Surviving Na Gosti

Na Gosti - comic 1

Bulgaria is one of those countries with a hospitality culture that guidebooks and Sunday newspaper sections rave about.

This means that you will be cared for in a way that can be both warm and oppressively overbearing, welcoming and kind of weird. Spend any time here and make friends with any locals, and you will end up invited На Гости (Na Gosti). The literal translation of na gosti is “as guest,” which makes gosti the rare Bulgarian word that sounds remotely like its English counterpart. Na Gosti isn’t just going over for dinner—it’s more like participating in a local folk dance, where everyone knows the steps except you. Here’s the choreography for surviving Na Gosti:

Na Gosti - comic 2

First, there are 3 things you need to know:

  1. You need to eat and drink slower than you ever thought possible, because
  2. It is your host’s duty to force-feed you, and
  3. You will be there for at least 5 hours.

Na gosti is a battle between host and guest: the host must make you eat, and you must avoid excruciating gut pain.

To drink, you’ll get beer or—if you’re fancy—wine, or Derby Cola or—if you’re fancy—Coke. The night starts with salad. You get a plateful of salad, of which you take a bite and don’t touch again for at least 20 minutes. You hosts will have three bites of salad in the first half-hour Na Gosti, try to shoot for similar numbers.

My first Na Gosti, I ate salad as slowly as I thought was humanly possible. By the time I’d been given my third plate, my hosts had each taken 3 bites.

Na Gosti - comic 3

Eating patterns work out to an exponential growth curve. For the first half of the curve, things will be eaten so slowly that your plates are mostly decorative. As time goes on and rakiyas are downed, plates get cleaned in minutes.

Na Gosti - comic 4

Eventually, you will move on to the main course. Here is where the dance begins in earnest. Tradition holds that your host feed you as much as possible, but the limits of the human frame prevent you from eating as much as they want.

You can’t put away three or more plates of meat and root vegetables like you did salad, so here’s where you have to be really careful. It helps if you think of your plate as made up of three sections:

Na Gosti - comic 5

  1. Safe Zone: You can eat from the safe zone without getting another ladleful. Enjoy! (Careful, though. I once got a second serving before taking a single bite. I stripped the meat off a bone first, and the plate looked too empty.)
  2. Danger Zone: Once you’re in the danger zone, be careful. If you only want three more bites, those might be the bites that earn you another full plate, which you must then finish.

After I was full, I ate an olive when I thought no one was watching. That olive got me pressured into eating a carrot and half a rabbit’s leg.

Na Gosti - comic 6

Paradoxically, the dictates of na gosti often mean you are forced to go a little hungry, rather than leave painfully overstuffed.

  1. Never Empty: enjoy that next serving.

After dessert, you will eventually want to leave. However, a guest leaving at a time at their choosing is a sign of poor hosting. The longer you’re at the table, the better the host. Budget between 15 minutes and another hour or more, depending on how assertive you are and how much you actually want to go home.

As far as leaving, there will be a lot of back-and-forth. You will most likely be very tired, since it’s going to be long after midnight. If all else fails, just remember to how you got there: put your coat on and walk right out the front door.

If you’ve done everything right, or even if you haven’t, you most likely won’t leave empty-handed. To last you the long trip back home, you’ll end up with leftovers, homemade alcohol, things from the garden, and vaguely pagan holiday creations.

Na Gosti - comic 7

Like they say here, Домашно е най-хубаво—homemade is best!

Na Gosti - comic 8

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44 responses to “Surviving Na Gosti

  1. Love it! I remember the dinner we had at Huelo’s co-worker house. Very similar, but nobody told us the rules.

  2. Borislava Boycheva

    Pretty awesome article, mostly because it’s true!
    It was fun to read, thanks 🙂

  3. I really enjoyed this article and I laughed plenty 🙂

  4. Hahaha, nailed it! 🙂 But you forgot that after dessert sometimes you drink a whiskey with some peanuts and then maybe a coffee, yeah, you know – for a good sleep.

    You haven’t seen that procedure? 🙂

    Once again, good read! 🙂

  5. Great post. Love the cartoons.

  6. So true! I was laughing so uncontrollably I almost woke up everyone. Some traditionalists won’t let the kids eat the salad early on, since it’s ‘for the rakia drinkers’.

