Extract from the forthcoming Around the World in 80 Disasters. A visit to a dentist in Bulgaria.
Male teacher 21, female student 18, lunchtime beer.
Maria was a stunner, of that there was no question. Tall, slim, with long dark hair a shade lighter than those wide, chocolate eyes with a dreamy inquisitiveness about everything I said.
The tight shorts and t-shirt covering her braless top was enough to make her the star attraction in the room after the daily boozy lunch in the pub. I can totally understand how teachers can get in trouble.
For once, however, as I approached the two-hour conversation class in the school in southern Bulgaria, my thoughts were not with my Balkan goddess. I had really bad toothache.
“Does anyone know if there is a good dentist in the town?” I asked, regretting I had not dulled the pain with a couple more beers before the lesson.
A hand went up and a sultry response.
“My dad is the best dentist in the region. Talk to me after class and we can arrange,” suggested my olive beauty.
Wow. Some time with Maria out of class. Granted, sitting on the dentist’s chair in southernBulgaria with her father was probably not the script I would have written, but wow anyway.
The class continued as they always did, a fascinating cultural exchange between hungry teenagers who were being exposed to Westerners for the first time, and British students experiencing the dying throes of the Soviet empire in a Balkan backwater. It was a fascinating - and very equal - exchange.
One cultural stumbling block which caused total confusion was the nodding of the head. In Bulgaria, a nod of the head means no, whereas shaking the head indicates an affirmative. Things got complicated in the classroom when I asked if something was true - half would answer the Bulgarian way, with the others - more progressive -would answer the British way, which led to total confusion. I finally resorted to a show of hands.
If it was complicated in the classroom, it was torture in the dental chair.
Maria’s father possessed none of the charm or looks of his daughter, but perhaps I am being harsh on him, so besotted was I with his daughter. Our linguistic spheres revolved around about six words of Russian, but Maria assured me I was in good hands, and an appointment was made for the following morning.
I wasn’t expecting Harley Street facilities, which was just as well as I would have been hugely disappointed. I decided to close my eyes, open my mouth, and dream of Maria to get me through the pain or what should have been a simple filling.
OUCH! I winced.
“Hurts?” A Russian word I recognised from my month in Moscow. Unable to speak, I nodded furiously.
The pain intensified as he rammed the offending utensil further into my tooth, only stopping when I shrieked in pain. Lesson one in the Bulgarian dental chair - if a dentist asks if it hurts, shake your head...
The thought of Maria got me through the ordeal, and I emerged an hour later with a very powdery filling and the promise I would return in the morning for more work. I had no idea what he had in mind, but I would have said anything to escape and had no intention of seeing him again, unless it was at our wedding.
“How was Dad?” she asked with that smile which made me forget all my pain, even as some more powdered filling mixed in with my saliva.
“The coolest guy,” I lied, beginning to wonder if our love would work out. Needless to say, I did not keep the appointment next day, although I did consider it, as the filling had all put disintegrated, and the pain was back. I had two more days in Bulgaria before a job started in Munich. Could I hang on for a German dentist? As much as it hurt, the prospect of returning to The Chair was too much. I didn’t show.
“You missed your appointment this morning. Why?” asked the lovely Maria before our class started. She seemed genuinely concerned and I was touched at this obvious affection and love for me. I told her that her Dad had done a great job, the filling was perfect and she really did have the best dentist dad in town.
“But he hasn’t put your filling in yet. He has just done the preparations. Your tooth is full of arsenic, and the powder will fall out. You must come back.”
Back in the dental chair and fully focused on shaking my head at every opportunity, the filling was inserted with skill and remains in place today. I had done my potential father-in-law a disservice.
“Wait!” came the command in Russian, and I sat obediently in the chair as he shuffled over to a drawer and started playing with some objects therein. Curious, I looked at what he was doing. With a scalpel, he was sifting through bits of TEETH! What the hell was he up to?
After a while, he chose his victim and brought it over to show me. It was half a molar. Very nice, I thought to myself. Is this some kind of dental souvenir?
He pointed to my mouth. OH NO! He smiled. OH NO! He smiled and began to proceed, and only then did the full horror hit me. Next to my offending filling was a tooth which had cracked years ago, and half had fallen out while biting a healthy apple. No pain, no problem. I had got used to life with a half tooth which caused me no grief.
But my father-in-law to be was on a mission to do something special for his daughter’s English teacher. Before I knew what was happening, a foreign half-tooth had been hammered into my gum, a perfect fit for the previously untroubled space.
I emerged a little troubled. The fit was perfect, the pain non-existent, but as I rolled my tongue along the back of my teeth, there was a roughness on the new addition, which was not in keeping with the rest of the team. I felt sick. I had half a Bulgarian tooth in my mouth, which had once graced the mouth of another living being. Or not living being. It was a strange feeling.
The Bulgarian half-tooth is with me still. Maria and I never did marry.
About Paul Bradbury
Author of Lebanese Nuns Don't Ski, Lavender, Dormice and a Donkey Named Mercedes and the Hvar's first comprehensive guidebook, Hvar: An Insider's Guide to Croatia's Premier Island, I have lived in Dalmatia full time since 2003 and run various tourism information websites about Hvar, Split and Zagora, and am co-author of Split: An Insider's Guide with Mila Hvilshoj.
I also have various blogging clients, including the Central Dalmatia Tourist Board, Restaurant Gariful, Hvar Adventure, Villas Hvar and Andro Tomic Wines, and print clients include Qatar Airways inflight magazine, Out! magazine from New York, and Croatian Hotspots.
I also provide website content services, including Agroturizam Pharos, Toto's Restaurant, European Coastal Airlines, Restaurant Gariful and Divota Aparthotel. Please contact me if you would like help with your website content.
I also write for Google News via Digital Journal - see my range of articles here.
Ongoing writing projects:
A History of Hajduk Split, co-author with Frane Grgurevic
Around the World in 80 Disasters
Total Hvar in the Media:
Interview of the Month, Croatian Embassy in Washington (May 2013)
Special Feature in Globus Magazine (May 2013)
Featured on Croatian TV show, More (2012) - watch the report here.
4-page special in Nedjelji Jutarnji, Croatia's leading paper (August 2014)
Interviews in Slobodna Dalmacija, Dalmacijanews, Radio Split
I am available for writing services. Please contact me on [email protected]
Total Hvar - www.total-hvar.com
Total Split - www.croatia-split.com
Total Inland Dalamtia - www.total-inland-dalmatia.com
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