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S'mores by Yosemite

Making s’mores over the campfire by Yosemite National Park, CA

I’ve been waiting for this moment for so long! I’ve wanted to try s’mores ever since I heard about them as a freshman!
The setting is perfect: the camp fire just outside Yosemite Valley, the tents, the group of friends.
This recipe is probably engraved in every American kid’s memory, but it was a whole new world to me:
You put a marshmallow on a stick and roast it on the fire until it becomes anywhere between slightly golden to, in my case, burnt black (oops). Then you put the marshmallow on a big piece of plain milk Hershey bar and sandwich it with two half pieces of a graham cracker. Squish the s’more slightly and watch the chocolate melt over the marshmallow. Now devour.
Absolutely gourmet cuisine! The finest campfire dining experience I’ve ever had! Thank you American girl scouts!

*Plain milk chocolate, marshmallows, graham crackers, and wooden skewers are sold as package in stores. That’s genius marketing thinking!

S'mores by Yosemite

You can judge my appearance, but I taste amazing!

 

This is a map of my hikes in Yosemite National Park, CA.

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I used to be surprised at how dependent Americans are on their cars, but now I understand it. USA is so vast , and the cities are so spread out, that it is impossible to get by without a reliable vehicle. This is why cars and gas are so cheap, people get their driver’s license at 16, and infrastructure is so good in the States. Good roads are key to keeping this huge country connected and to enable business. No wonder why Americans love their roads and have even created legends around some of them and have raised them to the status of national symbols.

I feel lucky to have traveled the two most famous roads in the States within the same month – Highway One and Route 66. Both of them have the official status of All-American Roads, granted by the US Department of Transportation, which means that they are national scenic, cultural, historic and natural sites.

Route 66

Route 66 Road Trip

Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive-In is a must-visit roadside eatery along Historic Route 66. Here, Delgadillo’s old Cadillac collection

Historic Route 66, also known as The Mother Road, links Chicago to Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles through Arizona, Illinois, and New Mexico (3,945m). I travelled along Route 66 roughly between Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Lake Havasu, and Los Angeles. The best attraction on Route 66, I think, are the many roadside bars and eateries, such as Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive-In.

Route 66 Road Trip

Delgadillo is a famous trickster. His signature sense of humor is all over Snow Cap’s backyard

Snow Cap is a popular roadside attraction in Seligman, AZ along Route 66. Juan Delgadillo, the owner of the place, is notorious for his weird sense of humor. The front door had two doorknobs, and of course, the one I held first turned out to be a dummy. When I ordered a bottle of water, Juan Delgadillo, the man behind the counter gave me a baby bottle. Then he squirted fake ketchup on my shirt. Then he asked me if I wanted a straw for my water – and handed me a bunch of dried hay straws.  I must say, I was not prepared for the pranks, but I did appreciate them!

Route 66 Road Trip

Delgadillo’s Snow Cap offers “cheeseburgers with cheese”, “dead chicken”, snow cones, and fountain sodas.

The backyard of the Snow Cap is full of vintage automobiles with faces, hand-written signs like “Sorry, we’re open”, a wooden outdoor toilet with a TV and a hula dancing doll inside, and more random craziness. It turns out that Seligman, AZ is the prototype of Radiator Springs from Pixar’s Cars: a small town on a rather abandoned road where a great sense of humor and a few good local stars are the only way to attract tourism.

Highway One

Taking a road trip along West Coast’s Highway One is one of the quintessential “Bucket List” items that all Americans have. I took that trip twice – once from San Francisco to LA, and, three weeks later, from San Diego to San Francisco.

Some of the highlights of Highway One that I saw were:

Pebble Beach – a peninsula with beautiful bays, lodges, and vista points turned into a ritzy golf resort and gated community. Here is The Lone Cypress, which most Californians will recognize in photos.

Monterey – The two must-see attractions are the Monterey Bay Aquarium (read my previous post) and the shops and restaurants at Canary Row.

