When I sat my friends and family down to tell them that my girlfriend and I are moving to Bulgaria, the response was the same. “I thought you were going to say she was pregnant!” No, nothing crazy! I’m just moving 6,000 miles to a country I’ve never visited before. Simple!
My Гадже (Gadje–lover/partner) observed that when she told people she was moving to Bulgaria, she got one of two reactions. The first, from people who had visited her here when she did Peace Corps, was excitement. The second, from people who hadn’t been, was unveiled skepticism. After all, Bulgaria is one of those places like Timbuktu, that Americans pull out to mean an impossibly faraway place.
Americans can get by without knowing much about geography. It’s not really our fault: like the saying goes, Europe has age where the US has space. In Europe, the distance between the Asian border and the Pillars of Hercules would take you through nations with countless languages and cultures. Drive the same distance in the US, and the most jarring difference would be what to call soft drinks.
At least Bulgaria is one of those perfectly named countries that sounds like it should be exactly where it is on a map. Some countries aren’t so lucky. Not to pick on Suriname, but its alternating consonant-vowel scheme makes it sound like it could be anywhere. The Portuguese, in true colonialist fashion, saw fit to stick one of the four Guineas half a world away from the others.
Then you have countries with evocative names. Take the Seychelles: sounding equally like seashells and atoll, it conjures up images of the island paradise that it is. Bulgaria, with its prickly Bul– followed by that Slavic –garia, pegs it to its neighborhood. The name conjures up images of babushkas ladling bowls of cold vegetable stew to weather-worn, bulbous-nosed husbands.
Going by this admittedly depressing image, Bulgaria doesn’t sound so great. However, the numbers tell a different story. Using this handy online country-comparison tool, we can see some figures about life in the US vs. Bulgaria.
Alright, so we’re going to make less money. A lot less. Through some hellish post-Soviet economic alchemy that I don’t understand, doctors in Bulgaria make the equivalent of $200 a month.
But when you look at the rest of the numbers, life here looks pretty damn civilized. We’ve both already been born, so we can cross worrying about infant mortality off the list. A 5 year-lower life expectancy sounds bad, but when you factor in the higher infant mortality rate and the fact that Bulgarians are some of the world’s heaviest smokers, we’re probably alright.
And in Bulgaria, we may live five fewer years, but we’ll spend one-tenth of what Americans pay for healthcare! Given that America’s private health insurance industry is both obscenely expensive and a colossal pain-in-the-ass, I will gladly trade half a decade of life to not deal with that.
By leaving the United States, we’ve also basically eliminated the chance of being shot. In Bulgaria, in 2011, there were 99 gun deaths. That’s less than 100 people dying from gun murders, suicides and accidents combined. In America, magazine-capacity limits that everyone wants are tantamount to fascism. No thanks.
Still, you can tell people all the attractive figures you want. You still get a lot of conversations like this one, a few months before I left, between my mother and I:
She: So, have you given any more thought to moving to Bulgaria?
Me: Yeah, it’s definitely happening, probably in January. It’s a matter of when, not if.
She: Are you going to leave your stuff in Northern California? If you’re going to move back, it’d probably be there.
Me: Uhh, I will leave a lot of stuff here, but I’m not planning on moving back anytime soon.
She: So are you just going to live in Bulgaria, forever? Or what, bum around Europe for the rest of your life?
Me: I’m not planning the rest of my life right now, I’m planning on moving to Bulgaria. And I don’t know if I could move back to the Bay Area, it’s getting pretty expensive.
She: You could move to Portland.
Me: Maybe. Portland’s kinda too quiet and too homogenous. Also, right now I’m planning on moving to Bulgaria, not Portland.
She: Well, you could always do Air B’n’B! That’s what [my sister] did in New York for a while. You could do Air B’n’B while you find a place in New York.
Me: I’m not moving to New York, I’m moving to Bulgaria!
Like plenty of things in life, talk doesn’t do much–you just have to do it!