Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Life In The Trenches: Samantha Hristova

You know how often I say that I like hearing from you guys or I mention that I receive a lot of email from readers asking about this, that or the other. A couple of days ago a friend of mine asked me if I made that up. NO. I definitely do NOT. And Samantha, who you are about to meet, is my witness. We've been pals for a couple of years now, she sent us home-made martenitsi last March and the fact that we haven't actually met in person doesn't matter all that much. She's really great!

Please introduce yourself. Who are you? What do you do? Where do you currently live? Where are you and your partner from?

Zdrasti. My name is Samantha Hristova (formerly Cunning). I'm 27, born in Ohio in the USA, from a typical mixed ancestry American family. (German, Irish, French, English) Today, I'm a Librarian at a Library Software company in Virginia, but I also have an Art Degree and love to draw when I get the chance. I live here with my Bulgarian husband Metodi and our tom-cat Mechka. Our closest family is a 4 hour drive away in Kentucky. My husband was born in Sofia, and raised alternately there and in a wonderful mountain town called Peshtera. Peshtera is the Bulgarian word for cave and reflects that fact that the area is full of many beautiful caves, Snejanka for example.

How did you and your partner meet?

I get asked this all the time when people find out my husband is from Bulgaria (where's that?!). We met online. Yes, online. We met on, which is a site that records statistics on the music you listen to at your PC and gives you billboard charts. It's 2.0, meaning it has social networking functionality and you can chat and make friends and email. I got a message from a guy asking about a band on my list of artists. This was Metodi. He'd sent everyone who listened to this artist an email trying to find more songs or something... Anyway, I answered and we somehow started emailing daily. We had our moments of getting out of touch but we always had great conversations when we had the ability/time to talk. In the Summer of 2007 we got to talk nearly daily again and we were feeling a little more romantic toward one another. Since I was in Grad school and has some extra college cash I decided it would be fun to have my first excursion out of the US, visit Bulgaria, and meet this guy. I decided this in August. By September I had tickets and we were thinking of the possibility of getting married. By December 8th I was there and we were married on the 21st.

How did your friends and family initially respond to your relationship?

Ha, well my mother of course went nuts. I had to tell her I wasn't going to be there for Christmas and thus where I WAS going to be. You're flying across the world to spend a month with and probably marry a man you've never met??? Do you know that Bulgaria is a hub for drugs , etc? She probably read every bad thing you can read about BG. She contacted American people in Bulgaria about me and asked if I could come there if I needed to... She made me register with some government site for travelers too.

His family on the other hand seemed to accept me immediately. His mom is adorable and cried when she saw me. Everyone was always jabbering at me, hugging me and shoving food and drinks at me. Grinning when I said, "blagodarya", "merci" and "mmm... hoobava."

Have their reactions changed?

When I sent my Mom pictures a day or so after being there, she was okay. Normal guy, normal family, smiles and food. After that she was fine. When I came back unscathed with presents, a ring, and no husband, she helped me manage my rage against the Immigration Department and wrote some eloquent letters to go in our Immigration packet. She also sent tons of cards to Bulgaria for Metodi's birthday and other holidays while we were apart.

His family is still wonderful and I know they miss him a lot. We video chat on Skype with them when we can. We are trying to go back next year around September unless you other Bulgarians know of the best/cheapest time to go and where to get those cheap tickets!

How do your different backgrounds play into your relationship?

Oh well we have our moments. Gender specific cultural upbringing and expectations. We're both incredibly stubborn and independent. Politics is something we don't bother talking about. I'm an ideological naive Amerikanska and he's a paranoid, apathetic Bulgarian. :) I love Bulgarian food and I do my best to mix it in to our diet. Moussaka, banitsa, snejanka salad, sarmi. Luckily we have a world food store in town that carries Sirene, kashkaval, yufka, shipka marmalad, grape leaves, and tons of yummy sweets like those chocolate filled Biskrem duo cookies! Metodi still doesn't drive and it sometimes makes me crazy having to drive him everywhere, I'm ready to drag him bodily to the DMV. He was horrified that our bathrooms don't have drains in the floor. I'm horrified that my bathroom floor is often wet... :D He hates that there is nothing but American rock and country on the radio (I agree). My family is Protestant and I'm not sure how holidays without the presence of alcohol will seem, we'll have to see at Christmas, lol. I also think he finds me frivolous with our money, though I consider myself very frugal for an American.

What are some of your biggest cultural clashes: food, social life, domesticity, communication, family?

I don't know, Metodi has been happy to try all new kinds of food. He still likes BUTTER on his sandwiches instead of mayo...but I can forgive that as long as I don't have to eat it. We both miss our friends, as I moved to Virginia at the beginning of this year, about 1 month before Metodi came with his VISA. Communication would probably be the main one though I think we're getting better. He yells and doesn't think he's yelling. I'm conditioned to think that anyone raising their voice means they are angry! It's just part of the culture in Bulgaria, man can they fill a room with noise! I remember one time in Peshtera during a family dinner asking why they were yelling at each other, what was wrong? Everyone laughed. *shrug* Ha, and I also dig some pretty awful Chalga (which Metodi despises) like Ustata and Sofi Marinova. The only time I dread knowing Bulgarian is when I think about how I will feel about those songs once I understand the lyrics. For now, they are quite catchy though!

What do you love about being in such a relationship?

