On January 1, 2007, something important happened. The EU accepted two nations into its smothering embrace, Romania and Bulgaria. Romania’s all well and good, as far as it goes, but Bulgaria is much more exciting, because it represents a first in EU-expansion history. Bulgaria is, namely, the first EU nation whose language does not use the Latin alphabet. [UPDATE: Whoops, as the commenters pointed out, I forgot about Greece, which hasn’t yet caught Latin-alphabet fever. I stand corrected.] Bulgarians write in Cyrillic, that odd script that sort of looks like the Latin alphabet, except some of the letters are either backward or have too few appendages. Bulgarians celebrated the accession to the EU by holding street protests against the EU-mandated tax on Rakia, the national spirit, which they like to brew at home.
Yes, even the homemade version is supposedly subject to the evil EU tax, which truly pissed off the Bulgarians. Quite properly, in my opinion. A Bulgarian friend of mine regularly plies me with her father’s homemade Rakia. He always sends her back to Germany with a 2-liter plastic Fanta bottle full of the stuff. I find it quite tasty.
Anyway, to celebrate this groundbreaking event, I borrowed a magazine from my Bulgarian friend. The magazine is sort of like the Bulgarian People or Hallo. The cover of this edition featured a mildly racy photo of none other than Hilary Swank. There was a full profile of her inside, including a centerfold, in which she was posed on a rocky outcropping, wearing a sort of half-top and shorts. Again, rather discreet. One gets the sense that Bulgarian mores are not yet up to the EU’s breast-brandishing standards.
The advertisement to the left caught my eye. Can you guess what the little gray corpuscle stands for, with his malicious little grin, shiny feet and egg-shaped, staring eyes? You guessed it, he is Stress, or Cmpec in Bulgarian. He plagues the harried office worker staring at the unidentified purple oblong object, the harried housewife staring at her watch, and the office worker driving home, who doesn’t look particularly stressed-out. Perhaps he’s stressed inwardly because he has to think in Cyrillic, or because he must spend another night alone in one of the hideous Zhivkov-era housing blocks in the background. Thank God there’s CEAATU$ NC (approximate spelling). Pop a few of those, and you won’t even need Rakia.
At the bottom, Stress has been bound with rope. This strikes me as a refreshingly frank visual metaphor, since the underlying message is: "Yes, you’ve used these pills (whatever they are) to temporarily disable your stress, but eventually those gray ropes are going to slacken and drop away, and Cmpec will once again be free to stomp on your ganglia and ruin your digestion. And, as his expression shows, he’s going to be much, much angrier than before you tied him up."
But that’s not all we’re doing to celebrate Bulgaria’s EU accession. My friend also has a Bulgarian-English computer dictionary. This amazing device is made of black plastic, has a keyboard and LCD display, and is the size of a large paperback book. It looks like a Texas Instruments calculator from the early 80s. Why is it ‘amazing’? Because it will not show you the English equivalent of various Bulgarian words, it will actually pronounce them for you, in vaguely Oxonian computerized English. After consuming appropriate amounts of Rakia, I put it through its paces, ordering it to pronounce a certain sequence of English words. The result is a tale of lust, revenge, and murder. Without pronouns or adverbs. You can listen to it here.