I should post about this before it gets too outdated (I still haven’t posted any Italy pictures from weeks ago), so here goes. This past weekend was, of course, Easter weekend, which I had never really celebrated in any way other than dyeing some eggs when I was little. Bulgaria, however, which is largely an Eastern Orthodox country, celebrates Easter as a major holiday and has many interesting traditions associated with it.

First, Bulgarians are very into painting and dyeing eggs. Even adults without children will dye and paint eggs to give to friends and relatives, and even my jaded seniors asked me if I was going to paint any Easter eggs. I didn’t dye any, however, so I don’t have original photos to share.

Second, although many Bulgarians don’t actually routinely go to church, they often go to midnight mass on the Saturday before Easter. I went downtown with a couple of colleagues to attend midnight mass at Nevski Cathedral and we got a drink beforehand, and the cafe/bar EMPTIED at 11:50 pm because everyone downed their drinks and hustled off to church (ourselves included!).


Crowds gathering at Nevski for midnight mass. 

In fact, the midnight mass tradition is so embedded and widespread that the Sofia public transit system extends its hours until 1:30 am so that people can take the metro and buses home. I mean, that’s really the biggest testament that this is an important holiday: Sofia has its act together and plans in advance how to handle it and best serve its citizens!!

Smaller villages and towns around Bulgaria have various traditions as well. Plovdiv apparently is well-known for their Easter celebrations.

Now, once you’re at the church, you listen to mass (Nevski’s mass is outdoors and is recorded live and broadcast on Bulgarian TV) and toward the end the priest declares that Christ has risen and the bells in the church ring out. Then, everyone has tall candles (you can buy them from people on the street) and you’re supposed to light them (in theory I think you’re supposed to get the holy flame from the priest’s candle and pass it along, but in practice this wasn’t really possible with all the crowds and some people just had lighters or matches) and then start walking around the church carrying them. You’re supposed to circle the church three times and keep your candle lit the whole time, otherwise you have bad luck and/or you’re a sinner. Something like that.  Continue reading



Whereas my students’ English is on the whole excellent, I’m at the point now where I actually feel like I’m regressing somewhat in my Bulgarian and actual improvement would take a Herculean effort which I’m not quite sure I have. When you first start learning a language, every new vocabulary set is applauded and you feel accomplished just for being able to do small things and string together short sentences. But now, despite – or perhaps because of – the fact that I have FIVE Bulgarian tutors (the one official teacher employed by the school, two of my students, and two Bulgarian teachers who do a language exchange with me where I also work with them on English), I’m learning a lot that, in turn, sets me back further.

Verb Tenses – Now that I’m trying to actually say real things in Bulgarian, I’ve come face to face with all kinds of horrible complicated Bulgarian tenses. For example, there is a finished and a continual form of every verb in Bulgarian – it’s sort of like simple vs. progressive form in English…except not really. (You can have the equivalent of past simple continual in Bulgarian, for example). The finished form is for a completed or finite action. The continual form is for repeated, ongoing, or general action. Meanwhile, I’m also learning past and future tense, and there are different conjugations for finished vs. continual in those tenses as well. Add to that the fact that I haven’t been able to just sit and master ONE of these tenses/forms (heck, I never even fully mastered all the different conjugations for present simple) before getting thrown another one, and it’s like, “Muhhh…brain…huuuuurts” (CONTINUAL ACTION).

Vocabulary – Also now that I’m trying to say more things in Bulgarian conversations with my tutors, I just start Bulgarifying existing English words when I don’t know the Bulgarian word. This actually works a surprisingly high percentage of the time. However, it can also trip me up in the reverse direction. For example, last week my boy student tutor was teaching me football-related terms:

Student Tutor: “So do you know what a corner [kick] is?”

Me: “Yes. Oh! And I know how to say “corner” in Bulgarian, too! It’s ъгъла.” (uh-guh-la [or uh-guh-wa, heh] – the only word in Bulgarian that starts with the letter “uh”)

Student Tutor: “Oh, well actually…that’s true, but in football you just say корнер (cor-ner…said with Bulgarian pronunciation).”

Me: Mmph.

Pronunciation – This also leads to another problem of Engarian: Bulgarians are really really picky about your pronunciation. Even when context is provided and there’s really only one word you could possibly be saying, Bulgarians still pretend they can’t understand you because of your pronunciation.