Oh there's always something to laugh about and discover. Though I totally suck at Bulgarian I love trying to learn it. I love that we have a second family in a beautiful place across the globe. I love getting to see America and Americans through a non-native perspective. And I love seeing Metodi try new things here. Can't wait for Thanksgiving. :)

Do you have kids? What part does "BULGARIA" play in their lives?

No kids. But I hope if we do have them that by that time my Bulgarian will be better! I want them to know both languages. I think that's very important. I also hope that by then we'll be able to afford at least one trip back every year so they can enjoy that part of their culture too.

How often do you travel to Bulgaria and what are your visits like?

I've been 3 times and we haven't been back since Metodi got here at the end of January this year. As I've said, we hope to visit next year. Like all pathetic American vacations I'll only have about 2 weeks a year. :( I love it there though. Especially Peshtera, where we have our own place and can spend time in the Mountains with the less hectic part of the family. Not that I don't love the Sofia family too, it's just busy there and not as relaxed.

Has your relation to Bulgaria changed as a result of your being in this relationship?

Ha, well I didn't really know anything about the country. I probably hadn't heard of it till I met Metodi online. So definitely. Now I consider it one of my homes. :)

Any advice for other people who are in the early stages of a committed relationship with a Bulgarian?

They're not yelling at you, they're just loud! Don't underestimate the Kamenitsa or the Rakia. Try the local wine, it's probably stupendous. Never trust a menu that says they can make a 'Mexican Pizza' unless you really like hotdogs on your pizza. Do your best to learn Bulgarian, eventually you'll be able to pronounce those insane multisyllabic, vowel deprived words! Bring gifts for your Bulgarian family when you visit. Visit Sofia and Plovdiv, but spend more time in the mountains, plains and beaches. Take strange compliments on your figure with a grain of salt. Try some banitsa, snejanka salad, duner, nucrema. Stay away from boza! But most of all talk a lot and try to understand each other as best you can. :)

For next week, I am working on getting Vely and Eva's husbands to do a collective commentary on their experiences being Husbands of Bulgarians. Keep your fingers crossed they agree to do it.


  1. haha - thank you. I really enjoyed this- as an American woman married to a Bulgarian man! One difference is- my husband IS NOT loud, he's very quiet, and Im the one that tends to over-raise my voice! :) Other than that- pretty spot on, even though we've been married for almost 3 1/2 years! Thanks Petya, and Samantha! - Amy

  2. Hey, Amy!
    Would you be interested in participating in the series?
    Also, which of your blogs would you like me to add to the Mix-breeders blogroll?

  3. Sam:
    I've been thinking recently... we need to do a special on "gender roles in Bulgaria" ;) People keep making references... and I think it would make for an interesting conversation.

  4. Reading Petya's intro reminds me of why I 'know' her. I was panicking about immigration and Googling Bulgarians, Americans and marriage and I found her site. I shot her an email begging for more insight into what I was supposed to do. While her situation was much better than mine, she was super nice and helpful and reading her blog and Kyle's made me feel a lot better.

    Amy - Lucky you with that quiet Bulgarian, lol. Cherish him!

    Petya - I can't count how many times Metodi has skoffed at my 'feminist-ness'. ;) From observing his family I could talk about a few times I got a real glimpse into gender rolls in BG. I'll save my comments for the post. :) PS. You picked good photos, Hristovi Family approves.

  5. Guys, you're totally, totally misguided about boza! I just had a good large one :). BTW, an American colleague of mine calls it "fish shake" :)))). Anyway, he's wrong and
    I don't think you can really claim conversion until you start liking boza. You just need persistence.

  6. So Petya, Bret says that my being Bulgarian is one of the least ‘different’ things about me, and therefore, doesn't think he’ll make a worthwhile contribution to this discussion. Yeah, I know…boring! But I do think you should still go ahead with John's answers because they are hilarious and true (...for the most part, being that he IS American and all ;))

  7. And, this was another great and fun interview to read.

  8. The boza they sell in the stores has fake sugar, which I'm allergic too and also tastes awful. Metodi says the 'real' stuff that they used to make was good. Alas we'll never have that. Though I suppose I could find a recipe and make it...

  9. not finding the real boza there last time (2yrs ago) was one of my biggest dissapointments. but they still had it in some places in 2005what the hell happened to boza??!!
    Anyways, i must have been misguided, as Roshla suggests. may be the real shit it's for the mafia only.
    Samantha!! Fantastic interview!!! I had so much fun reading it. You seem like a very warm hearted and open minded person. I love the way you write too and still cannot stop laughing about the 'mexican pizza'. It cracks me up when they think they know what they are serving you. Bulgarians should stick with Bulgarian food (since it is the best anyway ;)
    Metodi, you are so lucky to have been raised in both places like that. Peshtera is so gorgeous!!!

  10. Thank you Velitchka :) I loved reading your and everyone else's interviews too. So many similar experiences. I found a recipe for Boza, this one is Turkish but it is better written and is using the same ingredients as all the Bulgarian ones I found. It's also from a site called YogurtLand so it can't be bad! Enjoy!

  11. what are strange compliments on your figure?

  12. Another fun story..
    Married to a Croatian guy, sounds very similar. BUTTER on their sandwich. Amerikanka means the same in Croatian. Loud families. Yeap,

    A Mexican mommy living in Europe

  13. "Eventually you'll be able to pronounce those insane multisyllabic, vowel deprived words!" So true! So true!