After I’d known her for a year, my friend came up to me absolutely apologetic because for the entire duration of the year she had thought that my name was Julia. I’m still not sure how I had failed to notice this fact (she claims that I actually responded to Julia ), nor indeed where she got the name Julia from as it bears no relation to my own and we didn’t have any other friends with the same name.
But everyone’s had one of those moments when you realise you’ve been making some kind of error or faux pas without being aware of it, and wonder how much offence or confusion you’ve caused. This happened to me last night. A girl randomly came up to me in a club in Sofia and told me that she was 21 but everyone thought she was younger. Did I want to see her ID?
Not particularly caring how old this girl was, and suspecting that if she was that keen to show me her ID then yes, she was probably 21, I shook my head. To which she responded ‘Really? OK!’ and started rooting around in her bag for her identity card.
I had totally forgotten about the fact that I read in my guidebook – Bulgarians shake their head for ‘yes’ and nod their head for ‘no.’ I can’t even imagine how many times in the past fortnight I’ve responded to simple questions with the word ‘No’ and a shake of the head. Essentially, responding to basic questions with “yes-no.”
I made it my aim for the rest of the evening to try to convert to Bulgarian gestures – but once I started to focus on nodding and shaking my head I realised that:
- In the course of every conversation I do both about a billion times.
- It’s so subconscious that it’s almost impossible to think about it and change what you’re doing.
Try it and I think you’ll see what I mean. Yes-no?