Bucket listing

Living abroad anywhere will inevitably lead to many unique experiences – that’s part of the fun of it, after all. Over the last three years in Bulgaria, I’ve experienced a number of firsts – my first (short, little) earthquake ever, my first holy-crap-this-is-an-earthquake-WTF-do-I-do-and-am-I-going-to-die earthquake, my first fire at work, my first fire in the building I live in, etc. but I feel like I’ve given myself a number of strange experiences in this past year from a king of bucket list mentality. In my first year, everything was a new experience; even shopping for food, buying appliances, or paying your cell phone bill was an adventure that I, for the most part, embraced. In my second year, I was totally over adventure-seeking; I just wanted to be able to buy goddamn contact solution without having to walk into an optika and ask for it, or send my own mail, for crying out loud. Now that I know my third year will be my last, I feel like I’ve taken on an attitude of, “Well, why the hell not?” when it comes to doing things that seem intimidating.

There was, of course, the trip to Tanzania this winter that yielded a lot of bucket list experiences, such as being injected in an airport in a foreign country. Then a few months ago I purchased glasses in Bulgaria. I never got around to writing about it, but this ended up being a far more involved procedure than originally intended, since the frame I picked out the first time ended up being too big for my astronomical lens prescription, which leads to 1) really thick lenses and 2) extreme distortion at the lens edges (a fact that I knew from opticians in the States, but had forgotten). They technically worked, but I decided to man up and ask the optician to cut down the same lenses (to avoid being charged twice) to put in a different, smaller frame. This required a lot of very crappy Bulgarian explanation on my part and not always fully understanding what Vyara, the optician, was saying to me, but I stuck it out and I did it, and now I have a pair of Bulgarian glasses that I like wearing.

I gave myself another bucket list-worthy adventure this past week. I’m returning to the States in the fall to get my doctorate, and the university requires a negative TB test within the past year prior to enrollment if you have ever lived in/visited for over 1 month basically any country that is not in North America or Western Europe. The medical forms are due in mid-June, and I don’t finish with work in Bulgaria until July. Originally I was just going to get the TB test done after I returned home sometime in July, before my medical insurance ran out; I even got permission from university health services to send that one form after the deadline. But then I thought: Well, why the hell not? Let’s go get a TB test in Bulgaria!

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O Bag, Where Art Thou? (A guide to surviving Ethiopian Airlines, Part 2)

I realized that the last post’s title is a little misleading; it is not really so much a “guide” as it offers no practical advice. I suppose it is a guide in the sense that, if you enter into a situation with Ethiopian Air knowing those 5 things, you are possibly less likely to pop a blood vessel over the experience.

So to make sure I include it this time, here’s my one piece of practical advice when Ethiopian Air loses your luggage in Tanzania: Have someone who speaks Swahili call and deal with it for you.
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I can has interwebz nao plz?

I’m back in Sofia for Year 3 after a smooth 13 hours of traveling. Once again, I was basically unable to sleep on the transatlantic flight, and so subjected myself to bad movie selection (The Avengers, which I wasn’t crazy about, and Mirror Mirror, which was truly awful) and the noxious fumes being emitted from my seat partner, who passed out with an eye mask and ear plugs virtually upon takeoff and spent the entire 7-hour flight sleeping with her face turned toward me and her mouth hanging open. I forgave her, though, since I’m an open-mouthed sleeper myself, so I’m sure I’ve done the same to others. Oddly, I didn’t have to go through passport and security check in Munich, which you usually have to do when transferring from the States to intra-European travel, especially considering Bulgaria isn’t Schengen (much to their chagrin, and despite the anticipatory signs you will see at the airport for Schengen vs. Non-Schengen Arrivals). My passport was also stamped in Boston this year, whereas it wasn’t when I flew into Newark last year. Differing airport policies, or security consistency fails? Hmm.

I was able to doze fitfully on the 90-minute Munich-Sofia flight, despite being quite constricted in space due to the quite large man (not fat, just LARGE) who was wedged into the seat next to me. I felt exhausted in the taxi home (the cabbie mournfully delivered me to my apartment and pocketed my paltry 5-leva fare; apparently the cabbies are all struggling right now because no one’s in Sofia, so the taxis are waiting hours for passengers, and everyone coming in from the airport is going only short distances), but was ultimately unable to nap at home, between my cat’s earnest “You’re home! I wuv you soooooooo much!” kneadings with her unclipped-for-two-months claws and just the adrenaline I guess I’d managed to work up in order to get myself through the sleepless traveling. I’ve always found it’s best, anyway, to stay awake for normal hours in your arrival city, and it basically worked this time too, though I’ll admit it was pretty rough waking up at 8 am (1 am Boston time) and then going to school, like the crazy person I am.

However, I did encounter one snafu upon returning to Sofia: my internet stopped working the last day or two that I was in Sofia in July, but I didn’t have time to deal with it before leaving, and then I forgot about it (not that I could’ve really done much about it from the States, anyway). I guess I was hoping that the problem would magically disappear over the summer, but unfortunately, it persists. Continue reading

Technical difficulties

I can’t tell why the Bulgarian in the text of my previous post comes out preceded by “Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE,” but every time I try to go into the post to edit it, the full text doesn’t show up and so I can’t actually fix it. I’m sure it’s just some kind of formatting code but I’m amused that it looks like some kind of jingoistic censorship of non-English. I can just picture someone at Posterous/Twitter saying, “What is this Ruski nonsense???” and losing their shit.