Big Sur – the most stunning coastline I have ever seen in the entire world is between Monterey and San Lius Obispo! The sheer walls of the Santa Lucia Mountains vertically drop in the Pacific Ocean to create breathtaking views of the dark blue ocean, waves crashing and foaming into the jagged rocks, the narrow white strip of Highway 1 meandering on the edge of the cliffs,  and the green mountain tops almost touching the blue sky.  I spent almost the whole ride with my hand outside the window taking photos. You have to be prepared to snap them fast because if you are a moment too late, you could just miss the perfect shot of the Bixby Creek Bridge.

Highway One Road Trip

Stunning views of Big Sur during my Highway One road trip

Highway One Road Trip

Brixby Creek Bridge is one of the most spectacular views along Big Sur but you have to have your camera ready, or you might miss the shot!

Architectural wonders – Madonna Inn and Hearst Castle  (previous post), two eccentric establishments built by America’s richest people of the day.

Beautiful beaches with seals and sea otters – harbor seals around Carmel and elephant seals around San Simeon, as well as interesting human-inhabited beaches such as Muscle Beach and Venice Beach (I took lots of cool pics here).

The desert landscape of Imperial Sand Dunes and the Chocolate Mountains – I did not expect to see this, but yes, California has everything – from lush green sequoia forests and magnificent coasts to sandy deserts south of San Diego.

In conclusion, Highway One and Route 66 have definitely met and exceeded my expectations of the perfect road trips!

 

 

Other famous streets I’ve visited in the States: The Las Vegas Strip, Broadway and 5th Avenue in NYC, Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood Boulevard (where I saw Katy Perry) and Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles, The Freedom Trail in Boston, Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Ocean Drive in South Beach, Miami (read about my awesome spring break). 


As a sophomore, I was thinking about spending a semester “abroad” in LA, but my employer at the time and good friend Scott told me that this place wasn’t for me. He told me that it was dirty, overcrowded, superficial, drained your energy, and invariably enticed you to dye your hair blond and fill your lips with collagen. I ended up studying abroad in London instead, but I always remained curious about this strange place called Los Angeles.

Olvera Street is the oldest part of LA and testifies of the city’s Hispanic heritage

Scott was right. The City of Angels is one of those places in the US that I very much enjoy visiting but where I don’t see myself staying. Like New York, LA offers more than you could take in just a few days:

The Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard is as crowded and touristy as Times Square. Rodeo Drive is as jaw-dropping glamorous as Fifth Avenue. The Walt Disney Concert Hall is as impressive as the Guggenheim. Beverly Hills, with its multi-million dollar houses and palm-lined boulevards, is exactly what you see on TV.

The Mexican marketplace at Olvera Street offers souvenirs and sweets

When I imagined LA, I used to think about the movie industry, the music industry, the fashion industry, and the luxurious houses of America’s highlife. I used to think of starving artists struggling to make their breakthrough and rich businessmen living a thrilling life. But in fact, there is a whole other LA that I saw. I saw what seemed to be two distinct cities: an American and a Mexican city.

To my surprise, Los Angeles carries very old Hispanic heritage. It’s history began with the establishment of a Spanish mission in 1782 – El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora Reina de los Ángeles. From 1821 to 1848, the town was under Mexican rule. The influx of English and continental Europeans came in the 1880s and to a great extent changed the face of the city. More recently since the 1920s, the immigration of Mexicans and other Hispanics to the States has been steadily increasing, and data shows that LA receives the most such immigrants out of any city in the West. Therefore, LA is being increasingly influenced by the Latino culture anew.

Pico House is the oldest hotel in LA, constructed by the last governor of Alta California, Pío Pico in 1870

It was very interesting to see the old part of LA: El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument, only a short walk from Downtown.  My friend Irinka and I visited Olvera Street, which is painfully cheesy but still cute with its colorful souvenir shops and stands with mouth-watering sweets. We saw the oldest house in LA, Avila Adobe, and the city’s first grand hotel, Pico House.

