Proverb: “Греби от зивота с малката лажичка, а не с черпака”
Transliteration: Grebi ot zivota c malkata lazichka, a ne c cherpaka.
Literal translation: Take from life with the small spoon, not with the ladle.
Meaning: Don’t do so much at once that you can’t enjoy the sweetness of life.
This is a Bulgarian proverb I heard from my mother when I went home for one weekend. She said it to me when we were talking about my college life and I was feeling overwhelmed by all the meetings, classes, and work I had to do. She encouraged me to slow down and perhaps limit my activities so I could better enjoy my time in college, and as we were speaking in Bulgarian, she mentioned this proverb.
I asked her more about it, and she said it was related to “бяло сладко,” (byalo cladko) or “white sweets”, which is a small dessert served in delicate plates or saucers alongside an appropriately sized spoon and a glass of water, to offset the sugary taste. Since the spoon is very small, only miniature bites can be taken of the sweet, but that way it lasts longer and one can relish the dessert much better than they could if they ate the sweet all at once. “White sweets” is a traditional Bulgarian dessert, so it naturally lends itself to folk sayings.
My mother also mentioned that there was another similar saying: “шоколада се яде по малко” (shokolada ce yade po malko), meaning “you eat chocolate only little by little.” Beyond this phrase serving as a dietary suggestion, it again indicates that life should be appreciated in small bites and small moments. One should not guzzle down all the desserts or become greedy in getting too much of a good thing. Additionally, as Bulgaria has been mostly agrarian and many people have been relatively impoverished, they would naturally value small enjoyments and appreciating the simple things in life. Both these proverbs reflect that state of mind. They also gave me a craving for a sugary or chocolaty dessert, which I indulged in, and most importantly, it relieved some of my stress from my classes.
Proverb: Помогни си сам да ти помогне и Господ.
Transliteration: Pomogni ci cam da ti pomogne i Gospod.
Literal Translation: Help yourself so that God may help you too.
Meaning: God helps those who help themselves.
This proverb urges people to act as well as to have faith in God. Not many things can be accomplished only through prayer or self-pity, so actions must be taken in order to reach success.
My mother told me this during spring break when she was urging me to apply for a program I wanted to get into but I wasn’t sure I had a chance. She encouraged me with this proverb, claiming that I had to put in the effort so I could at least have the potential, and theoretically, if God saw how hardworking I was, he would reward me.
This saying is similar to the American one, “You can’t win until you try,” though with a more religious emphasis. The proverb indicates that the Orthodox Church is prevalent inBulgaria, and that the culture encourages people to both work hard and to be strong in their faith.
Proverb: От последната харка, юнаци стават
Transliteration: Ot poclednata hapka, yunaci ctavat.
Translation: From the last bite, heroes are made.
Meaning: You have to finish all the food on your plate, especially the last bite, if you want to be strong.
I have heard this expression used multiple times throughout my childhood at nearly every meal. Whenever I had felt full and did not wish to finish everything on my plate, my grandparents and parents would insist I ate the last few bites, because otherwise I would not be strong as a hero or heroine. I had not heard the expression in a while, as it is reserved for children, but during spring break when I was home with my family, I heard it again when my younger brother, who is twelve, did not want to eat the remainder of his dinner. My mother prodded him to finish off his plate, reminding him that unless he ate everything, (in this case he was lagging on eating his salad), he would become a hero.
The motive behind the phrase is clear: caretakers want the children to eat all healthy components of their meals and be strong, and they encourage them to do so by comparing the kids to heroes. The word for hero, as it’s used inBulgaria, typically refers to the legendary Krali Marko, who was incredibly strong and brave, sort of like a Slavic Superman. Every youngster would hear tales about him and naturally wish to emulate such an incredible man. My grandparents would continue the expression by adding that even the strongest man was once a child, though he was a dutiful one who ate everything on his plate, and thus he became a great hero. It would be very difficult for any young person to refuse this offer, and my brother and I grudgingly ate the remainder of our meals each time we were reprimanded.
I should also note that although the term for hero is masculine in the expression, it would be used universally for both boys and girls. Female children such as myself were encouraged and urged to eat our dinners in their entirety as much as male children.