My wife and I went to Walmart today. It used to be, I would go to Walmart two in the morning, when there were no people to get in my way, and look around for an hour or three. I have a flashlight fetish. In this life, I’ve spent hours by the flashlight section. I try out different models, I compare one to another, but I never buy.
For this affinity, I blame the early nineties. The blackouts in Bulgaria when we sat home for hours without electricity, by the candle, and told stories to keep from being bored. We crowded the flame, fought for space around it, for some warmth; dreamed of a slice of dry bread, a potato peel, an olive pit… Okay, maybe it wasn’t that bad. But sometimes I wished I could go exploring with my flashlight around the dark apartment. Only my flashlight (my grandmother had brought it from the Soviet Union) required a massive flat battery. Where to buy massive flat batteries in Sofia, I didn’t know. And exploring in the dark with a candle? Crawling under the bed, peeking behind the curtains?
Today I have six flashlights, across three continents, neither of which requires a battery; only mechanical winding. But if you’re crazy about flashlights, one might ask, wouldn’t you buy more than six? Not if you’re a miser. Which I am. Not if you were born in Gabrovo, the Mecca of all misers.
Today, on our way out of Walmart, I spotted by the exit a cardboard box of tiny Sun Chips packets. Free samples, a sign on the box said. So I picked up a packet. Then I went outside and called after my wife and made her come back inside to pick up a packet. Then, when the old greeter invited me personally to take a second packet, I took a second packet. It’s not that I’m crazy about French Onion chips. I’ll probably hate them. But there is a Bulgarian saying: If it’s free – take it. Even if it’s a slap on the face.Gabrovo, where I was born and lived shortly before moving to Sofia, but where still a big part of my family resides, is known for its people: a humorous, stingy or, if we want to be kind, highly frugal bunch of hoarders and misers. Every spring Gabrovians hold a festival of the Humor and Satire. We have a huge museum devoted to the Humor and Satire and great sayings like: The world lasts because it laughs. Even The New York Times wrote about Gabrovo in a recent issue.
In Bulgaria, there is a famous booklet which has collected many anecdotes and jokes about Gabrovo and its people. For this post, I’d like to share some of my favorite, and briefest. Yes, I know jokes don’t translate, and yada-yada. At least you can read them for free.
When a Gabrovian…
…decides to grease his bread, he rubs it on the cap of the sunflower oil bottle.
…invites guests to dinner, he screws in a weaker light bulb in advance.
…goes to bed in the evening, he stops the hands of the clock to save wear on the works.
It is said that Gabrovians cut their cats’ tails off so they can close the door faster when they let the cat out, and this way save heat.
A wife from Gabrovo asked her husband how much of the egg to put in the soup.“Today’s a holiday! Put in half of it,” the husband answered. (I think, for instance, that my grandmother will faint if she saw how my wife cracks an egg open, then throws the shell away without scraping with her finger all the egg white that can be scraped away. But there is a good reason for Grandma’s reverence of eggs that goes back to her childhood and to her own grandfather who’d sometimes bury an egg in the coals and bake it and eat it in front of her, without offering a bite).
Having borrowed two eggs from a neighbor, a Gabrovian gave back only one.“I lent you two, didn’t I?” the neighbor asked.“You did! I must have miscounted,” said the Gabrovian.
Gabrovo Announcement: I’m buying a hen that lays eggs twice a day.
Gabrovians enjoy their clothes on four occasions:When the clothes are brand new.When the clothes are turned inside out.When the clothes are patched up.When the clothes are sold to a museum.
And finally a joke about one of Gabrovo’s finest, most honorable men:
When old Minyo died, people found in his storage room a box. The box was full of very short pieces of string. The note on the box read: Pieces of string that are good for nothing.
Thank you for reading.