    • Some traditionalists won’t let the kids eat the salad early on, since it’s ‘for the rakia drinkers’.

      Wow, that’s really interesting! When I was a kid, I probably would’ve been as uninterested in salad as rakia. Thanks for contributing.

  7. And in the morning (if you survive), there is nothing better than hot shkembe soup and cold beer for breakfast to cure a hangover.

  8. Pingback: Quickies | Work Even

  9. Great article really! You made my day!

  10. Great article. Laugh with tears :-). It is so true.
    Благодаря!

  11. Loved the article, dear Huelo! It could have served as a great guide to prepare the future PCVs for their Peace Corps service in Bulgaria!:)

  12. Loved it. The illustrations were great.
    gramps

  13. So true! And funny! 🙂 Now I realize some parts in our culture that could look strange to foreigners.
    Your blog is lovely!!! Thank you for coming to Bulgaria. I hope to learn more about your experiences in the country.

  14. Lol. We were in Bulgaria this August, visiting my family, and my American husband is still telling all our friends about the 4 hour dinners with a deadly tone in his voice… I tell him he got away easy, because we had a stomach flu and at least nobody was pushing food on us (too hard).

  15. Pingback: 7 Cool Bulgarian-English Translations | Да сме живи и здрави...

  16. Thanks for sharing your experience, Lorenzo! When I was growing up, we might’ve expected guests at any time, and we could decide to visit some of them without letting them know in advance, or at least this is how it was with my mom&pop’s closest friends. Often the guests would bring something for us (the kids), and sometimes their kids might stay overnight just like that, picking them in the morning, or one of the parents (if he/she is too tired(aehm…drunk) to go back home). Living in a high-rise building, also left you with no wonders about your neighbours. Do I miss it, after living 14 years here in US – yes I do. Then again, I’m not sure how I would take guests coming without … ahem RSVP 🙂

    • Wow, that’s really interesting, Dimiter, thanks for sharing your experience! Unfortunately, since everything in the States is work-work-work, there’s no time for having guests over. One of the many reasons we’re glad to be here!

  17. Great article, thank you Lorenzo! 🙂

  18. A great article!! A very lovely and detailed description of “na gosti”!! 😀

  19. It was fun reading you 🙂 You should be really careful about not eating the whole plate. 🙂

    • Thanks for reading, Maya! We just got back from the Rhodopes, and I just learned that unfortunately it’s impossible to resist eating all the pumpkin banitsa.

      Also, if БНТ needs any foreign correspondents to talk about Na Gosti, I’m your man! 😀

  20. Alex from Essex

    This is actually really accurate! 😀

  21. Reblogged this on I'm Balkan on Sunshine and commented:
    A great blog post I ran across about Na Gosti (As guest). Pretty accurately describes dinner with my next door neighbor!

  22. Pingback: Surviving Na Gosti | Мобилност

  23. Fantastic article! So very nicely written & very entertaining :).
    Posted it on my FB page as a guide for my friends 🙂
    Thanks for seeing the good side of Bulgaria, guys! You are brilliant!
    It cannot be only bad, as the media is trying to present it, can it!
    By the way, I feel the same way as you for the place I live now 🙂

    • Благодаря много, Маргарита, вие сте много сладка! We came here because Bulgaria has wonderful aspects that you can’t get anywhere else. We’re grateful for the hospitality, the time to relax, and the fact that people appreciate being with friends!

  24. I’m greatly looking forward to my next visit to Sofia. My Bulgarian coworkers are generous of their time and attention, smart, funny, and good people. I’ve had one dinner like you describe, and enjoyed it immensely. Visit if you can.

  25. Hello, Huelo & Lorenzo! My name is Sylvia Atipova and I write for Bacchus magazine (http://www.bacchus.bg/) My next article is on how foreigners see Bulgarian food and traditions.
    I’d be very grateful if you allow me to use some of the amusing points you make here. Of course, you’ll be cited as authors and your blog will be clearly mentioned in the text.
    You can get in contact with me at sylv_atipova at yahoo dot co dot uk
    Thank you and keep writing! I love reading you!

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