Built in 1818, the historic house museum Avila Adobe is the oldest residence in LA

Later, though, we had an even more authentic contemporary experience.  We took a 50 minute trip by public transport from Downtown LA to Citadel Outlets in East LA. Now this was very different from the city we had seen earlier: many of the signs were in Spanish; the cafes offered Mexican food; many of the girls were dressed as latino divas. East LA clearly carried a Hispanic vibe.

We didn’t have much time to explore that part of town because it was getting late and dark, but I wish someone had told me that East and West LA are so different – I would have probably spent less time in Hollywood!


Three years ago when I started this blog as a sophomore at Boston University, I couldn’t even imagine how soon I would be writing this:

I graduated from college!

As I reflect back on my experience as a Bulgarian coming to the States for university, I feel that I have accomplished some very significant achievements. I immersed myself in the American culture, conquered a few personal goals, and even managed to learn a thing or two about Marketing and Management.

This is my list of the greatest things I did while studying in America:

Soak In the American Culture

1. Attended two 4th of July fireworks, 3 Boston Marathons, 4 Thanksgiving celebrations (a very German one, one at Disneyworld, a very American one, and a very Arab one)

2. Went to two Red Sox games, a Celtics game, a Giants game, and a BU vs BC hockey game

3. Watched the Superbowl twice

4. Went whale watching near Cape Cod

5. Saw the Blue Angels in Florida

6. Went to several Broadway musicals in New York, The Blue Man Group and the Boston Pops Orchestra in Boston, drag queen shows in Provincetown

7. Played the slot machines in Las Vegas, Foxwoods, CT and Mohegan Sun, CT

8. Witnessed Obama’s election, learned a lot about American politics, and was there when the global financial system crashed (this is not necessarily my achievement)

9. Interacted with the US military and learned a lot about the philosophy of the enlisted, ROTC, and those who support them

10. Learned about ADHD and how common the misuse of Adderall is at universities

11. Did a pull up at Muscle Beach, LA

12. Partied all night long in Miami

13. Ate like an American: tried Twinkies, s’mores, New England clam chowder, Main lobster, Cajun cuisine and jambalayas, Tex-Mex fajitas, lots of bagels with cream cheese, San Francisco crab bisque in a sourdough bowl, (ate and shucked) oysters, hotdog at the ballpark, salt water taffy, Reese’s peanut butter cups, cranberries (even visited a cranberry bog), a ton of salad dressings, avocado on everything

14. NEVER TRIED A PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY SANDWICH (I just realized that! Must fix that!)

15. Went to some of America’s most beloved chain restaurants: Hooters, Jamba Juice, In-N-Out, Bubba Gump, Hard Rock Café, Krispy Kreme, The Cheesecake Factory

16. Bought something from Abercrombie and Fitch, American Eagle, American Apparel, and Urban Outfitters

Enhance My College Career

17. Met interesting people from all over the world

18. Tailored my education to the area of business and the industry I’m interested in and landed my dream job

19. Had an internship every semester and summer

20. Picked up a third foreign language, Russian

21. Became good friends with some of my professors

22. Visited some of the world’s top universities: Harvard, MIT, Yale, Stanford, Brown, Berkeley, and Columbia U

23. Joined several student groups

24. Went to frat parties and witnessed a lot of MIT frat hazing

25. Attended a house party that got busted by the police

26. Played beer pong, cups, and gunshotting during 21st birthday celebrations

27. Used a fake international ID to get into clubs before I was 21 (very offended because I had been clubbing in Bulgaria since 16)

28. Spent spring break in Cancun with the entire US college population

29. Got my university to pay me for tutoring Writing 100 and Writing 150 students

30. Was in the top 7% of the class.. who would have thought?

Travel As Much As Possible

31. Travelled all over the East and West Coast: Niagara Falls, Walden Pond, Salem, Boston, Plymouth, Cape Cod, Provincetown, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, Providence, New Haven, Pittsburgh, State College, New York, New Jersey, Miami, Orlando, Pensacola, New Orleans, Jackson MI, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Cancun, The Bahamas, Sierra Nevada, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Lake Havasu, San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Big Sur, Monterey, Berkeley, San Francisco, Palo Alto, San Ramon, Lodi, Napa and Sonoma Valley, Point Reyes.

