Tuesday, October 6, 2009

True or False: Spot the Bulgarian

A few weeks ago, someone told me that something they always found curious about Bulgarians was that we never smiled in pictures. Hmmm. Really?! I mean... REALLY?!

So, what is a girl to do, I shared the observation with my friends on Facebook and what followed was a pretty hilarious discussion.

What was interesting about it was that nobody really questioned the claim. People simply disagreed over WHY that was the case. So, of course, now I've got to ask YOU: have you noticed that Bulgarians don't smile in pictures so much? And, if you have, why do you think that is the case?

As I am typing this, I keep thinking of one of my favorite sites, Awkward Family Photos, and wonder if we could do a similar version of our own, picturing Bulgarians that refuse to smile. Go back to your photo albums, do some research and report back!

P.S. I keep forgetting to mention this, but if you enjoy reading this site, you should friend me on Facebook! Also, please join the How to Marry a Bulgarian group and tell your friends about it!

P.P.S. The drawing above is by moi and it's titled "Spot the Bulgarian". If you like it and want to have it, I would be more than happy to mail it to you. Drop me a line and we'll make arrangements.

P.P.P.S. Later this week, I've got two more interviews coming up in the Life in the Trenches Series.


  1. I've noticed the same thing - not just in photographs, but also in the street and in public transport. I'm usually smiling and it feels kind of weird - sometimes people throw strange looks at me as if I'm crazy. Maybe life in Bulgaria is too difficult and full of trouble for most people and that's why they don't smile...

  2. My bg wife Miki has a beautiful smile, but I usually have to remind her to smile in photos or I catch her in a conversation to get the smile! Looking at my flickr set of her, she's mostly smiling or still manages to look pretty happy even if she isn't smiling fully!


  3. It's not just pictures it's the whole attitude of us Bulgarians. I think it also has to do with a wicked notion of what being cool is. I realized that after living both in the US and in the UK. Now that I am again surrounded by Bulgarians I realize this concept even more. It is crazy if one is smiling too much and actually showing a positive attitude towards life....

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  5. Cheers and thumbs up for the lovely blog, Petya! I have been trying to keep one myself - quite ineffectively so far :)

    That is a very interesting observation you have raised for discussion and I think Silvina made a good point - Bulgarians might appear less happy because of the hardships that a lot of them go through.

    Being a Bulgarian myself, I find it difficult to judge by the way Bulgarians smile (or rather, don't smile)in photos. I suppose smirking does not fit in with their endeavours to appear serious and important - which I find a lot of Bulgarians try to do.

  6. AGREE. I agree with the comments and the statement. It is absolutely true and even if I am in the UK now and feel a bit of nostalgy about BG ... I still judge bulgarians for their anxieties. I have never been "smiled back" in Bulgaria. Am not sure whether this is owing to our perception abt life and the way we should look, to be appreciated, or it's just our nature. Anyway, Bulgarians are good people, but they are probably not confident enough about their own values and that's why they keep trying to improve themselves by showing they are strong and powerful(in this meaning if they smile...it might appear too "gentle" and ruin the whole idea of independence). That is our basic problem, in my opinion, of course. We should start believing in ourselves more. And then we'll probably start smiling too :)

  7. You should post more of your art. I love it!

    It would be interesting to look back through pictures and see if this not smiling thing started at a specific time. When did that cultural aspect begin?

    On Facebook, there are many smiling Bulgarians, but I don't think it's a fair representation. My Bulgarian smiles a lot in person and in pictures, so maybe she's drawn to other smilers and vice versa. ...and those are the Bulgarians I see in photos. :)


  8. I've always felt obliged to show my teeth when my picture is taken. Not so much feel obliged, as it comes pretty natural. I have, however, noticed that people in BG don't smile as much and I have heard it from almost all foreigners that have visited.

    I don't know whether it's cultural or it has something to do with our national psychology but I guess we could really use some more reasons to smile about. And maybe learn to enjoy small things more.