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Day 2 of Easter Weekend has me lounging around my apartment at 2 pm with nothing to do, and it’s AMAZING. Actually, I achieved another milestone in Bulgaria this morning by successfully getting my hair cut and was going to write about that, but I’m waiting on some Egypt photos from a colleague in order to make the post complete, and then I was going to make this a really productive day by dropping off some dry cleaning but then realized that I had left a dress that I need cleaned at school (it was a costume for Faculty Follies) and there’s really no point in dropping off all of your dry cleaning except one dress because you’ll just have to go back to drop off the dress. Also I discovered that there’s a dry cleaner’s a block down from my apartment, so the urgency and investment in needing to make a trip to the dry cleaner’s decreased considerably.

So then I decided what would be really productive would be to clear out one topic from my list of “blog posts to write eventually” (and yes, I do have such a list because I’m neurotic and I like lists). I thought I would write a little about Bulgarian English (Bulganglish) and then, in a later post, because this one ended up being really really long, the current state of my Bulgarian (Engarian).

My students’ English is excellent overall. I sometimes “forget” that they are Bulgarian and not American because their English, especially their written English, can be so good and in many ways more academic than my former students’ in the States. It is really, really impressive, and I am constantly amazed by how competent they are, even the ones who didn’t really start intensively studying acdemic English until 8th grade. One topic that comes up a lot in ESL licensure programs is the difference between second-language learners who are highly literate and academically literate in their native language before learning English, vs. learners who aren’t, and you see that distinction very clearly with these students. Relatively speaking, there are often very few grammar errors in their writing, and mistakes that are common among American students, even native speakers (i.e. subject-verb agreement) don’t occur with nearly the same consistency here. I wonder in some ways if that comes from speaking a highly inflected native language – when you have dozens of different verb forms and tense types, subject-verb agreement in English probably doesn’t seem at all intimidating.

However, they have some unique second-language errors of their own.

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Playing like a girl

Well, I’m now convinced that I have light fixture poltergeists, because after flickering out of commission two nights ago, my bathroom light turned itself back on overnight and continued to function perfectly fine for a day before dying again. 

It is Easter Weekend in Bulgaria, a holiday that seems to be in some ways the equivalent of Thanksgiving in U.S. – we get a 4-day weekend, the markets are packed, and traffic is terrible as everyone goes home to spend time with family. I briefly entertained the idea of cobbling together last-minute travel plans, but inertia won out in the end and I’m happy to be enjoying a lazy weekend at home, giving me the opportunity to – among other things – catch up on some blog posts. 

With the warmer weather and a lightening workload thanks to the seniors being almost done (YAY), I’ve been getting out more to watch our school’s various football teams (there are the school’s official varsity and JV team equivalents, and then a whole slew of intramural teams which include the teachers’ team). Yesterday I watched a 12th grade IM team play an 11th grade IM team and was impressed anew at just how good the boys are. These boys aren’t even on the varsity team, but they play fast and hard and elegant, beautiful ball control and foot placement, with lots of headers and precise aerial ball management. It truly is a joy to watch them (and funny when they start throwing absolute FITS when they lose). 

By contrast, I watched the girls’ JV team playing another Sofia school in a tournament our school was hosting this past week, and man, I’m sorry to say it, but they are terrible. They are wonderful kids and they are putting in a lot of effort, but it’s pretty woeful. (To be fair, the other school’s team was equally bad.) I watched them for about 15 minutes and surmised that they would get their asses handed to them by any halfway decent American high school’s girls’ soccer team. For one thing, there was a lot of flailing: actual contact between foot and football seemed to be entirely a matter of chance rather than skill, and it was rare that the ball was actually struck with purpose and direction. Running and field coverage were poor – some of the girls didn’t seem to know where they should be. But most of all, the girls were completely lacking in aggression. They didn’t get in each other’s faces, they were unassured in their ball possessions, they didn’t defend, they didn’t attack. No one seemed to really want the ball – or the win. It was night and day from the boys’ fast-paced, thrilling, aggressive game. 