32. Had a road trip on Route 66 as well as on Highway 1 (in both directions)

33. Soaked my feet both in the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean

34. Took advantage of Boston University’s study abroad programs for a semester in London and in Madrid, where I even lived with a Spanish family.

35. Brought four American friends to Bulgaria, was their tour guide, and left them with wonderful impressions of the Bulgarian people, culture, and nature

Get In Some Thrill:

36. Overcame my fear of the deep, learned how to swim (freestyle, breaststroke, back and butterfly), and won recognitions for second and third place at a swimming competition.

37. Learned to sail a flying junior and had an amazing time sailing on the Charles every spring and fall

38. Constantly challenged myself with something new: Tried fencing, kickboxing, African dancing, belly dancing, pole dancing, snowboarding (I’m yet to perfect that!), jet ski, catamaran, windsurf, sea kayak, coasteering (jumping off rocks into the freezing sea with a wetsuit), flying a Navy flight simulator and a Cessna

39. Completed an AFF skydiving course and am currently on my 11th jump

Become Americanized:

40. Got a Massachusetts ID

41. Received a social security number

42. Filed my taxes (only twice though, should have been four times, oops)

43. Got called for Jury Duty

44. Visited the Sam Adams Brewery

45. Went to a Wal-Mart


During the first days of spring, I ironically had one of the windiest, coldest nights of my life in Vermont. As my shoulders were starting to throb with pain under the pressure of the beating wind, my fingers were turning blue and then becoming numb, and my brain was getting frostbite, all I could think about was ice cream.

Winter hat and ice cream? Never in Bulgaria - that kid will catch a cold!

In Bulgaria, I wouldn’t eat ice cream until probably mid-June, and then only until the end of August. Why would you eat something that cold unless it’s really hot outside and you are at the beach or outside in the sun? In the States, ice cream is maybe the number one dessert – everyone has at least one box of it in the freezer, and there are numerous ice cream parlors that are open and busy at any time of the year.

Ice cream (and the latest trend, frozen yogurt) is such a staple in the diet of the average college student here in Boston– it’s a treat, it’s midnight snack,  it’s comfort food, it’s exam time food, it’s after-party food. In wintertime or summer, there is always an occasion to get a cone at Ben & Jerry’s, J. P. Licks, or Emack & Bolio’s, and what is more – to eat it outside in sunshine, rain, or snow!  There is seasonal variation in the volume of sales of course, but it sort of evens out for the ice cream producers since they sell more cones through their outlets in the summer and then more boxes for home consumption through supermarkets in the winter.

We don't have sundaes or brownies/cookies with ice cream, but we love our melba - a fruit cup with ice cream, biscotti, and other goodies!

My excuse for my ice cream ignorance is that I’ve always thought that you can become ill from the cold. It’s just something that every Bulgarian mother tells her kids – always sleep under a blanket or bed sheet, never stand where there is wind current, don’t sit on the cold pavement, don’t drink chilled Coca Cola with ice too fast, and don’t even think about ice cream when it’s cold outside! (Mind you, chilled beverages in Bulgaria come with three ice cubes at most! There is none of this fill-up-my-glass-with-ice-and-sprinkle-some-beverage-inside that you get at American restaurants!) Also, the most vital body parts that you should never expose to wind or cold are your waist (because your kidneys and especially the ovaries might get sick), your head (I would guess because of the brain), and your feet (because it just sucks to have cold feet?).

My Russian professor said that it was the same in Ukraine and Russia:  they also believe that you can “catch a cold from the cold” and that ice cream is only for the heat of summer. On the other side of the spectrum, there are some cultures that drink hot tea when they feel the hottest in order to cool off! What do you think, is the idea that cold can bring you diseases just an Eastern European superstition or is it wisdom?