  9. i think it has to do with displaying genuineness. what is so exciting about having your photo taken???? if anything - it is fake and it is exposing, and that's what may be at the core of what we Bulgarians think while taking a picture.
    Having said that, I have to admit, I am a Bulgarian with a permanently pasted on American smile. it's a learned behavior:
    ...going through your day with a regular smirk, regular smirk, someone says 'picture', regular smirk, 'cheese', SMILE, tilt head a little, FLASH, ok regular smirk again.
    i AM a very happy person and i do regularly smile a lot, but i'd be lying if i said i felt like smiling in most picture i took.
    oh, and i don't force my kids to smile in pictures by the way, i tickle them so they laugh. now that's real.

  10. I also meant to say: WOW! can you post more of your drawings please??!!

  11. I'm not disagreeing, but I don't think that's particular to Bulgarians. I have a Lithuanian friend who never smiles in photos, and when I look through her family and personal pictures- none of them are smiling. It's a much broader cultural norm- more eastern European than specifically Bulgarian.

  12. You guys are awesome.
    I am not going to respond to everyone individually, but here's what I am thinking of after reading your comments:

    1) Do you think that life in Bulgaria really is that much harder than anywhere else? I know that at first glance the answer is YES but the more I think about it, the less I believe that is the case. Work is work, and bills are bills... everywhere you go. Sure, some simple things in Bulgaria are harder than they should be (dirty streets, bureaucracy, going to a million different offices just to pay your bills, not being able to return purchases and get your money back, etc.)... BUT each city has issues like that. Memphis, for example, has a terrible pubic transportation system. We don't own a car yet and getting around is a bitch. Public Transit in Sofia is not 100% comfort and luxury, but it's THERE. I guess, what I am trying to say, is that it's not so much that life in Bulgaria is so much more difficult than other places but people THINK that it is.

    2) I share Vely's observation that not smiling in photos is a question of "authenticity" for Bulgarians. Like, why pretend we are happier about this than we actually are, right? That's all fair, I think, if traveled the other way around too. For example, I don't think it's AUTHENTIC to always be cynical,argumentative and pessimistic.

    I think that many Bulgarians confuse cynicism with being smart and optimism with being naive or stupid.

    Sorry for a long-winded and not completely on-topic response. :)

    I think you are right that it's not just a Bulgarian thing. Other East Europeans are pretty cynical and pessimistic, too, I think. ;)

  13. I am Bulgarian and I smile a lot, especially in photos. It's a thing that strikes other Bulgarians as strange quite often.
    I don't know if you've had a chance to look at reports about the happiness factor in different countries but we Bulgarians always rank among the unhappiest ones, alongside countries which were once part of the USSR, and countries with severe problems, like Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Burundi.


  14. Petya, I agree with you - it's not necessarily that life is that much harder in Bulgaria that people there don't smile in pictires. When I look at pictures of my Bulgarian friends in situations when they're obviously having a great time (partying, out at clubs, etc), they still don't smile. Not a full blown 24K smile, at least. Rarely teeth showing. And, I am sorry to say this, but it's not like Bulgarians have great teeth as a national trademark..

  15. We hear so many sayings like "Smile and the world smiles with you," and it just ain't so! I enjoyed reading this post! I hail from the Netherlands and for 6 years I lived in Armenia, a former Soviet Republic with a fiercely non-smiling culture that drove me nuts. So I decided one day I was going to smile some more in the streets (okay at the women not the men)and received some interesting reactions! I wrote a story about it (it's the sort of thing I do because I'm a writer)-- EXPAT CONFUSION: TO SMILE OR NOT TO SMILE and you can find the link below if you are interested:



  16. I think it's a general Eastern/Central European thing. I used to get upset that I usually look haughty or angry in pictures, and it still bothers me occasionally, but looking back, most of the people whose school-picture-smiles I wished I could imitate were so fake it hurts to think about! Better blank than fake, I guess.