I started wondering why this would be so. Why would the girls in a football-crazy country, where even the boys who play casually are really good, be so vastly inferior to the girls in a country that generally couldn’t care less about professional soccer and hero-worships figures from the OTHER football?  Continue reading

Let there be light

Life has just been too crazy in the last six weeks or so and I’ve slacked off on posting. Anything I would have posted would’ve just been a gigantic whining session anyway, because that felt like all I was really capable of. I am way behind on all manner of updates – Italy trip, faculty talent show, more kids being morons – and I’m sorry to waste my first new post on something as mundane as this, but I have a free-ish evening (as in, I decided it was going to be free, not that I am actually lacking in things to do) and my bathroom light just flickered out and it’s annoying that I now have to pee and shower in the dark until I figure out how to replace it, and it reminded me that I need to vent.  

The light fixtures in my apartment are curious things; I first discovered this early in the year when I had to try to find replacement bulbs and could not for the life of me figure out where to get them. The bathroom light looks to be some kind of halogen bulb under a cover that seems to be screwed in place, and as I have neither screwdriver nor replacement bulbs for that, and the bathroom is in the interior of the apartment with no windows, it might be awhile before I can actually start seeing anything in my bathroom again. The rest of the lights in the apartment consist of bulbs that look like the bulbs in overhead projectors, stuck into spotlight-type fixtures, the bulb itself left exposed. I have no idea if these are actually more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs or what the deal is, but in addition to being somewhat hard to find and expensive to replace, these bulbs, I discovered, coupled with the light fixtures in the apartment, have an unpleasant tendency to explode. 

I discovered this one morning as I was getting ready for school. I flipped the light switch in the hall, only to have one of my hallway bulbs explode. And when I say explode, I mean EXPLODE. As in, visible sparks, sound like a gunshot, shaved 5 years off my life, thousands of shards of broken glass EVERYWHERE that then immediately had to be swept up in the dark because I sure as hell wasn’t about to try any more light switches in that moment and it was 5 am and pitch black outside and Romy was getting curious about what all the shiny things on the hallway floor were. 

It just doesn’t quite seem…let me see, how do I want to put this…SAFE. AT ALL. And I haven’t been willing to put another bulb into the same fixture socket since the incident, and that happens to be the hallway light right outside the bathroom, so now that the bathroom light’s gone out (thankfully without exploding), I’m feeling the loss of this particular light all the more. I am not sure what building code requirements are like in Bulgaria, but they certainly don’t seem to preclude the wiring being prone to power surges that could, you know, explode things. I also would like to not feel as though my options in this apartment are either to be shrouded in perpetual darkness or to wear a hard hat to protect myself from showers of falling glass splinters. It doesn’t seem to be too much to ask. 

There I go whining anyway, even though I was trying not to. Life is too hard sometimes!

Freakin’ kids

Why I both adore and cannot handle my boys sometimes:

7/4/11 17:02 – G to Me

Hi, Ms.___! I am sorry for bothering you during the vaccation, but apparently I’m an idiot and have lost my second draft…. Do you know what can be done about it? I’m sorry 😦

8/4/11 18:18 – Me to G

Hi G,

Nothing can be done – you still have to submit a final on Tuesday. Hopefully you find it!

10/4/11 18:19 – G to Me

Hi, again! I found my 2nd draft, but without the feedback. So, is it possible that I come to you during consultation period and you just give me a very brief feedback on some parts because I have 21/30 so I obviously need to make a few corrections?

10/4/11 18:22 – G to Me

or maybe give it to you in the 1st period so that you have time, if it is not a problem for you..again sorry

10/4/11 18:40 – Me to G


You may come during consultation and I will take a look at it on the spot and give you some verbal feedback. I won’t have time to look it over before consultation anyway, so giving it to me earlier does not make any difference.

10/4/11 18:49 – G to Me

thank you!

10/4/11 21:25 – G to Me



Oh yeah, and I’ve been in Italy for the past 9 days. In fact the first part of that email exchange was occurring while I was in Bologna and Venice, tapping away on my iPod. I’m going to post on Italy soon…it’s just that, in typical fashion, the real world has very quickly and rudely (and humorously, in this case), interceded in my re-entry procedure.

March madness

I don’t know when I’ve ever been so tired in my life as the last week. Running on fumes would be too generous.

But I made it, and I might have some fun videos to post soon, and I am sitting in the airport waiting to fly to Italy for the first time ever, and the plan for Day 1 is to sleep and begin getting fat on Italian food, so it’s all good.