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This Friday, my two cousins, two of my friends from high-school in Sofia, four of my American girlfriends, and I went to a Bulgarian restaurant in London!
For a long time, I had wanted to give my American friends a true Bulgarian experience – of course I talk to them about my country all the time, but I really wanted them to create their own impression of our culture and traditions. So I looked up a Bulgarian restaurant in London, The Crazy Cock (click on this link to read my friend’s review on Yelp).
The thing that worried me about this restaurant were the online reviews: every single one of them was negative! They were all by Bulgarians who were complaining about how overpriced the food was, how scandalous the waitresses looked, how bad the pop-folk music was, and so on. Still, this was my only chance to present my friends with an objective image of Bulgaria.
The restaurant actually looked great! It was decorated like the outside of a traditional house from the Bulgarian Enlightenment era: the walls were covered in river stones and had colorful balconies like in the town of Melnik. On one of the walls, they had a – I must admit – quite ostentatious picture of St. Cyril and Methodius, but at least it gave me a reason to talk about the canonized brothers who created the Cyrillic alphabet (read my previous article to learn more)!
The food was also very good! We, the Bulgarians got excited and ordered all sorts of delicacies for our American guests: for appetizers, we got shopska salad, snezhanka (yoghurt, cucumbers, garlic, dill, and walnuts), liutenitza, assorted lukanka (dried pork and beef meze) and cheese, very tender cow’s tongue in oil, and chicken liver with veggies. The girls even tried rakia (40% alcohol that Bulgarians use for drinking as well as disinfection), but they didn’t like it too much.
For the main course, we ordered chicken and vegetables on a hot clay plate (sach) and guyveche, which consists of cheese, tomatoes, peppers, egg, and sausage prepared in a clay pot. Us the Bulgarians joked around that many of our typical meals were not on the menu because they UK had banned such imports: pig’s ears, intestines, brain, hearts, etc.
The entertainment was as classy as it gets! At first, we watched pop-folk (chalga) videos on the TV. The Americans quickly caught the pattern: blonde or brunette chalga singers with fake lips and breasts and promiscuous stage behavior. Around 9:00pm, a live band of Bulgarian Roma started playing old Bulgarian ballads and folk songs. I gave my good friend Connie a quick lesson in our dance moves, and she promised to join me and my cousin for a Bulgarian dance class at our embassy next Thursday (that should make a great blog post!)
We had a great time at the Crazy Cock! The waitresses were sexy and weren’t in a hurry to serve us. The owner of the place didn’t really come to greet us although we were the first and the only guests for the first two hours. He was also the band’s drummer and the restaurant’s loudest customer. But other than that, our party was merry, the conversations were flowing, and the dinner lasted almost four hours! Overall, it was a pretty authentic experience!
At the end, my friend asked me why most of the online reviews were negative. Well, I told her, you would expect that the only Bulgarian restaurant in London would try to present the country in the best possible light with Bulgarian-quality food and Western-quality service. Instead, this was a very typical Bulgarian place – with all its positive and negative connotations.
To my dear friends I can just say, thank you for embracing Bulgarian culture and cuisine! I hope you enjoyed it!
You want to read more about my favorite Bulgarian food? Look at this!
Or read a very detailed account of our dinner (with a very lovely introduction for me), from the food expert-blogger Connie!
Customer Service at Restaurants in Eastern Europe
- 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.
- 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
- Take your time looking through the menu. Read the appetizing description of every dish.
- 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.
- Order salads, mezze, and aperitif (rakia or ouzo).
- These come relatively quickly. Take your time picking on them. Your main task now is to converse with your friends.
- 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.
- The food takes some time. No worries, you can keep ordering aperitif and carry on the merrymaking.
- Finally, 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?
- 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.
- In another hour or two, when everyone starts to get a little bit sleepy, order dessert and coffee (or digestive).
- Ask for the bill. For once, the waiter will respond quickly.
- 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
- 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.
- A grinning waitress immediately comes and introduces herself. She does some small talk. She pours you ice and water and hands you the menus.
- Look at the pictures in the menu and choose one.
- You put on your jacket because the AC is be blasting.
- In 5-10 minutes, the waitress with the 24-carat smile brings you your dish. She refills your ice and water.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- She brings the check without you asking for it and leaves it on the table with the words “No pressure guys, take your time.”
- 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.
- 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?
For the next three days, the village of Zheravna will be a one-of-a-kind time machine. The Festival of The National Costume Zheravna 2010 will take place from August 20th to 22nd for the third year in a row. It will gather thousands of people from all regions of Bulgaria to celebrate with dance and music as their ancestors did 100-150 years ago.
The only condition for attending the festival is to wear a traditional costume. It could be authentic, theatrical, or custom-made. It could represent any region, social status, profession, or craftsman guild. See pictures and read more about Bulgarian folk costumes on the official website from the link above.
Participants will enjoy traditional cuisine: meze, cheeses, dried and grilled meats, banitza, breads, wine, and rakia. They will observe and take part in old-style wrestling, kukeri parades, nestinari dances, and the work of various craftsmen. The celebrations will be accompanied by traditional bagpipes, kettle drums, and cymbals as well as by dance performances by professional folklore ensembles and troupes from all Bulgarian ethnographic regions and other Balkan countries.
The use of modern devices and technology, even of chairs, forks, and watches is very restricted in order to ensure the authenticity of the experience. The festival is organized by Foundation “Bulgare”. Zheravna 2010 is a truly magnificent reincarnation of Bulgarian culture and heritage.
- Read my post about the Bulgarian Rose Festival in Kazanlak.
- Italian impressions from Bulgaria (slideshare.net)
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.
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.
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?!
- Katy Perry Talks Sex & Spirituality in Rolling Stone (beliefnet.com)
Speaking of taxes, let me present the Bulgarian view of this unnecessary and easily avoidable social burden.
As a member of the EU, Bulgaria had to comply with the European standard excise duty on alcohol and tobacco products. This basically meant that prices of bottled alcohol and the cost of alcohol production would increase drastically.
So far so good, but the European Union didn’t know that for centuries, Bulgarian families have produced wine and rakia (80 proof alcohol made from grapes, apples, or plums) in the comfort of their homes. The European tax would mean that many low-income families would be deprived of their traditional source of income and of a very typical Bulgarian alcoholic delicacy.
Thus, the whole nation rose against the cruel tax. The people threatened to enter protests and to hide their distilling condensers in their attics and basements.
Not long enough, the government complied with the people’s demand to preserve the home-made wine and rakia and abandoned its plan to raise taxes. It was a true people’s victory.
But this is not the climax of my story.
As a sign of gratitude, Bulgarian villagers named a brand of home-made rakia from vintage 2009 after our Prime Minister Boiko Borisov, Borisovka. Not surprisingly, the village happens to be the picturesque Kapatovo in the Melnik region, the birthplace of my father! The idea for Kapatovo’s rakia Borisovka came from the Russian vodka Putinka, which was named after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Boiko Borisov, similar to Putin, is a notorious figure in the Bulgarian political arena and in our popular culture.
It seems that not only Americans have a special attitude towards taxes!
Read the article on Kapatovo’s rakia Borisovka from Reuters.