Now if you hadn’t worked it out already, Digger and I are not very up with the trends. Poor Tiddler doesn’t stand a chance. I fear we are destined to be the sort of semi-embarrassing parents who pick her up from school in unfashionable (but warm, practical and cheap) clothing, and say ”just because So-and-so has an [insert name of latest over priced and unnecessary gadget, toy or food item] doesn’t mean you need to have one”. I want to teach Tiddler that appearances can be deceptive, and that there are far greater things of importance that money.
The average Bulgarian on the street looks incredibly trendy. If we take aside the elderly babas and diados who staunchly wear uncomfortable looking shoes over hand-knitted terlitsi, (slipper socks), and various other layers of knitted items until they are veritable Michelin men in order to fend off the coldest of Bulgarian winters, then everyone else frankly makes us look the scruffiest family on the block.
(terlitsi from Aliahandmadedesigns)
Little girls are constantly referred to as princesses and are usually fully adorned in pink and white with fake fur trims on everything. The little emperors emulate their fathers and sport brightly coloured branded trainers and riveted jeans. Everyone wears puffer jackets and smart heeled boots. This is not that the average Bulgarian has a vast disposable income. As mentioned in previous posts, the government minimum monthly wage here is 510 lev (under 250 pound sterling), with the average monthly wage at a guess being around 800 lev. Pensions start at 200 lev per month. Yet food prices are almost the same as the UK. Clothing appears to be one way to visually show success, in a Bulgarian version of keeping up with the Jonses’ (or the Jardonov’s).
While there are many fashion shops in the high street of T_ to cater to this need, there is a thriving subculture of a huge number of second hand and thrift shops too. Much of the clothing is, as one shop proudly stated, sent from Italy and Germany. It is all of extremely good quality, and the whole system works unlike the more familiar UK method of doing things. These shops are not charity shops as we would know them, but instead are profit making businesses in their own right. Digger buys a pair of heavy duty work trousers and they are weighed on a scale at the till, and he is charged a price per kilogram of fabric. Other shops operate a two-weekly delivery and reduce their prices per day over that fortnight once the richer pickings have already gone. People can dress themselves very well on the second hand fashions of the rest of Europe.
Strangely enough, for a country where second hand is accepted by many, people here do not donate their old clothing to charity shops, or clothing banks, but instead throw it straight into the large grey dumpsters on every corner. The gypsies have defined territories for these bins and do their rounds daily picking through and salvaging what they can. A lot of these items (along with, according to Digger, a huge amount of stolen property) then end up for sale in giant weekly flea-markets.
(A poor attempt at a candid photo of a dumpster diver- stick with a metal hook in hand to fish through the rubbish and a push along trolley round the back to load up)
(Above, four pictures courtesy of http://bnr.bg/varna/post/100887439/bitakat-na-varna-se-mesti)
At this point I stop taking photographs at the flea market. Digger thinks most of the stallholders are members of the gypsy community and might not appreciate me snapping away. They see themselves as outside the normal rules he generalises. They will quote their human rights at you, and demand the government provides for them, but will not conform to any social niceties or commitment to laws if it doesn’t suit them. I ask Digger if this is a race-based perception. He tells a story from a few years ago where the gypsy community who live in self-segregated areas of a town in this municipality point blank refused to pay the water bills. The water board switched the water off. The gypsies complained about declining sanitation. The mayor, with the promises of gypsy votes, ordered the water back on.
What is clear, whether a Bulgarian gypsy or just Bulgarian, that identities, and communities, and other people’s perception of your appearance, wealth, and social standing are important. Is this a symptom of a country where over 20% of the population live below the poverty line, and so the pecking order becomes more highly delineated as people jostle for opportunities and jobs? Is this all just my perception, making judgement from a relatively comfortable financial state. We are after all, just playing for a little while at being Bulgarian. Books and covers my friends, books and covers.