Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Life in the Trenches: John Zajec

You are going to LOVE this: Vely's husband John contributes to the Life in the Trenches series. I don't know about you guys, but reading this really makes me wish I lived in California so I could invite myself to a dinner party at these two's house. They are both hilarious!

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

Hi! I'm Vely's husband, John. It's been a really long journey to find out who I am and believe we really never know, but we find out interesting things about ourselves and others along the way while trying to learn a bit of wisdom each day. What I do is live all aspects of my life with compassion and vigor. Complete immersion in the lives of my children, work, wife, myself, real and virtual worlds is the only way to make this existence worthwhile. Born and raised in Southern California, I lived in one house for my first twenty one years and then lived in twenty eight different dwellings since. Finally entrenched in what might be my final destination.

How did you and your partner meet?

Either wittingly or not, my Mother-in-Law introduced us through my father. They were friends within the very non-Melrose Place apartment complex and thought it was a good idea for Vely and I to meet.

Having learned early in my dating career not to get deeply involved with California girls, I dedicated any romantic entanglement to only include those outside a 2000 mile radius of said State. Always anticipating meeting a girl from back East (New York, New Jersey, Florida, etc…), I never imagined I would find a girl from that far back east.

Since I was not really looking for a relationship at the time, but incredibly intrigued by Vely, I did what any American would do…I asked her to go running. She was shocked when I actually showed up the following morning at 7am dressed to hit the track. We ran for a month (each day, not one long run) and then I finally asked her out. There's debate when we actually started going out, but we both agree it was when we actually went horseback riding and then to Thai food.

How did your friends and family initially respond to your relationship? Have their reactions changed?

My friends were typically intrigued as well and always referred to Vely (out of her presence) as "The Bulgarian". I'd always dated "interesting" girls, so they took it all in stride and really enjoyed her from the beginning.

My dad and mom loved Vely from the start. Mom was incredibly wise and just knew.

No one's reaction has changed. They are still madly in love with her…so am I.

How do your different backgrounds play into your relationship?

Where to start? There is not a day which goes by where our backgrounds do not clash head on. Generally with some grumblings of "Typical American" or "Frickin' Foreigner" following an invigorated, yet playful, discussion.

Our separate backgrounds help to compliment our relationship and development of our children.

The success of our relationship is based on both of us being raised by very good parents providing us great values and lots of love. In that respect, the backgrounds are identical.

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


Exploring eating behaviors has been quite comical with both of us initially at extremes on many foods. We have both gravitated towards a large sphere of food choices, but still have wide gaps between taste buds. A few differences regarding consumption choices in third person:

Vely never had cold cereal in her life prior to coming to the United States. John ate cold cereal in lieu of dinner.

John never put dirt on his toast. Vely had several spices resembling soils from different countries sprinkled on various breads and toasts.

Hazelnut was a color for John. Vely had it as a basic food group.

Turns out plain yogurt goes with EVERYTHING for Vely. John thought it was sour cream when he first tried it.

Vely would eat half sandwiches, John ate full sandwiches.

John would race through his food almost without tasting. Vely would create an afternoon of eating the half sandwich.


For Vely meeting at 6pm meant anytime between 6pm and 7pm. For John it meant 6:10pm (always late). Now we are always on time.

Going out for John was three six packs of beer with three friends and watching sports. Social life for Vely was doing something cultural like ballet, then chatting at a coffee shop for hours.


Yikes, on this one….John very direct and to the point, almost rude. Vely would take a virtual road trip through three countries to tell John she made the bed.

If the phone rang, Vely would leap over furniture or walk through fire to answer it. John would let it go to message and call the person back in a few days.

While on the phone, if there was more than a nanosecond of space between words, Vely would start saying "Halo, Hallllo, Halllllo?" in the fear they hung up. During the silence, John would hang up and wait for the person to leave a message on the call back and then call them back in a few days.


Vely domesticated, John almost there.


About the same, except for the language. Similar values and great parenting on both sides.

What do you love about being in such a relationship?

This might sound cliché, but I hope she and I are holding hands when we are 90 years old. She's it and I love every little nuance about her and our relationship. There's not a day which goes by where I realize how truly unique and special Vely is to the world and my life.

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

We have the greatest kids on the planet partly due to the blend of cultures.

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

I'd move there in a heartbeat and live a very happy and content life. Eventually we'd like to split the year between here and the rest of the world with a heavy emphasis on Bulgaria.