 

Other Articles Related to Superstitions: 

Spitting on a Baby Protects in From the Evil Eye

Lucky Like a Chimney Sweeper

H.C. Andersen’s Mermaids and Slavic Samodivi, Folktales of the Spring

 


I’ve never written a post about America’s weight issue because I think that too many people have written about it, and also it hasn’t ever particularly bothered me. Yes, I have seen more obese people (both in number and in size) here than anywhere else in the world, and I think we all know what the reasons are. But I’ve noticed that the biggest health freaks are also American. Anyways, this post is not about fat people but about fat people in wheelchairs.

It was nice to see that Disney World was very accessible to people in wheelchairs. But then I realized that these weren’t really wheelchairs but more like automatic chairs that wheeled healthy-looking people around. Eh, healthy is not the exact word. These were people who are not disabled but have trouble walking because they are obese… or as my American friend put it, because they are “lazy fat Americans”. Ouch!

Did you see that Pixar movie WALL-E where the post-apocalyptic humans move around their city in automated gravity-defying armchairs and watch life from their plasma screens while munching on burgers and milkshakes? Yep, that’s almost what I saw in real life!

Can someone explain to me why did those people use wheelchairs?


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


In Texas, I saw the biographical movie Selena, and it helped me understand the Tejano culture.

Selena Quintanilla-Perez, The Queen of Tejano Music

Selena Quintanilla-Perez (1971 – 1995) was a Mexican-American singer also known as the “Queen of the Tejano music” and the Mexican equivalent of Madonna. She was the best selling Latin artist of the 90s and an idol for the Tejanos and the Latin world. Selena was murdered in Corpus Christi, TX just two weeks before her 24 birthday by the president of her fan club, Yolanda Saldivar. Her death was commemorated as a great tragedy by millions of fans. That summer, her new album Dreaming of You, with lyrics both in English and Spanish, became number one in the US Billboard 200, which made it the second highest debut after Michael Jackson’s HIStory.

The movie Selena (starring Jennifer Lopez) was my introduction to the Tejano culture. Tejanos (the Spanish word for Texans) are people of Mexican heritage who live in Texas and whose ancestors arrived there before or during the Texas Revolution. In 2000, they are about 6.7 million or 32% of the population of Texas.  The center of their culture is San Antonio. In general, their music is very close to the Cajun music of Louisiana, to the cowboy country music, or to the Mexican and Latino music. Their cuisine is a mixture of Spanish and American, or more commonly referred to as Tex-Mex: lots of tortillas, enchiladas, fajitas, chili, etc.

I find it very interesting that this is a culture that evolved out of the meeting of two very different peoples. Because the Tejanos live on the crossroads between Mexico and America, Selena has to be very flexible if she wants to send a message to both. The movie portrayed very well the challenges Tejanos have when it comes to cultural assimilation. One quote by Selena’s father really struck me:

We have to be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans, both at the same time! It’s exhausting!

The Selena Memorial in Corpus Christi, TX

Just think about it: Selena has to speak both Spanish and English and to know the customs and values of Mexicans and Ameircans in order to appeal to both and be accepted by both. Because she carries two cultural identities in her, she can never completely assimilate with one or the other. She is meant to live in both cultures simultaneously. And that’s why she has to try twice as hard.

The Tejan dilemma applies to all immigrants, people of mixed backgrounds, and even international students. You have to learn to embrace both of your identities (or both your home and host culture), but also you have to be flexible and bring forth one or the other of them when in the respective environment. In other words, you have to prove to the Mexicans that you are Mexican and to the Americans that you are American. It would be much more difficult to appeal to the Americans as a foreigner for example; yes, you might seem exotic and interesting, but you will never be accepted if you do not display an understanding of their values and ways of doing things.

Another way to put it is: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. So, having cultural sensitivity and understanding is very important for everyone but even more important for people of mixed descend and immigrants.

