Zakynthos island, Ionian sea, 2011. I am working here for the summer in the best family beach bar – “Freddie’s beach bar” owned by a great couple. Thank you Robert and Ritsa Wallace for everything! We are drinking wine on one of the most amazing beaches in the world – Navagio. The group consists of Greeks, Italians, South Africans, Australians and me – a Bulgarian. We are sharing stories, laughing and presenting ourselves. It is my turn. I am Suzana, 18 years old, from Bulgaria.
Two of the people who have been living on the island forever look at me in a strange way asking: “Are you sure you are a Bulgarian? You are too white to be one!” says one of them. “And you are too nice to be a Bulgarian!” says the other one laughing. I am still on my first glass of wine so yes, I am pretty sure I am. What their point of view is?
It turned out that all the Bulgarians on the island they knew were Bulgarian gypsies who were in the “shady bussiness” of stealing, lying and begging on the streets. These guys thought that this is how the Bulgarian nation looks like and this is how we act. Actually it turned out that most of the people on the island thought so as well. I was shocked. One of the Italian guys joked: “Well, just pick another nationality. You kind of look like German or Polish, or Swedish!” Instead of choosing another nationality I decide to build a new more realistic image for mine. I start explaining and explaining who are we, what do we fight for, what kind of people are we, how great our food is, how beautiful and green our mountains are, how charming the Bulgarian women are… Some of them are ready to buy their tickets to Sofia (the Bulgarian capital) some of them are already drunk and half asleep so they couldn’t care less.
Portugal, Lisbon, 2014. My most favourite city so far. An international project – young people from 7 different countries are discussing the future of the youth in the EU and are sharing their opinion about a new legislation. I am a member of the Bulgarian delegation.
While sipping tea in the lobby of the hotel I am listening to the international news. Mr. Rosen Plevneliev (the Bulgarian president) is talking about the critical situation with the floods this summer in our sea capital – Varna. I ask the barman what does he know about Bulgaria without him knowing my nationality. He knows that the country is poor and very dirty, that people steal, that recently there was a strong earthquake, the alcohol is really cheap and the politicians are corrupted. He has never been in Bulgaria, he does not want to go and all the information he has, he has it from the news. I mention that my phone was stolen 2 days ago in the centre of Lisbon. He suggests, laughing, that maybe a Bulgarian guy stole it from me.
London, UK, 2015. I am part of an Erasmus+ project, organised by the African centre for development and research. Lunch time I am asking a guy from Germany what does he know about Bulgaria? He mentions Stoichkov (the most successful Bulgarian soccer player), our delicious yogurt and cheese (you definitely should try these!) and the large wave of Syrian refugees that had hit the country recently. Has he ever been there? No, but he wants to come. He had read an article for the cheapest travel destinations and this how he has the information.
Iowa, USA, 2015. I am driving from NYC to Denver, Colorado. The trip takes around 4 days. We stop at a restaurant on the highway in the state of Iowa. The conversation between me and the waitress:
-Can I have some extra anchovy with my salad, please?
– Honey, you are in Iowa. I don’t even know what anchovy means. Where are you from?
-Oh. I am not very good at Geography. Which state is this?
We, the people, tend to have a lot of stereotypes. And not only about the Bulgarians. About most of the nations and countries. Especially the ones we have not been in. We meet 2-3 people from a certain country, we hear something on the news or read an article and we already have a strong opinion who these people are and what is wrong with them. I guess a huge part of the misconception comes from the media which chooses what kind of news to present about a country and more important – how to present them. The Greeks are lazy, the Italians are macho men, the English are drinkers, everything “made in China” is trashy , all the Dutches are weed smokers, Germans are emotionless…
I, myself did the same thing about the Romanians – formed an opinion based only on the first 3 people I have met and on the things I have read and heard from the media. Without me, personally, have ever been there and got to really know natives. My opinion significantly changed in a very positive way after communicating with more and more Romanians and reading some more information about their country personally selected by me. What is more the first country to visit when back in Europe will be Romania.
Let us start putting aside stereotypes and give people chances, not tags. We live in a global village and we can choose ourselves, our values and our morals, no matter where do we come from or where we are going to.