If you have any Bulgarian people around you, you’ve probably already noticed some weird things that they might be doing. I’m pretty sure every single country has its own unique features, but Bulgaria could potentially surprise you when it comes to weirdness.
Here is the time to make a huge disclaimer that the things I am going to talk about do not apply to 100% of the population. And I am certainly not claiming that everybody believes in them. But I am convinced that most of the Bulgarians out there can recognise themselves in at least a few of these points.
There are, of course, many regional differences, so it’s very possible that some Bulgarians haven’t heard about some of the things, just like I probably don’t know about other ones from different parts of the country. But here are some of the beliefs, superstitions and habits I’ve grown up with.
I am not here to talk about where these beliefs came from, but I am going to mention 21 ‘unusual’ and ‘weird’ things Bulgarians do. Well, we don’t see them as strange, but foreigners surely do. As I was writing this blog post, I realised how peculiar we might seem to people from other countries. But don’t be put off by what you’re about to read – we’re actually super nice if you get to know us. Promise! 😉
- Slap someone on the back of their neck after they’ve had a new haircut. This applies mostly to guys, because it’s much more noticeable when they get a haircut – they’ll always get at least a few slaps on the back of their neck from their friends and relatives as a ‘Congratulations on getting your haircut’!
Admittedly, I’ve done this a few times with friends from other countries, and, oh god, the looks they give me… This isn’t a form of abuse, people. We just want to wish you the best! 😉
- Step on someone’s shoes if they’re new. I think at this point you might be starting to get the wrong impression of us as a nation.. Slapping necks, stepping on shoes – it might seem like we enjoy torturing each other. But stay with me!
Bulgarians just love congratulating others in ‘strange ways’. So when someone buys new shoes, we congratulate them for the new purchase by lightly tapping one of their shoes.
I’d say this is mostly common among younger people, because I remember doing this in kindergarten and school. It’s still something that’s being done though. So next time someone does it to you – you’ve been warned!
- Congratulate someone after they’ve taken a shower. You’re probably getting the idea by now – we love congratulating each other for everything. It’s all about the small things in life, isn’t it!?
- Never leave a window and a door open at the same time – the draught is deadly! At least in the Balkans. It is commonly believed that being in a place where air keeps flowing between two windows, or a window and a door, you will get sick.The term we have for it is течение [techenie], while all the other Balkan folks call it ‘promaja’. At least they’d understand us on this one..
- Knock on wood… or on your head if there’s no wood around. Pretty sure this is also being done all around the world, but I have a feeling Bulgarians use it a tad more often. Whenever something bad is being mentioned, that could possibly happen, people immediately look for wood around them to tap on. If there is no wood within reach, we always knock on our own heads.
- Pretend to spit in your shirt if someone/something scares you. That’s a bit of an odd one now that I think about it. Not sure about the logical reasoning behind it. I feel like it has turned more into a reflex for most people.
- Pretend to spit in a child’s face after you’ve given him/her too many compliments.. Now things are getting even weirder. Bulgarians strongly believe in evil spirits, and it is said that if someone receives too many compliments, this can turn into something negative and cause them to have bad luck. This is mostly applied to children and young people. This is why, in order to prevent this bad luck from happening, after you talk highly of them, you say “pu pu”, and the ‘evil spirits’ should be stopped. 😉
- Never walk under a ladder. This is supposedly also a common one, but I had to include it. Again – it means bad luck. Just walk around it, okay!?
- Wearing a red thread on your wrist. It should usually be given to you by your mum – it is believed that this is when it has a real power. Again.. We do this as a protection from evil spirits.
Fun fact – pretty much all newborns get a red thread tied on their wrist.
- Never let someone cut any part of your clothing while you’re wearing it – they will cut off your luck as well! Let’s say you’ve bought a new shirt and the label is still on, or there is a thread you want to get rid of – it’s essential to first take it off, cut, and then put it back on. I admit, might be guilty of getting a bit too paranoic about this.
So what do you do if you’re in public and don’t want to take your clothes off? Just wait till you’re home… better walk around with a label on than having your luck being cut off, duh.
Same thing goes for sewing a piece of clothing while wearing it.
