is very labor intensive and requires great expertise. The petal-picking season lasts only 20 days in a year. To preserve the best qualities of the petals, the rose-pickers, traditionally young girls, have to gently pick the blossoms one by one early in the morning, before the rising sun evaporates the dew from the petals. Naturally, the rose-picking season is an occasion for celebration.

 

The Bulgarian Festival of the Rose proves that beauty is ageless!

 

The Festival of the Rose (read more) takes place in the beginning of June in Kazanlak since 1903. Some of the highlights include the beauty contest “Queen of the Roses,” the rose-picking ceremony in traditional folk costumes, and the parade with folk music and dance, masked kukeri (read my post on the kukeri carnival), and traditional art. The rose festival in Kazanlak is a true celebration of beauty!

***

Did you read my post on the Festival of the National Costume in Zheravna?


Today, September 17, Eastern Orthodox Christians commemorate the day of the martyr Sophia and her three daughters Faith, Hope, and Love (in Greek, Pistis, Elpis, and Agape; in Bulgarian, Vyara, Nadezhda, and Lyubov).

Sophia was a pious woman who lived in Rome under Emperor Adrian (Hadrian), in the first century AD. She had named her daughters after the main Christian virtues, faith, hope, and love.

When Emperor Adrian found out that the family openly observed Christianity, he ordered them to offer a sacrifice to the Roman gods. When they refused, the emperor ordered that the young girls, age 12, 10, and 9, be tortured until they rejected Christ.  The girls were killed in the name of their religion and became martyrs. After Sophia buried them, she prayed for three days by their graves and finally died herself, believing she would join them in Heaven.

In our culture, this day is the “name day” of those who bear the names Sofia, Vyara, Nadezhda, or Lyubov, and they receive guests at home.  All Bulgarians celebrate, so that their families are healthy, happy, and filled with love.

Today, we also celebrate the holiday of our capital, Sofia. We have chosen this day to honor our city, although Sofia was not named after the martyr Sophia. In fact, the name of our capital signifies Wisdom. In Greek, Aghia Sophia means the Divine Wisdom of God.

So today, I want to tell my mother, Lyubka, that to me, she signifies All the Love in the World.

Честит празник, мамо!


10.  Tell her she has a cute accent

9. Teach your friends how to pronounce your girlfriend’s name correctly

8. Be able to point Bulgaria on the map and teach your friends to pronounce the capital Sofia the right way, with the stress on the first syllable

7.  Learn more about Bulgaria’s history: the ancient Thracians, the khans, the Bulgarian Empire, the Ottoman yoke, the revolutionaries, the socialist era, modern-day tourist destinations

6. Find a Russian/Greek/Turkish store that sells Bulgarian food and buy her liutenitza, sirene (cheese), or lokum/baklava. Know that real yogurt is made from Lactobacillus Bulgaricus and real red wine comes from the Melnik region

5. Call her to ask whether to use green or red peppers in the shopska salad that you are making for her

4. Listen to her Bulgarian and Balkan music playlist. Respect Lili Ivanova and Goran Bregovic

3. Be able to eat all the lukanka, kebabche, liutenitza, sirene, and banitza that her grandmother offers you and to try at least three types of rakia: from plums, grapes, and apricots.

2. Learn to dance pravo horo. And always lead it

1. Learn at least a few Bulgarian phrases. Start with Здрасти [Zdrasti] – Hello and Обичам те [Obicham te] – I love you

You might also find interesting:

“And God Created Bulgarian Women” from Vagabond magazine

An interview with the Swedish spouse of a Bulgarian woman from the blog “How to Marry a Bulgarian”


For anyone who is even slightly observant to cultural trends, it is obvious that one of predominant themes in American cinema, TV, music, and commercials is violence. There is blood, blades, or bullets in almost every American blockbuster and computer game. Violence is simply part of the pop culture and no one seems to find it overly shocking any more.

Chalga-hip-hop singer Ustata in a commercial for Nestle ice-cream. Surely many little boys and girls will eat ice-cream this summer.

