Bulgaria is one of the few places on earth where shaking your head means yes, and nodding means no. Even after being here for over 6 months now, and learning some of the language, this is the hardest thing to get used to. I am convinced this non-verbal communication is hard-wired into our brain at a very early age. Furthermore, I believe our way is more natural—what does a baby do when you bring a spoonful of strained peas to his mouth? That’s right, he shakes his head side to side to get away from that nasty food.
What’s really interesting is that, if I try, I can do the “hey, wassup” nod to tell people handing out flyers on the street to indicate that I don’t want one, and shake (kind of like a bobble head doll) to signal agreement when I’m listening to a Bulgarian. However, whenever I see someone shaking their head, I immediately, subconsciously interpret it as disappointment; I have to rationally remind myself this “disappointment” is actually a good thing.
This weekend I went to a newsstand to buy tram tickets. I asked if the attendant if she had tickets. (“Имате ли билети за трамваи?” for those of you playing along at home.) She shook her head, but due to the fact it was early in the morning (well, 10:00 actually) and she didn’t verbalize a “Да” I naturally assumed she didn’t have any, so I asked here where I could get some (actually just “Къде?” [where?],) to which she answered “тук” [here.] Duh!