A couple weeks ago we took a couple days to check out The Electric Forest festival in Rothbury, MI. It was interesting and probably would have been more fun had it not been for the heat, … Read on
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.
The pics above are from the first part of the flight where I was crammed into a tiny little space next to smelly man.
The next part of the journey wasn’t quite as bad. Again I was in coach seated next to a guy almost my size. They pack us in like sardines with no thought going into the passengers’ comfort. I watched a show about air travel a few days ago and they broke down the expenses and profits of the cost of flying passengers today; after all the expenses are paid and fares collected, they only clear a couple hundred bucks if they fill every seat. Put more seats in, pack us in tighter, make more money… to hell with how much it sucks for us to be sitting so close to a perfect stranger that you are touching for 6 hours without a break.
Anyway, other than the discomfort of actually being pressed up against some guy from Birmingham that I’ve never met, the flight itself was pretty uneventful. In comparison to the first part of the journey from Sofia to Paris sitting next to Fidgety StinkMan, it was like an afternoon at a spa. I learned one valuable lesson about the process however, and that it to get online even earlier than I did and select a seat. I know now that I have to be on the right side of other folks, in the aisle if possible, for a right-handed person to be comfortable at all on a long flight. If you don’t fit into the space they’ve put you in and you’re a righty, it’s really a pain in the ass to eat or do anything without sticking your elbow in your neighbor’s face, even though they don’t seem to give a shit where their limbs are in relation to your personal space.
Finally, the longest part of the flight was over and we landed in Detroit. We deplaned and were funneled right into the Customs area where we stood in another line for 45 minutes. I needed a restroom break almost from the time the fasten seat belt sign went on and until we were cleared through Customs, there weren’t any restrooms. Immediately after clearing Customs I was stopped again by another Customs agent wanting to see my Passport and Declaration form. I made the mistake of saying “Jesus Christ, how many fucking times do you need to see my Passport here? I just need to get to a restroom!” This didn’t go over so well with her. A little authority over a passenger trying to piss and go home is all they have; threaten that and you have someone with a new mission. She looked at my eyes real close to see what kind of drugs I was on, said “Oh wow!” and let me go. I knew it wasn’t going to end there.
I realized as I was washing my hands and coming out of the restroom that I could’ve handled that better. I thought I should find the agent and apologize but I didn’t see her anywhere now. My luggage finally came around on the belt and I was on my way. I thought. Then another customs agent pulled me out of the crowd and asked me to follow him into the security area. I finally figured out where that other woman had gone: she was off to initiate to get the rest of the team on board with making my stay a little longer, to show me how much authority she really has. There were 3 or 4 agents running the inspection lines and I stopped in front of the first one. The woman on a mission was on the end and of course, and motioned me down to her line. All my bags were torn apart and thoroughly searched. I was asked the same series of questions that I had repeated just minutes before as I passed through the first Customs booth. The two agents directed to search my stuff did so reluctantly and were very polite in the process. They didn’t look in things that I would have certainly searched if I were a Customs Agent which indicated to me that this was all payback, they were part of it, and they knew it. There was only one more person in this area being searched at the time and he looked like a terrorist. They weren’t passively browsing through his stuff, they were probing and detaining. He had a worried look on his face the entire time. Maybe he had a little C4 in the toothpaste tube that they were getting close to.
The two agents chatted with me the whole time. We joked, we laughed, it wasn’t painful at all. The woman running the show stood at the front and scowled through it all. The other agents apologized for not being able to pack my stuff as neatly as I had and sent me on my way. I really didn’t want to give the woman in charge any satisfaction for the added inconvenience, but I apologized anyway. After all, it was me who was the asshole to begin with while she was just doing her job.
My adventure to Bulgaria is over. I got in my crappy american car, pulled out onto our crappy american freeway and set the cruise at 100. As I flew past every other car on the road like they were parked, I couldn’t help thinking how nice it was to be home. I love to travel and see other countries, some I didn’t want to leave. But I’m always glad to get back to the USA and when I do, I realize how good we have it here. Even with the economy the way it is and all the other problems we have here, it’s still home and it’s a great place to be.
Now if I could just find a way to educate American drivers to get the hell out of the left lane unless they actually passing other cars…
Just got back from a trip to Sofia, Bulgaria today. Two connecting flights totalling somewhere around 11 hours in the air and roughly 7 hours in the terminals dealing with check-in, passports, baggage, sitting on the tarmac and customs. After today I’m not sure if any destination is worth the frustration of the flight process.
The first leg of the journey, which was the shortest, seemed like a lifetime compared to the connecting 7 hour flight. The airline is irrelevant; it’s the person seated next to you that makes or breaks a flight. I was first in my row to be seated and I hoped and prayed for a short, skinny, freshly showered girl to be seated next to me, but luck was not on my side. In fact, my hoping and wishing seemed to work in reverse. What I got was an old man who hasn’t showered since the elections and apparently believes deoderant to be a product of the devil. In addition to B.O. that made my eyes water, he posessed another sort of funk that you only encounter around elderly homeless winos with wet pants which seemed to emanate from his clothing. Naturally a man this carefree could only be wearing sandals, another source of another funk that I can’t even put into words. To complete this concoction of horrific odors was a sporadic wiff of breath that smelled like the ass-end of a dead farm animal, bloated and rotting in the sun. This man’s reek was so foul it almost had color, he was pressed right up against me for next 3 hours and that was only half of it! As if the odors weren’t enough, it turns out he’s a fidgety spaz to boot! From the very moment his ass hit the seat until we deplaned, he rocked, wiggled, fidgeted, shuffled and moved about like a jumping bean on crank. I haven’t seen anyone twiddle their thumbs since grade school, but that was the start of it. While his thumbs were rotating at 300rpms, he would lean forward then back, look out the window to the front of me (I had the window seat unfortunately, he was in the middle), then behind me. Then he would stretch and look towards the front of the plane, then crane his head around to look back, then turn around and glance at his watch with his feet bouncing up and down the whole while. All of this random spastic movement took place in just 5 or 6 seconds, then repeat. And repeat, for 3 hours, with his freakishly hairy arm rubbing up against me the whole way. There was no escape; no matter how hard I tried to lean away he would compensate by taking up even more of my personal space.
I’ve said nothing but bad things about this man up to this point and that’s not fair. He was actually a very nice old man, just not very conciencious of the personal space of others and less than concerned or even aware of his own hygiene. This is a lesson for everyone: there is no such thing as personal space on a commercial flight so before you head for the airport, please take a shower people. Think of the people that have to sit next to you!