 

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Adventures in the Lone Star State: Texas Pride


The Texas and American flags by the Riverwalk, San Antonio, TX

After visiting Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana, the next top destination on my list was Texas. I must say, I love the Sudurn (that’s how you pronounce Southern, right?) culture! People are relaxed and negligee. They stroll instead of rush, look at you in the eye when you pass each other in the street, and are keen on starting and carrying on a conversation with strangers.

Cowboy cookbooks at a souvenir shop in San Antonio, TX

What made the strongest impression on me in San Antonio is the abundance of the Texas flag. I have been to many American states but have never before seen such evident display of state pride. Actually, I don’t think I even know what the rest of the state flags look like, other than the Massachusetts one (Massachusetts is probably the only other place where I’ve noticed similar state-patriotism).

The decorations on the Christmas tree in San Antonio, TX include: stars, cacti, cowboy boots, the outlines of the state, horse, longhorn, etc.

You can sense the Texas pride not only from the profusion of lone-star merchandise in the souvenir shops or the ambiance in touristy restaurants; it’s also in the decoration in public places, the flags on many of the private houses, and the way people dress. Yes, everything about the cowboy hats, big buckle belts and the string-like bolo ties is true. It’s as if Texas has its own culture, which is of course influenced by the American and the Mexican culture, but also has its unique features (read my post about the Tejano culture). That’s why the cuisine is predominantly Mexican and you can freely communicate with almost anyone in Spanish (this reminded me of my vacation in Miami).

I was even a little bit surprised at how many times I saw the Texan flag next to the American flag or even the former taking precedence over the latter.  It didn’t exactly become clear to me whether they two were like the two sides of one coin or if they were juxtaposed.

In Texas, I also became aware that each state has its own nickname, license plate, motto, animal, plant, etc.  For example, Texas is the Lone Star State, Massachusetts is the Bay State, Florida – The Sunshine State,  California – the Golden State, New York – the Empire State, etc.

Regional Pride in Bulgaria

The Seven Folklore Regions of Bulgaria

We do have regional pride in Bulgaria, but our regions are cultural rather than administrative, and are in no way semi-autonomous like the American states. There are no such things are regional flags, mottos, or license plates. However, regions are defined by their folklore. Basically our mountains shape the Seven Folklore Regions of Bulgaria.

Counterclockwise from West to East, they are: the Shopski region (around Sofia), the Pirin region (around Blagoevgrad and Melnik), the Rhodope region (around Shiroka Luka and Smolyan), the Thracia region (around Plovidv, Kazanluk and the Rose Valley), Strandjanski region (around Burgas), Dobrudjanski region (around Dobrudja and Varna), and the northern Severnyashki region (around Veliko Turnovo and the Danube river).

National costumes, musical rhythm and dances have some major differences in each of these parts of the country. Other than that, we have some unspoken opinions about the characters of people in each region. My mother is from the Shopski region and my father is from the Pirinski (also known as the Macedonian region), and people say that this is a dangerous combination!

Equipped with my cowboy hat and leather jacket, ready to ride the bull in Corpus Christi, TX

A postcard from the Riverwalk in San Antonio.Can you spot the lone stars?

The Alamo in San Antonio was the site of a battle between the Mexicans and the Texian Army


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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Why Do Americans Have So Many Types of Breakfast Cereal

Food, the Best Bulgarian Ambassador to Korea 


I just arrived in Miami (a little detour before my senior year starts at Boston University). To my greatest surprise, the first words I heard were in Spanish… and so were the second and the third.

The staff at the airport greeted me in Spanish and so did the lady at the road toll, every street sign is translated both in English and Spanish, and apparently there are only Spanish radio channels in the car. Everyone just assumes that you speak Spanish! Luckily, I do, but how strange must it feel like to the Americans who don’t?

It sounds funny, but it seems that English is like a second language here.


As religion and revolution have intertwined in Bulgarian monasteries (read my previous post), so have religion and politics fueled one of the biggest social issues of the day in the States.

