Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Small Town Atmosphere

Pleven isn't really a small town, but it often feels that way. Actually, it is getting smaller due to the lack of jobs that forces many people to find work elsewhere. My point is that for me, living in a small town like Pleven is sometimes surprisingly different from living in a big city like San Francisco or Seattle. For one thing, people here are usually very polite to each other. Whenever you enter a public space you are obliged to greet the other people in the room (I see this every day in the teacher's lounge and at the gym). As a foreigner, shopkeepers are very gracious and patient with me as I stumble over my limited Bulgarian to explain what I want. And then they compliment me on how well I speak. Such flattery! There are also some expressions that I particularly love: Vsichko hubavo (which literally means "everything nice," used like "have a nice day") and Chestit praznik ("happy holiday," used when it's an actual holiday, or your name's day, or something like International Women's Day).

Yesterday I was buying some cherries (they are in season now) at my local fruit stand when I realized that I was out of cash. Sometimes that happens. You don't pay for anything with a credit card here like in the States so I knew I had to go to the ATM to pay for my fruit. But the young man who works there just smiled and told me to come back with the money another day. This is totally normal, and I understand that it happens in neighboring countries as well. What a surprise it was to find that kind of trust and neighborliness from someone I'm not even on a first-name basis with!

Another thing I love is just going for a walk in the town center and chatting with friends in a cafe for hours on end. There are so many cafes here, and now that the weather is warm again they all have outdoor seating where people gather to catch up on the town gossip- one drawback to living in a small town is that everyone knows everyone. I once was in Lovech, a town about 30 kilometers from here, visiting a friend when she overheard two girls talking about me in Bulgarian. I had never seen either of them before. Maybe they went to my school or recognized me somehow. But it was weird and at the same time I felt sort of like a public figure at that moment. I know that I'm not but I must have looked strange to people at first, as I am one of very few foreigners living here.

I will definitely miss my neighborhood and how easy it is to meet people walking around the town when I'm living in the capital next year. I can only imagine the culture shock I'll experience when I go back to the U.S. this summer!

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