Tuesday, December 20, 2005

the politics of coffee, and don vito’s vital role

Before I came to bulgaria, I couldn’t really stomach coffee. As much as I enjoyed the smell of coffee, a little too much, and I was assured not only fitful sleep, but probably borderline hallucinations! And so now, while not an avid coffee drinker, I’ve been doing my part to stunt my fragmented hopes of growing any taller. But more on that in a moment.

Another thing I did (or rather, something I did do, veruses something I couldn’t do)- I made several claims that anyone who sent me a letter would be entitled to bulgarian candy. Well, that’s a lie. As it turns out, there really isn’t that much candy here! You can buy bars of chocolate, or boxes of chocolates, or haibro gummy bears (yummm!!! But, as an imported product from germany, I can’t really afford them! I mean, daily. Drat!) but if you ever coming to bulgaria hoping to find a candy aisle, you’ll be a bit disappointed! Same goes for the cookies and cakes. Somewhere along the way, bulgaria missed the memo to put vanilla in their cakes and sugar in their cookies- haha. Okay, so its not quite that bad, but each trip to the grocery store, I make a trip down the cookie aisle- and its an evil game of trial and error, where each trial always results in my error of judgement! Sometimes the cookies on the box look SOOO good, and I think to myself “finally! A tasty cookie!” but usually, I’m wrong. The picture on the box promising me ooey-goey caramel in my cookie turns out to be simply caramel flavoring- this is definitely a tragedy in my life!

But you know what these cookies are really great for- coffee time! That’s right, coffee. Since the cookies aren’t particularly sweet or frilly, the wind up being the perfect companions to a nice fresh cup of coffee! While I can usually only bring myself to eat 1 or 2 cookies (out of pure necessity, I assure you), if I’ve got a nice cup of coffee in front of me, well, let’s just say that the cookies don’t stand much of a chance! J

Bulgarians take their coffee seriuosly. I mean, really really seriously. There are tons of coffee magazines (stores) littering the sidewalks in my town- each with barrels full of coffee beans, just waiting to be freshly ground for you! People will walk about of their way to visit a new coffee magazine or to a particular magazine where they can find their favorite bean. I know there are plenty of americans like this too, but it gets better!

If you truly want to accomplish something in Bulgaria, you can forget the board room. Everything from the personal to the professional goes down in the local cafes- establishments that typically serve only hot beverages, juices, and the occassional sandwich. For example, about 2 weeks ago, I sat through a meeting that took the entire morning. The people at the meeting were an array of people working in obshtinite around our oblastna (the municiple governments in our “region” or “county”) who had come together to discuss the status of minorities in each of their towns. So you would think that everything had been taken care of, but it hadn’t. As soon as the meeting let out, little clusters of people began foruming around the room. The atmosphere was a bit like choosing teams for middle-school kick-ball, where the ultimate winners would be the team that assembled all the right players with all the right assets. Each person was scouted, being scouted, or perhaps even both. The idea was to choose your dream team before someone else can get to them first. Then, your newly assembled team heads to the local café, where you begin pitching ideas to eachother, and start deciding your networks have connections in all the right places. So when someone asks you to go to coffee in Bulgaria, you’d best be advised NOT to skip out, for café-ing is not just a social activity- it’s the beginning of a new bussiness deal.

Oh, and as far as Don Vito goes, Jessica, I thought you should know and would appreciate that there is a “Don Vito” pizza in Sofia. ‘nuff said.


At 8:56 PM, Anonymous Mike Robie said...

Happy New Year! Keep your spirits up in Bulgaria! I'm writing from not to far from you -Istanbul. I read your pages here and have thought about many of the same things you were thinking about, i.e. regarding communism. I think Bulgaria and Georgia are similar in many ways. Have a Happy New Year! Mike in Istanbul


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