Oriana, a high school teacher near Boston, told me that one of the gravest issues she encounters in her work is teenage pregnancy (no wonder why Oriana couldn’t stop watching European music TV channels – the American MTV has replaced music clips for reality shows called 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom). She said that every year, there are pregnant girls going to classes or pregnant girls who drop out of school. I was very surprised because at my high-school there has never, as far as I know, been such a case. So don’t your students use any protection, I asked? No, said Oriana, they don’t use any protection and some of them don’t even know how to use condoms. That’s when I found out that Americans don’t have sex education!

In all Bulgarian high-schools, teenagers have a few sex education classes where they teach you the basics of the reproductive system, sex, STDs, etc (if you draw the short straw you might even get to put a condom on a banana in front of your giggling classmates). The classes are usually given either by a teacher or by the school psychologist.

Apparently, on the other hand, the States not only forbid sex ed, but in fact forbid teachers from even talking about sex or “even worse” – about abortion! (Which again confirms my belief that in America, sex is a taboo and violence is acceptable while in Europe, sex is art, and violence is hidden).

Why, I asked, is sex ed forbidden if teenage pregnancy is such a big problem? The explanation according to Oriana, lies somewhere in the relationship between the American voters, the Church, and lawmakers.

The anti-sex ed laws together with the anti-abortion laws, were established by the Republican party, whose electorate is to a great extent comprised of strongly religious people (of whom America has many) who belong to the middle or lower strata of society. These extremely religious voters do not necessarily agree with or benefit from everything the Republicans stand for (especially in terms of the fiscal policy), but they still vote Republican because of their coinciding belief in the doctrines of the Bible: that there should be no sex before marriage and absolutely no “killing of the innocent unborn child”.

Therefore, Oriana concluded, having sex education at school and explaining how to use condoms would be as if approving sex before marriage or sex with a non-reproductive aim.  Thus, everybody who is against abortion votes Republican and gets sex-talk-free schools. This system, however, proves to be corrupt because even though some might be pious, many teenagers in schools like Oriana’s are obviously not abstainers.

So it’s not enough that American parents stand against sex ed; to top it all, teenagers have very strong opinions on abortion (dictated by their parents and their churches, of course). Once they get pregnant, the vast majority of Oriana’s students keep their babies. Actually, there is even peer pressure to keep the baby! I could hardly imagine this: it’s not enough that you are teenage and pregnant, that your parents’ Republican representatives frown upon abortion on TV, that you hear about pro-life choices during Sunday mass, but on top of everything, your schoolmates discuss another classmate who made the right decision and became a mother.. for the second time!

An unfortunate vicious cycle, right?  Your religion forbids you to have sex before marriage, your country forbids you to learn about pregnancy prevention in school, your socio-religio-political convictions prevent you from getting an abortion, and in the end you find yourself pushing a baby cart to prom.


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. 


Greetings from London! My semester “further-abroad” has set off like fireworks (I’m an international student from Bulgaria at Boston University studying abroad in the UK)! For the next four months, I will share my views on the American and English culture from the perspective of a proud Eastern European.

In England, royalties are also celebrities.My semester “further-abroad” has set off like fireworks (I'm an international student from Bulgaria at Boston University studying abroad in the UK)! For the next four months, I will share my views on the American and English culture from the perspective of a proud Eastern European.

One of my first lectures in London brought up a very interesting issue: what are the factors that define the seemingly similar American and British society.

As stereotypical as it sounds, the American society is defined by race even nowadays. How so? Open any tourist guide for any major city in the States and you will find suggestions for the top restaurants in Little Italy (NYC)/North End (Boston), the cheapest deals in Chinatown, the best Irish pubs in Southie (Boston), or how to avoid the black part of town.  Read through a few blogs, and you will find quite a few negative comments about the influx of Chinese tech-gurus and the always illegal-and-low-skilled Mexican immigrants.  It’s no surprise that the prospect of having a black president evoked even more heated debates among Americans than the prospect of having a woman president, although other countries in the world have had female presidents or presidents from the non-dominant race long before the States. Electing Obama was not as controversial to the rest of the world as it was to the American society, which finally felt itself ready to overcome its deeply rooted racial reservations.

