Travel is a wonderful thing. It broadens horizons, makes you more patient, generous, kind, bla bla bla. I’ve definitely experienced the wonders of nomadic life, but I’ve also been in some awkward and downright stupid situations because of my ethnic origin.
I was born and raised in Bulgaria and began traveling when I turned 16, first as an exchange student in the United States, followed by most of the Balkan region, Scandinavia, Spain and wherever else opportunity arose. I’m about to make my next big move over to Asia in a few weeks, starting with Bali and seeing where fortune takes me after that. Here, I give you the top dumbest, most ignorant and hilarious conversations I’ve had with fellow travelers over the past seven years. Now, keep in mind that most have never set foot near Russia or the rest of Eastern Europe and don’t hastily dismiss these poor souls’ ideas as offensive.
Them: “Where are you from?”
Them: “Oh, Russia. Cool!”
Bro, I met you in Boston. You go to college. Please, please, PLEASE, pick up an atlas. You can’t jam all of Eastern Europe under the umbrella of “Mother Russia.”
Them: “Does your family have a dancing bear as a pet?”
Me: “No. We skinned it for fur.”
Then they give me a half-assed smile and a horrified look, wondering whether I’m being sarcastic or telling the truth.
I’m kidding about the skinning. But seriously, dancing bears are a thing of the past. With all the human rights activists out there, street performers torturing animals for sheer amusement are obsolete almost everywhere.
Them: “Do you really travel alone?”
Them: “No boyfriend?”
Them: “No brother?”
Them: “No…uhm bodyguard?”
Me: “Dude, f*ck off.”
Ah, the old stereotype that an Eastern European girl is a fragile princess held on a leash by a man and can’t function on her own. For your information, I’ve been on my own for a third of my life at this point and can kick your ass if I choose to, whether it be with krav maga or a good, old-fashioned kick in the nuts. Also, you may now stop looking around as though my pimp would appear out of the bar shadows and charge you for the short conversation we just had.
Them: “Wow! You speak English! I mean, do you even use it?”
Come on, it’s 2016. In today’s ridiculously globalized world I can’t even pick up a newspaper without knowing English. We all study foreign languages from a young age so that we can travel and gain different perspectives of the world. Of course I speak English. As a matter of fact, I speak Spanish as well, and am currently studying Indonesian. Don’t be acting all surprised when you see Eastern Europeans speaking French, German and Swedish. We aren’t just trapped in our small snow globe of a world as you imagine.
Them: “So who pays for your travels?”
That’s not a normal question. It’s different to say “how do you pay for your travels,” but who absolutely diminishes my entire agency, as if I could never manage to make a living on my own. Here’s the secret formula to my travel fund: I work non-stop. I do freelance writing and photography and when I need to save up I get a gig working as a receptionist, tour guide or tutor. That’s how.
Them: “Want a drink?”
Them: “Two shots of vodka, please! Nazdajfkdhfjhgdjfdvye!”
I just love it when foreigners attempt to speak Russian. Going back to my first point, I am NOT Russian, but I’d still very much enjoy hearing you struggle while trying to impress me by blurting out words in a language neither you nor I know. The sad part is that even if they got it right I wouldn’t know.
Them: “You don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to but…how did you get in this country?”
This one used to get my blood boiling. Here’s how I got into the States: I studied my ass off starting at age 8 both at school and with private tutors to maintain good grades and have my parents drive me back and forth to Sofia to apply for exchange student scholarships abroad. Then I had, two out of the three agencies reject me, but one which said yes and sent me traveling on a full scholarship. Would you like me to show you my visa next?
Them: “Holy sh*t, you can fix the holes in your pants?!”
Yeah, I can because of my mom who grew up in the Soviet Union and was fully trained in all housekeeping and survival techniques from cooking dinner for an entire neighborhood to sewing clothes, repairing shoes and fixing the kitchen faucet.
Them: “Talk Russian to me, it’s so sexy! Oh, can you do the military voice?”
Ah, the good old Eastern European woman fetish. How about this, I’ll speak Bulgarian to you, you’ll still think it’s Russian because admit it, you don’t know the difference, you poor bastard. As for the “military voice,” I got you. You want me to roll my R’s really hard. How about I read you an excerpt of one of Lenin’s speeches? That would get you going, no? Ha, silly foreigners. I honestly think that the fascination with everything Soviet stems from the fact that foreigners were prohibited from being able to even take a glimpse of our world during the cold war. Naturally, Loch Ness-type legends emerged from Westerners’ imaginations. That’s why you’ve got the skewed understanding of Eastern European girls as scantily-clad dominatrix babes with whips and chains dangling from our very own sex dungeons. No joke. I dated an awesome guy from New York once, but his weird fantasies were exactly this.
So there you have it. Keep traveling, keep confusing people and above all else, keep proudly repping your cultural origin!