Bulgaria Where “No” Really Means “Yes”

Stephen F. Dennstedt

When does “no” mean “yes?” In Bulgaria nodding your head means “no.” The most common way to show agreement and say “yes” in Bulgaria is to shake your head from side to side, a gesture that in many countries means “no.” Who knew?

This is a real thing—I never said trekking the world was always easy, interesting but not always easy. We have breakfast every morning at a small cafe just across the street from our hotel. Yep—that’s where it happened to us the first time.

I politely asked our food server for a glass of water and she shook her head “no.” Strange because everyone else in the cafe seemed to have a glass of water—I was willing to pay for it if necessary. She walked away and a minute later returned with my glass of water—WTF? The next morning it happened again when I asked for something—the initial head shake “no” followed by my request being fulfilled. Joel and I laughed that maybe the Bulgarian way of saying “yes” is to shake your head “no”—I Googled it and sure enough it is. Just like eating sheep or goat eyes in some countries, sometimes “no” means “yes.” Kind of weird.

Roasted Lamb or Goat Heads (with Eyes) Are a Delicacy Around the World

Field Notes: It’s experiences like this that make world travel so darn fascinating. If the traveler can suspend judgement (which can be hard for many Americans) and keep an open mind they can learn so much from other cultures. Just because it’s not the American way doesn’t necessarily make it wrong. I used to have this argument all the time with my ex-wife: Just because I think differently or do something differently from you doesn’t automatically make me wrong. But she never conceded the point and I was always wrong—just one of many reasons we’re no longer a married couple. She probably feels the same way. SFD

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