Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Saturday, June 9, 2012

My work schedule has been overwhelming as of late - along with my new title comes a boatload more of work. I don't want to complain about having to travel so much since I know that most people would love to have a job that allowed them to visit so many cool places - like poor Ksam, her company sends her all over France and Europe and flies her back to the US for free several times a year.  But I can tell you that the day I realized I would only see my wonderful husband a grand total of four days between May 28th and July 7th, I was not a very happy camper.  I am luck that C is very supportive of my career and he is very busy as well for reasons I will explain in a few weeks, but still - we are a newly married couple!

I have however been wanting to write about one of my recent trips to visit a new customer in Bulgaria. If you're like me, you don't really know that much about Buglaria, besides it being an Ex-Soviet Bloc country. So I didn't really know what I was getting myself into in going there, if anything.

I was told before going that everyone at this particular location spoke either French or English....but what they didn't specify is that everyone in the main office in Sofia spoke French and/or English.  At the actual customer site, 260km away, they only spoke Bulgarian.  Luckily I was provided with an interpreter, a vivacious and chatty 60 year old man who had lived a crazy life.  He spent much of his youth in a French school in Tunisia, so his French was almost flawless (if not a bit old-fashioned). And then growing up, he worked as an interpreter for various Bulgarian consulates around the world and thus also spoke English, Spanish, Portuguese and a little bit of Italian.  I still don't know what this guy was doing making peanuts in Bulgaria (he was complaining about how his retirement will only be 180€ a month). With all of those languages, he should be working in Geneva or Brussels as a translator/interpreter for the EU and raking in the big bucks!

Anyways, he was quite the character and we had a few laughs over the week, especially once they brought out the Rakia, a popular and very strong alcoholic beverage in the Balkan countries.  At a 40% alcohol content, it's pretty similar to the French eau de vie....Except instead of drinking a small glass at the end of meal as they do in France to aide digestion, the Bulgarians drink it like water during dinner.  I'm telling you, that first night, I don't even remember how we got back to the hotel. I tried to pace myself after that, but they were quite insistent about me drinking just as much as they did.

I tried to document some of the funnier things he said, but my notes usually got a little difficult to read by the end of the night.  He didn't appear to like the English or the Greek at all though, and one night said "Oh, I don't know why those English always like the Greek so much - they can do no wrong in their eyes. Probably because they have so many homosexuals and the English love that".  WTF??

Another funny thing was that when the Bulgarians say yes, they shake their head side to side (our No).  And when they say no, they shake their head up and down.  So that caused quite a few bursts of confusion and subsequent laughter when I was ask them something and they would shake their head no but really mean yes.

And apparently fear of the "deadly air currents" is not just a French thing.  It was fairly warm one day, so I was sitting in front of the office window, enjoying the air flow coming through.  The manager came into the office and near about freaked out, shutting the window immediately and then proceeded to explain via the interpreter how air currents cause severe liver and kidney issues.  Each one of them had a story about an illness caused by air currents.  (I had to muffle my laughter).

I also had to hide my disgust at certain times at their lack of hygiene.  Their break room was so disgusting and literally crawling with flies. And the woman's "bathroom"?  Well let's just say it consisted of a hose coming out of the wall and this:

I'm telling you, if that's not a motivation to hold it all day, I don't know what is.  Luckily the hotels we stayed at had western-style toilets and were all very nice - actually nicer than most of the ones I stay at in France!

One of the main surprises of my trip however was how delicious the food was. Every single dish I ate was a party in my mouth.  Even though the dishes were very simple, they were bursting with flavor and fresh ingredients.  Now you guys know I spend a lot of time eating out in French restaurants, and the large majority of time, the food is just okay. I find most of the restaurant food here too saucy and fairly bland. So I was happy camper to get plate after plate of flavorful food.

I'll have to go back in a few months, and I was originally thinking of having C come with me to travel around, but I honestly didn't see much worth visiting.  On a whole, the country looked like it had been left to waste away.  They've only had their independence since 1991, and it sort of feels like time stopped then. The majority of the major roadways are in terrible shape, there are massive concrete buildings everywhere falling into pieces and the countryside just looks wild, but not in a good way.  There are a few tourist attractions (a couple of nice beaches and some ski stations), but otherwise there really isn't much to see, which is surprising given the historical attractions of their neighbors (Greece, Turkey, etc). But the people were very nice, even if I sensed a general sense of apathy among them.  Considering that their country has spent the majority of its history under the rule of another regime, you'd think they'd be happy to now be a democratic country, but it seemed more-so as if they didn't really know how to take care of things on their own and that no one was really trying to help them define themselves as a nation. So it was an interesting week, but I still would have much rather been at home here in Paris.

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Blogger kristen said...

Hi!!! I loved reading about your experience in Bulgaria. Wow. So, I had a boyfriend once that traveled Europe and really loved the beauty of the Bulgarian countryside. Your stories of how the country has not really improved since 1991 is really interesting, I'd love to visit and experience. I've heard the same about Romania. I spent four days in Budapest in 2005 and I felt a huge difference while there compared to a Western European country. It just felt behind and backwards. But either way I really enjoyed being there and feeling that. Hope to see you on the 16th! xx

June 10, 2012 at 1:24 AM  
Blogger Emily in Exile said...

My husband travels for work so I know it's not as exciting and fun as it sounds, but who gets a free trip to Bulgaria! You aren't doing a very good job of making it sound bad. Except the toilet. I am imagining women in business suits trying to use that thing. So ridiculous.

June 10, 2012 at 11:57 AM  
Blogger Sara Louise said...

The greeks, the english, and the homosexuals comment is so funny! I would have been in hysterics, until I saw the bathroom, then I would have cried and held it until I got home.

June 11, 2012 at 7:00 AM  
Blogger Linds said...

Started reading this while eating breakfast...had to stop at that photo. Ick. Foul. Don't know how you survived that part!

June 11, 2012 at 7:12 AM  
Blogger La Vie est Belle said...

That was very interesting! Thanks for sharing - it's good to see how life is in other parts of the world. Even if it has it's disgusting bits!

June 11, 2012 at 7:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That sounds suspiciously like Poland and Ukraine, which leads me to believe every Slavic country you might possibly travel to. Although English (and French) were clearly not common in Kiev, so if you'd enjoy a slightly more tame trip with the possibility of speaking to people I'd aim for Krakow or Warsaw or, uh, well... there.

Food's awesome. Try not to think about the toilets, crumbling concrete blocks or anything else. And cheap. Very, very cheap for us westerners.

June 17, 2012 at 10:57 AM  

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