Opium for the Masses

Dear Reader,

As a result of a fortuitous combination of natural propensity and the requirements of my job, I am daily amused, inspired, educated, or annoyed by online content related to societies and economies in a range of cultural backgrounds.  

If you have a thing for precision, I may humour you by specifying: “in a range of cultural backgrounds, primarily located in the Northern Hemisphere,” the latter being part of a contextually very funny sentence that a co-worker uttered a few months back.

Not that the northern hemisphere is crystal clear, but the southern one is complete Greek to me. Source: Click here.

While I have recently found many interesting and thought-provoking things in foreign media, the Bulgarian press has been incredibly dull, which I actually wanted to complain to you about.  

For instance, these days I have learned that alcohol & tobacco shops, pharmacies and bakeries were the top three specialty stores Bulgarians shopped in, with alcohol & tobacco boasting the largest average individual bill size.   

Being aware of the national pastime of complaining (see above :)), about low incomes alongside the global U.S. dominion, the injustice of history and the bureaucracy of the EU to name but a few, I have often wondered at this readiness of Bulgarians to spend lavishly on alcohol and cigarettes (as well as lounge in cafes and crowd restaurants daily, and indulge in expensive cars and smartphones, not in the least reflecting the standard of living of many, but that’s beside the point).

Parking expensive cars on the sidewalk and not paying for parking at all – that’s a very Bulgarian thing to do. Source: Click here.

Our devotion to alcohol and cigarettes dates way back, as shown by the following picture, taken out of a Communism-time book on the issues of home, family and ideologically-acceptable lifestyle. (how cool a topic is that?!).


I won’t translate the entire thing, it’s not that important, suffice to say that the average expenses on alcohol (item 3 on the list) and tobacco products (item 4) totalled BGN 128 in 1965 and BGN 193 in 1975, or some three to five times the hygiene expenses for each of the two years, about the same as furniture expenses in 1975, and about half of the expenses on clothing and footwear for any of the two years.

Everybody smoked during Communism, but some have not realised that that ended 26 years ago. Source: Click here.

Keeping in mind Bulgaria’s traditionally strong spirits-making industry and the fact that almost the entire farming population of the south lives off tobacco growing, one might count this as economically responsible behaviour, but I still think it is a disproportionate and reckless way to vent the everyday pressure stemming from uncertainties we’re doing nothing to address. 

However, the municipal authorities in the Black Sea port city of Varna managed to address the needs of the new school year, started on September 15, by installing large ashtrays in front of the Varna schools, in an effort to boost the comfort of smoking students, while keeping the school premises fag-fee. 

I am aware of the sex-appeal of the smoking gesture and the way cigarettes help one socialise, while also being a symbol of self-reflection and empowerment, but come on – in front of schools? Those should provide quite different opportunities for self-reflection and empowerment! Source: Click here.

On the other hand, if people suddenly became extra reasonable and/or virtuous, so as to actually abide by traditional religious virtues such as modesty, restricted consumption, avoidance of addictive substances and general disregard for the material, the consumer economy would collapse. For instance, if all Bulgarians took to rigorously observing the lents that would bar them from eating meat and dairy for about half of the calendar year, the agriculture and F&B sectors would face hard times finding export markets for their growing and highly perishable inventory, and domestic F&B retail volumes would seriously shrink too. 

Bakeries, dairy shops, meat shops – these are becoming ever more numerous in Sofia, and are enjoying growing customer numbers. They would have to seriously reconsider their business model if Bulgarians suddenly decided to become pious vegans for 6 months out of 12. Source: Click here.

But the chances of such a disastrous scenario to materialise are practically null because, as I think I’ve already told you, Protestant-style austerity and self-moderation are very alien to the mystic soul of Bulgarians, who are typically very much influenced by superstition, fortune-tellers, magic and miracle-performing icons, which have to be touched or kissed pretty much as pagan idols, for the miracle to happen.

In a ludicrous practice, and quite a blasphemous one too, the typical Bulgarian fortune teller surrounds herself with icons and, in her business of providing one-stop-shop solutions to everybody’s problems and uncertainties, claims to tap into powers bestowed to her by the Almighty. Many pay hefty sums of money for such services, and I personally know people, with claims at education and rationality, who have searched the Sofia map for a location combining a river bridge and a crossroad, for the sake of throwing a raw egg into the water, thus unleashing some desired butterfly effect. I am not kidding. 

A fortune-telling TV show – you call, say your name and birth date, and get access to what the Providence has in store for you, how very convenient. I admire the cool of these people though, I’d probably sweat a thousand times if I had to stand there and talk nonsense to people for an hour. Source: Click here.

High-quality opium for the masses has been in short supply in Bulgaria ever since we realised that the bright future communism had promised will always remain on the horizon. So apart from fortune-tellers and idiotic TV reality shows, fresher sources of dope have also been regularly supplied by the Bulgarian press, which, instead of focusing on the real problems of the country, functions as a criminal chronicle and a tribune for articles such as this. The story, without a hint of irony, tells of the existence of special icons that can undo evil spells, while offering insight into the fortune-telling services most popular with customers. I’m speechless. 

Poppies and poppy seeds – are they dope really? I’ve seen quite a few poppy fields in my life and have eaten quite a few poppy seed bread buns, and have not been able to observe any intoxicating effect. If you eat several kilograms of poppy seeds at one sitting, then maybe…Source: Click here.

So much so, that I am going to end this post right here, with the very suggestive cover of a book that Bulgarian media and authorities in general don’t need, as they are quite expert at this as it is.

Finally, please accept your musical greeting – a cover of Carlos Santana’s Black Magic Woman, that I heard in the car for the first time a couple of years ago and was so impressed with, that I actually wrote to the radio station to enquire after the names of the performers.  

So not exactly overflowing with the milk of human kindness today,

PS. Music greetings a la carte, as I want you to be greeted according to your musical taste and mood. So, this song by Creedence, as I adore John Fogerty’s husky voice, and this one, by Europe, because I like the high-maintenance hairstyle and pink lipstick of the vocalist. Might try the combination some day – so much of the 1980s fashions has made a comeback anyway. Talk soon.