In the past 16 years, I have heard a lot of Bulgarian. Thanks to my three children, who are half-Bulgarian, I can sing parts of the typical children’s songs. I can have something like a very shaky conversation, involving millions of mistakes, with taxi drivers in Sofia. We usually talk about cars. Once we reach a certain point, I give up. I’m sort of o.k. with numbers or the usual requests in supermarkets. But that’s it, even though I have been driving and flying in and out of this country since 2002 and living in Sofia for a total of six to seven years so far.
Let’s do some writing, using a Bulgarian phonetic keyboard layout: Добар ден. Не расбирам много и не говориа много. ас обитшам шопска салата з пиржени картофи. Од кде си ти? Ас сам од Хамбург. I would not be able to continue, since my vocabulary and grammar are crappy and due to the fact that those statements already exhausted 50% of my knowledge.
The Western European guy can not have a proper conversation in Bulgarian. To some, that might look like a pretty arrogant approach. The Kraut does not want to learn our language? Doesn’t he think it is important? Well, it’s not about not wanting, but about not doing it systematically, while having issues with Slavic languages. The latter statement is probably an excuse.
I am lucky, since many Bulgarians do speak some English or German. But, as long as I am not able to really speak and understand, I will often be kind of an outsider, e.g. in social situations, such as discussions at a tram stop. I’m not the only one. Of course there are many of us expats, who do not speak Bulgarian. Maybe we should try harder.
On the other hand, some of us are good. My Australian friend sounds absolutely native, when he has small talk with neighbours. They do not notice he is a foreigner, at least for a long time, until the conversation requires some complicated, grammatical constructions. My girlfriend, whose home country is located across the ocean, does very well too. She can complain to school teachers, clarify anything and have good conversations. Congrats to them and everyone else, who is good at Bulgarian.
One of the best excuses for not speaking Bulgarian: It is definitely a hard language to learn.