A Wolf in Sheep’s clothing. You really have to watch out for some places and some people in Bulgaria. The Communist influence on some Bulgarians hasn’t worn off, even after 20 years. The people aren’t to blame, it’s the way they had to be to make it. The cab drivers are notorious for scamming folks, or so we were told and their websites even mentioned it although we had no problem with any of them. In our case, we had some issues with the Hotel Gloria Palace. Specifically, one receptionist.
The day I arrived in Bulgaria, a day later than Cindy, the problems began. After a day in the air and two connecting flights to get to Sofia, I arrived with a migraine, fatigued, and without my luggage. It’s never happened to me before but it’s inevitable: if you travel by air enough, you will lose a bag somewhere. After standing in line and watching everyone else pick up their bags and leave, I was one of three people left after an hour and a half who’s luggage didn’t make it. I waited patiently at the service desk while everyone else bitched and complained to the one man behind the counter with no will left to deal with it. My first experience with Bulgarians set the tone for the rest of the trip: The man behind the counter pointed at me and pulled me to the front, helped me with the forms necessary to locate my lost bags and made everyone else wait. At that moment I realized that these people don’t need any shit from us and they won’t take it, so treat them with respect and everything will go just fine.
I walked out and found Cindy waiting for me with a big happy smile and hugs; just what I needed! We both made it and found each other in another country. My vacation was officially under way.
Arriving at the hotel, we stopped at reception to let the girl know that my bags hadn’t arrived with me and asked for her help. She was sweet, friendly and polite, and spoke english well enough to understand what had happened: we’ll call her Girl One since I don’t remember her name. She said she would be happy to call the airport and try to track down our lost luggage. Very helpful and pleasant.
The next day we (Cindy’s colleagues and students from the psychology conference) took a field trip on a bus to Plovdiv. When we returned to our hotel at the end of the day, we were met with my lost bag in the reception office when we stopped to check on the status. A different girl (which we’ll call Girl Two) was working at the time, and after a couple days we realized that the two girls worked in 24 hour shifts. Three or four days later as we were walking past the office towards the street, Girl One ran out and stopped us to apologize and let us know that she was still trying to locate our lost bag, and that she had been calling the airport every day for information. Girl Two didn’t even bother to tell Girl One or anyone else for that matter, that our bag had been found and delivered. We felt so sorry for her; you could see that she was worried and stressed out over the situation, which could have been easily avoided if Girl Two gave a shit about anyone but herself.
A day earlier we witnessed Girl Two in action trying to scam a little extra money from one of the conference students who was leaving the next day. While we were in the office to deal with our room switch, the girl that was leaving was trying to settle up and get ready to check out. Reception Girl Two spun the monitor around and informed the guest that she owed 10 Lev for phone calls. The debate began. The guest politely told her that she shared the room with another girl and made no calls, and in fact had no phone in her room. To this Girl Two replied, “oh well, you owe 10 lev, you pay.” I coudn’t believe the attitude. You just don’t see that ‘I don’t give a shit and there’s nothing you can do about it’ attitude in the States; people get fired for that. We learned that in Bulgaria (and other countries), some of the people will make a point of screwing you if they find out you’re an American, especially after George W got done making a mess of things for us. They hate us now thanks to that jackass. We were warned that cab drivers in particular, which I mentioned earlier, are known for taking advantage of us if they can. We didn’t have any trouble from them at all however, and in fact were taken care of well by the cabbies. I tipped them well for their speedy service. I also made a point of going back to the hotel the following day when Girl One was working and gave her a 10 lev tip for taking care of us. You could tell that they don’t experience that too often.
Also on the following day, I made a point of scheduling a cab to pick me up at 5AM to take me to the airport two days later. I knew that Girl Two would be on duty the day before I left and didn’t want to depend on her to get the time right or even make the call. Girl One politely and professionally handled my request, and we walked away relieved knowing I had nothing to worry about aside from getting up on time Saturday morning.
Friday, the day before I leave for home we are having dinner out near the pool and while Cindy and Roger were finishing up, I decided to go check on the status of my cab for the next morning and make sure it would be at the hotel on time. In fact, I decided to have the cab show up an extra half hour early just to be safe. Things were about to get really stressful.
Girl Two informed me that she was the one that made the cab call and scheduled it to be there at 5:25AM the next morning. I was already beginning to worry. I now had to request a second call to change the schedule. Would she follow through or leave me hanging there? Would she call some friend at some fly-by-night cab company to drive me around for an extra half hour to make a little extra money? She said it was no problem and would make the call to change the pick-up time, then she spun that monitor around again and presented me with a 300 leva bill for my stay at the hotel. News to me. Our room was to be covered by the school; part of the package for Cindy teaching the extra class and being there a week extra to do so. I told her that the school was responsible for our room charges to which she replied, “no, school pay for Cindy, not you. You pay 300 leva.” We went back and forth a bit and I realized I would need some time to think about the situation and find a way to handle it diplomatically, not like I do at home.
After giving this whole thing some careful consideration, I came to the conclusion that this girl has probably had a shitty life. She’s not sweet and pretty as Girl One, and sometimes life is a little easier for beautiful people. I thought about how I gave Girl One a 10 lev tip for being so helpful, and for the extra stress of having to deal with Girl Two’s lack of concern for anyone else. I thought Girl Two probably never gets tips or any kind of praise whatsoever, so she scams whatever she can and treats people the way they treat her. On the other hand, she doesn’t get positive feedback, tips or praise from anyone because of her attitude towards customers and people, which is a vicious circle. I decided a little insurance in this case would likely go a long way to smooth departure and I decided to reward her with a 4 leva tip for her help in making the cab call. She was completely surprised, like it was the first time she had ever been given a tip. She asked what for; I told her for taking care of us and for her help scheduling the cab ride.
I have never been more right. Also, I’ve never witnessed anything like what I’m about to describe.
We left the hotel and went into town to check Cindy into a different hotel where she would be staying for the remainder of her trip. After checking in, we turned around and took a cab right back to the hotel to finish packing for the following day. Earlier in the evening when we had stopped in to speak with Girl Two about the room charges, the issue didn’t get resolved so we told her we would return to work it out later. We explained to her that I was leaving in the morning but Cindy was staying and checking out later in the day. We wanted to just pay the 300 leva and work it out with the University later to avoid any unpleasant issues at the moment. Cindy asked her if we could pay with a credit card (Bulgaria operates on cash mostly) because we didn’t have 300 leva in cash on us, but to our surprise her response now was “not 300 leva, you don’t pay”. We didn’t understand. She pulled up my bill and began changing all the charges to zero. After all the adjustments were made, she spun the monitor around again to show us the new balance: 38 leva. We looked at each other in total amazement and disbelief. Right before our eyes, our bill was reduced from 300 leva to 38, all because of a 4 leva tip and a little politeness.
I learned some valuable lessons on this trip. The folks working in service industries such as hotels, taxis and the like, put up with nothing but non-stop bullshit from travelers and tourists all day long; treat them nice, give them a break, reward them for their efforts and the quality of service will be much better and a helluva lot more reliable. Piss and moan and complain to these folks about every little detail and your likely to get screwed, or at the very least, ignored. For the most part, they are just employees and have little control over the circumstances that we are so quick to attack them for, like the guy in the baggage claim area at the Sofia airport for example. Everyone else directed their frustration at him like the lost luggage was his fault. Imagine dealing with that all day! They are there to help, if we let them.