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The Saddest Place on Earth?

by Boryana Dzhambazova

I'm getting off the plane. The first thing that welcomes me back is the grumpy face of a worker at Sofia airport in Bulgaria. Then, I know for sure that I'm home. Usual hellos, greetings, and, god forbids, smiles, are considered to be unnecessary exchange of politeness here. Unfortunately, the same scene is still common for many shops, cafeterias and restaurants around the country.

No wonder that an article in The Economist describes Bulgaria, which joined the EU in 2007, as the saddest place on earth relative to its income per person.

So the real question is: Are Bulgarians, who know how to have a good time, that unhappy?

Just hit local clubs on a Friday night and the partying crowd would easily convince you that the researchers, quoted by The Economist, got it wrong. Revved-up people dancing carefree on the tables seem quite satisfied with their lives. Foreigners are usually struck by the fact that even throughout a working day many cafés around the country are full of customers. Spending their day sipping coffee after coffee these people, who supposedly don't have a job, don't seem very unhappy, either.

However, many Bulgarians are struggling to make a living. It's hard to be happy in one of the poorest countries in the EU where the average monthly salary is around $400. Who wouldn't be gloomy about their well-being, since they can barely make the ends meet?

On top of that, superstition and fatalism have always been part of local mentality. In fact
a common saying states that too much of a good thing never leads to something good, so sometimes I even think that Bulgarians prefer to feel miserable just because it's easier. It's so much trouble to be cheerful. Or to bother greeting passengers at Sofia airport with a smile.

Top: Boryana Dzhambazova behind Bulgaria's National Art Gallery in Sofia;

 

Bottom: Street Scene in Sofia;
Photos by David Brancaccio 2011

For more on the Bulgarian economy, listen below to David Brancaccio's Marketplace story on the state of the country's well-being.

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