Yes or No? The Confusing Bulgarian-Greek Switch

When traveling between Bulgaria and Greece – which is a fantastic combination, by the way, of two countries with great food, beautiful nature, and wonderful people – there is a very important part of basic travel communication you need to know.

One of the first bits of trivia you’ll learn when you arrive in Bulgaria is the strange way Bulgarians express themselves.

When they want to say ne, or “no,” they’ll go:


And when they mean da, or “yes,” they’ll go:



But it gets worse.

In recent years, with the entry of Bulgaria into the EU and the country’s continued exposure to foreigners and tourists, the Bulgarian people have begun to learn about their awkward problem, and how easily they might be misunderstood. As a result, they have tried to adjust their head nods and shakes to fit the standards of the international community.

But if you’ve already been forewarned, how will you know if they really mean yes or no?!?!

As my Free Tour guide advised us, listen to what they’re saying (hopefully you haven’t had the bad luck of stopping someone who doesn’t speak English and is just trying to answer your question quickly) instead of looking at their head movements.

But then, after a few days of getting used to the Bulgarian system, you might want to cross the border into Greece.

–Here’s yet another situation when culture collides with language – the amazing and confusing wonder of traveling and experiencing the customs of many different places!–

You should of course, when visiting a new place, look up basic phrases so that you are able to communicate at least on a low level. I always cram in these sessions on the bus or plane ride, and looking at a list of travel Greek, I felt that warm sensation washing over me of the familiar, of words and phrases I recognized from seven years ago.

Yia sas – hello or goodbye – check!

Kalimera – good morning – check!

Efharisto – thank you – check!

Ochi – no – check!

Nai – yes – oh, no no no.

If you travel around Central/Eastern Europe, you get used to the fact that you can use some version of “ne” for an all-purpose “NO!” There’s a little variation but not much (yes is sometimes different). But when you enter Greek territory, I had forgotten, that little word suddenly becomes the opposite…

Oh god.


My advice? Get a Freddo or Turkish Greek coffee with some loukom and rose water, and just breathe…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s