- Spill water on the staircase and then walk over it for good luck. This usually happens when someone leaves for a long trip, when they have an important exam, or just an important day ahead in general. It is also done on your graduation day, wedding day etc. All the crucial occasions!
- There’s a lot of dancing going on. We love dancing horo on every special occasion. We even dance in restaurants if we get the chance.. while having a casual dinner. Yes, we love our folk dances.
- We shake our head for yes and nod for no. This is mostly true, even if some people deny it. There is just something about it – it seriously comes naturally to do the ‘opposite’ nods when speaking Bulgarian – and that’s not just coming from me, but also from foreigners who have spent some time living in the country and learned some Bulgarian.
- Never sit at the edge of a table because you might never get married! If you’re sitting down to eat and the table has edges, don’t ever position yourself in a way that you’re sitting at the edge. Our grandmas keep telling us that if we do so, we won’t get married.
- Never let someone go over your feet while cleaning with a broom – you might never get married! As you can tell, we’re quite afraid of that.
- We have an obsession with zodiac signs. This is true for the most part. A lot of people believe that your zodiac sign has something to do with your personality and who you are. And to be honest, it does…
People might sometimes even end up google-ing whether they’re compatible with the person we like, based on on their zodiac signs. (*cough* guilty *cough*)
P.S. If you’re an Aquarius, don’t even bother trying to contact me. It ain’t gonna work out.
- We love home remedies. Rakia goes on everything and helps with anything, and so do many other ingredients from the kitchen. Sunburned? – put some Bulgarian yogurt on your skin. Having some pain? – apply compress with rakia.
I still remember the occasions when I’d get a fever and my mum would soak my socks in vinegar and put them on me, then wrap them with a towel.
- Never EVER leave your bag/purse on the floor. It is believed that if you do so, you’re going to lose money.
One of my very first shocking experiences when I moved to Austria was during my first days at uni – I’d get to the lecture hall and see everyone put their bags on the floor. I swear, I couldn’t believe my eyes, it even felt a bit uncomfortable just looking at this scene.
I have now slowly gotten used to it, and sometimes happen to do it myself. If my relatives see me do that, they immediately are like “OH MY GOSH” and make me pick up my bag.
- Do not open an umbrella inside. Doing this is going to bring you – guess what!? – bad luck!
- If you’re already on your way to somewhere important, but realise you’ve forgotten something.. Do not go back! Going back means you’re going to lose your luck (yeah I know, it all has to do with luck).
I remember once I was leaving to go from Sofia to Vienna and as we walked outside our apartment, I realised I had forgotten the keys to my dorm room in Vienna. My mum was with me and I told her I had to go back to get them. Immediately she was like “NO, DO NOT MOVE, YOU CAN’T GO BACK NOW, this would mean bad luck for your whole journey!.” So she ran back to grab them for me, thankfully.
- Never give a bouquet with an even number of flowers to someone, unless you’re going to the cemetery! We say that an even number of flowers is for those who are dead, so we always make sure that the flowers are an uneven count.
Living in Austria, I’ve realised this is not the same way here. Once I got invited to a birthday of a friend of mine, so I decided to get her a bouquet of flowers. I had to literally take one out and throw it in the garbage because they were 10, and I couldn’t let myself give someone an even set of flowers for their birthday.
This might be an important thing to keep in mind if you want to give flowers to a Bulgarian!
I am sure there are even more interesting things that are common to do in Bulgaria, which I might have forgotten or not even be aware of. Again, the above mentioned superstitions and beliefs certainly don’t apply to 100% of the population. But there are also many Bulgarians, who consciously or subconsciously, do at least some of them. And I am certainly among those people.
Did you recognise yourself in any of these? Maybe you have the same things in your own country? I am curious to know!
If there are more ideas coming to mind, don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments below!
Want to learn more about Bulgaria? You might also enjoy:
- The ABC of why you should visit Bulgaria
- 7 Top Things To To In Sofia
- 27 Awesome Things To Do In Plovdiv
- 22 Unmissable Things to do in Tryavna, Bulgaria
- 12 Things to do in Borovets for non-skiers
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