Visiting Bulgaria brought out something within me which helped me realize my innate culture. My four grandparents migrated individually from Austria(Slovenia) and met in the United States. When in Bulgaria, I'd often sneak away alone to experience the culture and people. Outside of a few words of Bulgarian, my communication was limited to the universal language we all speak as humans and found Bulgarians very willing to help me navigate through their world.

Every inch of Bulgaria was an experience for all my senses and not a disappointing one. Every minute whether driving cross country or in the mountains, family homes, monasteries, villages, hotels, churches, streets, shops, restaurants, the barber shop (got my haircut there without any help from family),beaches, and the list goes on drive my thirst to return.

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

Be patient and brace yourself for a wonderful adventure with a culturally rich and caring person. Having a relationship with a Bulgarian means you will have a relationship with the entire family. It's a wonderful thing, enjoy.

Thank you so much, John! Upon hearing the communication part of your story, Kyle laughed for 10 minutes straight and then proceeded to draw a picture of a "Bulgarian" story-telling pattern. I would be happy to share that with you if y'all are interested.


  1. I definitely want to see the picture of this "Bulgarian" story-telling pattern!! So I can, you know, take my virtual trip through however many countries to tell Kyle WHY IT IS ALL WRONG, hahaha.
    And, yes, you two are welcome for shopska salata and rakia and a buncha multi-cultural goofyness ANY TIME! Seriously, let us know if you ever swing by this way :)

  2. The phone comments are SO similar to my own experiences with Evy :) She doesn't believe in voicemail. I'll literally look at Caller ID and if I don't want to talk to someone at that point in time, I'll let it go and call them back "when I feel like it". Sometimes that's a few hours later, sometimes it's a few days later.

    Evy, on the other hand, will "walk through fire" as you put it. Letting the phone ring for more than 2 seconds is like a cardinal sin or something. We've actually had some rather intense arguments about it because her mother has a habit of calling 4-6 times a day, and I still (to this day) don't see why she needs to talk to her mother half a dozen times a day, especially when we are in the middle of an intimate dinner or a movie.

  3. "John very direct and to the point, almost rude. Vely would take a virtual road trip through three countries to tell John she made the bed."

    Of all your comments this is soooo familiar. I am incredibly blunt and to the point, rambling people make me want to shake them. Metodi can talk non-stop for an hour (or more) about anything: a chapter of a book, a point in history, whether I want to watch this movie or that on netflicks... I'm always fighting myself not to say, 'Spit it out for crying out loud.' or 'When are you going to get to the point?'. Metodi, because of this, thinks I hate almost everything he is interested in. When in fact we share most tastes. Ah, love. :D

  4. John here....

    After the post I was reminded of Bulgarian jokes and how much they differ from American jokes. For the first 10 years of our relationship, I'd stare blankly at Vely and her family members when they told a joke. They just don't seem funny to me. Here's an example: "A man enters a bakery and asks the counterperson for Banitza and coffee. The counterperson responds by telling the client they are out of Banitza. The man then asks the counterperson for Banitza and milk." This will elicit tremendous laughter from all Bulgarians in attendance and a blank stare from yours truely.

    T.W. the mother calling six times per day will taper off in a few years.

    Samantha the talking will never taper off, but you seem very happy in your interview. It's a trade off.

    I think I'm gonna go eat a hamburger covered in yogurt. Goodnight.

  5. You're right, the jokes are awful. Metodi will be laughing after talking to some family member and want to share the 'joke' with me. 5-10 minutes of telling the joke (and man are some of them long, not to mention rambling...) later it ends with me waiting for the punchline that will never come.

    Yes, I'm happy. :)

  6. Samantha -'s the punchline that never comes. It's like on Wheel of fortune when you don't by a vowel. Maybe the joke is on us then.

  7. hahaha
    J and S: oh you people are so simplistic ;)

  8. The last three trenches just made my week! Can't wait to share this last one with Hayden. Things will make so much sense...yes, we can’t wait to hear about this Bulgarian story telling pattern! Petya I think it’s time for you and Kyle to do the trenches! :)

  9. "...meeting at 6pm meant anytime between 6pm and 7pm"
    That's so funny :)! I was explaing the other day that I've never heard in Bulgarian the expression "three-quarters of an hour" , which is commonly used in German. In Bulgarian we usually say "Meet you in half an hour-one hour". It sounds very weird for the Swiss ears :)