Fake it till you make it

I’m on fire today – TWO posts in one day!

Actually, it’s really just because I’m totally overheated from hauling myself back from the mall in the heat, and now can do nothing else but sit on the couch in front of the fan drinking water, so I figured I might as well air some more random thoughts out into cyberspace.

The mall also gave me a story to relay. I bought desperately needed new work shoes, went to Peek & Cloppenburg to get a work wardrobe refresher (despite my admiration of the more minimalist, simplistic European wardrobe, I really needed at least 1 new article to be able to throw into the mix this year if I was going to keep my sanity), Carrefour for printing paper/a new shower curtain/a hammer (“and these…are not the hammer!”), and stopped by the little Jeff/Vivacom store booth outside the Carrefour on my way out in order to put another 20 leva on my cell phone.

Well, usually this is very simple and goes off without a hitch, but for some reason the salesgirl who was working there today decided to actually BE a salesgirl (oddly enough, the saleswomen at the shoe place and P&C were also very friendly and helpful today) and launched into this long pitch about something I could sign up for something that wasn’t a contract but that gave me a better deal than just buying a 20 leva pre-paid voucher. She pulled out a price chart and explained to me the three price tiers of this program, and how you could purchase a within-network package and/or an all-networks package, the minutes, text messages, the whole deal…and all in Bulgarian.

Now, I’ve been having a little bit of re-entry rockiness with my Bulgarian. Much like I’m sure my kids will be with their English, I’m just a little slower on the uptake and it takes a hair longer for me to recall words and conjugations and to be able to string together sentences.

So this just proves to me how little language you actually need to know in order to be sold a cell phone contract (I know, it wasn’t a contract). It was impressive and a little frightening all at the same time. On the one hand, it’s encouraging to a language learner that a native speaker understands you even when your verb conjugations and adjective endings aren’t all correct. But on the other hand, what could I eventually be lured into purchasing or signing away based on understanding 20% of the verbal explanation/agreement?? 

Here, I understood the gist of what she was saying (or at least believed I did) and asked some questions (with likely very poor grammar) to clarify the essentials, and we had a good 10 minute transaction…which culminated in my not being able to purchase the better deal anyway because my Bulgarian ID card is currently expired and I haven’t gotten my new one yet, and I didn’t have my passport on me (not expecting to need it). So nice little salesgirl Yana had to just sell me the 20 leva voucher that I had asked for in the first place and, I suspect, possibly lost out on a bit of a commission, but she was super sweet about it. So if you need to get your cell phone options explained to you, I suggest you go see her. 

Моля

So I haven’t posted in ages because somehow once school ends and I’m ostensibly less busy than I was before, I stop doing things like writing and reflecting and thinking in general and just become a hedonistic zombie. I also feel that I’ve been ragging on Bulgaria a bit lately, and now that I’m back in the U.S. for a few weeks and have the benefit of a little distance, a mutual language, self-service options, patched roadways, level sidewalks, functional appliances, and drip coffee, I should indulge in some of the things I like about Bulgaria. The title of this post is one of them.

It’s a simple four-letter word (or five in English spelling – molya) but it’s something that is missing or has disappeared from English that I think we need back. Sort of like the polite “you” form. (At one point in my life I was interested in linguistic anthropology and this question of whether having existing forms and words in a language corresponds to the presence of certain characteristics in that society…I don’t know what the official linguistic answer to this is, but I swear that European kids are more polite to adults because they have to address them in a different way. Although they still do the European funnel mob thing at Onda and then become European adults who cut you in passport control at the airport because they simply don’t see/acknowledge/believe in lines, and you have to start throwing elbows to keep your place in the queue, GRRR. Oops, this was supposed to be a positive post.)

Моля means:

  • Please
  • You’re welcome
  • Sure thing
  • No problem / don’t worry about it
  • Pardon? / What? / HUH?

and any number of slight variations thereof. It is similar in usage to prego in Italian, but funner/harder to say, and it is usually accompanied by a Bulgarian head bobble, which also makes it funner/harder to pull off.

We need an equivalently simple but all-purpose word like this in English. There are times when “you’re welcome” is too formal of a response to someone’s “thanks for shifting aside to let me grab the Cheese Wiz,” for example. “Mmhmm” sounds kind of rudely dismissive, and if you think about it, “yup” is a weird response as well (“Yes – you should thank me!”). Моля is the perfect middle ground. It’s more like, “I heard you thank me, and I acknowledge your thanks.” And that’s in addition to all of its other uses in questions, requests, and muddled, fumbling conversations in Bulgarian (though this does lead to the problem of the Bulgarian not understanding, if you know to say “моля” when you don’t understand something, how you don’t understand the original comment in the first place – sort of like what happens when I tell Bulgarians, in Bulgarian, “I don’t understand you because I don’t speak Bulgarian”).

So I’ve taken to adopting моля for use in English. We’ll see how this plays out. Should be an easier sell than the head bobble, anyway.