What is more controversial to Americans, a woman president or a black president?

Race, on the other hand, has never been a segregating factor in the UK simply because historically, the British Empire extended to India, Australia, the Middle East, South Africa, the Caribbean, and North America.  Different races and cultures simply had to learn to coexist. Class was what defined the British society. Probably the only country in the world where social hierarchy is more important than that in Great Britain, is India.  To understand this social structure, simply take a tour of London: compare Chelsea and Kensington, whose mere architecture reminds us of the aristocratic past of that part of town, with the Docklands, which were the main source of wealth for the middle class of merchants; take a boat trip to the Greenwich Observatory to get a sense of the English scholars and intelligence strata;  visit London’s exquisite cathedrals and churches to understand the importance of the clergy for the English nation. Today, the structure of the Parliament, the function of the Queen, and the aristocratic titles are remnants of the social segregation that the British claim to have left in the past.

Vasil Boshkov is probably the richest Bulgarian, with estimated wealth of about $1.5 billion. He owns businesses in the fields of roads infrastructure, tourism, gambling, and insurance. He was the owner of one of the two best Bulgarian football teams.

Neither race nor class are issues in the modern Bulgarian society. This is probably because we don’t have any other races besides the occasional black foreign soccer player, who usually becomes a celebrity for the girls in Sofia’s clubs. We also dethroned our royal family a long time ago, with the arrival of the Communist government in 1946 (which is too bad because our royalties were actually part of a very powerful European royal dynasty, Saxe-Coburg and Gotha).  I think that what truly defines the Bulgarian society is money.

The face of Bulgaria’s modern society was shaped after the fall of the Communist regime in 1898. This is when former members of the Party were able to receive portions of the no-longer- national enterprises and thus became successful businessmen.  Those who had connections appropriated various ventures and took control over entire industries. Notably, the insurance business became a synonym of the mafia. Today, these people are filthy rich. They are some of the richest people in Europe and are very well connected with their Russian mafioso counterparts and ironically, with the democratic government.  They have a culture of their own,  that of the porn-like chalga culture and the thick-necked businessmen, and comprise a separate social strata.

But then, there is of course the rest of society: the open-minded and ambitious young Bulgarians who make up one of the most vibrant and interesting European peoples.




The 21st birthday is one of the most anticipated days for most Americans. It’s the time when they can buy and drink alcohol, go to clubs to drink alcohol, go to Las Vegas to drink alcohol and go to clubs…

Most Europeans look forward to their 18th birthday with the same excitement. It’s the day when they can get a driver’s license, buy alcohol and tobacco, buy and star in porn, gamble, go to jail…

In Bulgaria… Well, we can drink as soon as we are tall enough to reach the bar, girls go clubbing and star in porn as soon as they look hot enough, and we never learn to drive cars, especially in the capital.

What is the next threshold after the 21st?

Waiting to be old enough to run for Congress or President so that you can fix a few policies, meet powerful buddies and beautiful interns, and get your photo in a few newspapers. Waiting to build a steady career before you have kids or waiting for your kids to grow up so that you can get back to work. Waiting to retire so that you can indulge in farming, smoking cigars, and drinking scotch.

Why are we so keen on waiting, and why are we so dependent on time?

On my birthday, I would like to promise myself that I’m not going to wait for things to happen but will always make them happen.

***********

And just to clarify, I find the “culture of the 21st birthday” in America deplorable. Pouring beer in your throat with a hose, drinking from dirty glasses while playing beer pong, eating alcohol jello shots: it seems completely idiotic and downgraded to me. But if the law has been restricting adolescents’ impulses and desires for twenty-one years, of course that they are going to go all overboard when they finally become legal. In Europe, where these laws (and parents) are not so strict, the transition teenagers-alcohol-adults is smoother and, in my opinion, better for everyone.  Click to watch a slideshow on Why are 21st birthday parties such a huge deal to college students.

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