Sex, on the other hand, is taboo, and eroticism is an ancient art that exists only in Europe. Sex connotations are censored on TV, and movies with nude scenes often receive more strict parental guidelines (the sign that tells you if the movie is suitable for 12-year olds or 16-year olds, etc.) than those with killings. Lately, it seems that pop culture is becoming even more puritanical, like in the Twilight series where Bella and Edward will consume their love only after their marriage, or in Dear John where Savannah and John kiss and hug, but she still waits for him for more than a year to return from the war.

I don’t understand why Americans try to conceal sex so hard and still display so much brutality and bloodshed. Doesn’t it seem contradictory and maybe hypocritical? Probably the origin of the media sex-eclipse is the religiousness of many powerful American Christian denominations and sects. The saturation of guns and violence in pop culture reflects USA’s constant fighting and wars somewhere in the world, which have become part of the Americans’ daily lives just like action movies.

I go to college in the States, and I can tell you that someone’s attempt to keep youths pure from the sin of sex is absolutely in vain. Violence, unfortunately, seems to be engrained too deeply in politicians’ minds.

The commercial for mastika Peshtera with chalga singer Maria contains the lines "They are so big and juicy," which refers to the watermelons to go with your drink.

In Bulgaria, sex comes before violence. Sexual images inundate our pop scene, fashion, TV, magazines, and billboards. The young generation’s pop idols, the chalga stars, are platinum-blonde supermodels with silicone boobs and lips. One can mute their music videos and watch them as near-porn movies.  Girls age 7 to 37 love and imitate the chalga stars. Our TV commercial slogans go: “With licking comes the appetite” (for Nestle ice-cream), “Erases the memories” (for vodka Flirt), and “It’s the season of the watermelons” (for mastika Peshtera liqueur). Our young women like to carry themselves as provocative and sexy, which has brought fame to Bulgaria, and especially our sea resorts as destinations for alcohol and sex tourism.

Despite the abundance of sexual imagery, Bulgaria is not a sexual inferno really. Young people are liberal in their views, but there is no baby boom or STD epidemics (with the notable exception of the Roma people whose numbers are going up while the average age when their women give birth for the first time is in the early teens; but Roma culture is different from ours).

So this is what I’m confused about: How can it be that something so terrible as violence has been turned into a cult in America, while something so natural as sex has been stigmatized as taboo?! Simultaneously, how can it be that a country that greatly values traditional family relations, where homosexuality and abortion are still sensitive topics can have such a vulgar and sexual pop culture?!


Alex Raeva, singer and fashion designer

Once a girl friend asked me what makes Bulgarian women different from American.

It’s not about their physique because we have all types: the Mediterranean, with olive skin, light eyes, and dark hair; the Scandinavian type: fair, blue-eyed and blonde; and some with Arabic eyes and black hair. Some are elegant and slender, some are luscious and curvy, and some are plump and delightful.

Beloslava - singer and song writer

It’s about the way they carry themselves . A Bulgarian woman never goes out without touching up. It could be as simple as putting on some mascara, straightening or curling her hair, putting on some jewelry, or just a pair of heels.

Kamelia - pop folk singer and model

She doesn’t go out in flip-flops, Crocks, Uggs, sweatpants, or her pajamas (and she always combs her hair!).  She dresses with style. She matches colors and fabrics, and usually chooses the style that flatters her figure, nothing too loose and nothing that looks too tight where it shouldn’t.

Radost Draganova - TV host

The most significant difference in the style is that the Bulgarian always puts a sexy twist on her appearance: emphasized eyes, stilettos, a tightly-fitted top, skinny jeans, a mini skirt, or a low neckline are just some of her little secrets.

The Bulgarian woman is never simply casual, or simply sporty, or simply having a bad day.

She wants to look good for others and for herself.

***

The photos are taken from View Sofia lifestyle magazine’s article Top 50 Most Beautiful Bulgarians.

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