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Doing Business in Bulgaria (With a Chainsaw)

I’d bought 8 houses in this village 80 minutes drive from city Sofia. The agent takes me to meet our new local security guy who will also be foreman of the five men who will clean up the houses & gardens. Mico. Huge, square, ugly & scary. Ex paratroop sergeant. Looks a real b*****d. Very glad I’m not working for him. I agree to pay for a large chainsaw – over 400 euros.

3 weeks later – agent collects me from my hotel in city Sofia. Really small fellow with him, wearing a massive denim jacket with the sleeves turned up. No English. Sits in the back. ‘Who’s this?’ ‘Here is Hristo. He is Bulgarian powerlift champion at his weight. 7th in world. I was his trainer’ I turn round. The little guy smiles shyly, knowing we are talking about him and takes off his jacket – amazing arms like big legs.’I could not explain on phone. We have problem. Mico is drinking all day with the men. No work. But we will sort it out and get chainsaw back. You do not have to be involved.’90 minutes later we get to his house, about noon. I sit in the car, they bang on the door. He finally comes out in vest, lots of tattoes, unshaven, just woken up, looking even bigger..The little guy looks like a child next to him. Shouting begins. Ten minutes, seems longer, no end in sight. Mico is ex-army, I decide to play the officer. Get out, go up to them. Hold up the hand. Wait. Wait some more. They stop. I tell the agent ‘Tell him what I say, nothing else’ I look at him – ‘ I want my chainsaw’. He begins shouting. The agent says ‘he is is wanting money for the work he has done.’ I wait and repeat. More shouting. ‘Tell him I want the chainsaw then we can talk about the money. ‘ More shouting.

We wait. He turns, goes inside, comes out holding a huge chainsaw, red with anger and looking like something from a horror film. Intake of breath from the agent, the little guy is flexing behind me. Scary moment. Frozen tableau, then he holds out the saw. The little guy steps forward, takes it casually with one hand, then holds it lovingly in a working position. The atmosphere changes, everyone relaxes. I have my little Rambo in front of me and feel the confidence flowing back.

‘How much?’ I bark. ‘He says 1200 leva’ Tell him 200. Lots of shouting gettting spittle on the little guy. He doesn’t seem to mind. He has the chainsaw at the ready. The price keeps coming down as the shouting goes on. I keep saying 200. When he is down to 400 I take out the 200 leva hold it to him and say take it or leave it. Murderous glare. Little guy sets himself. Another tense moment. He snatches the money, turns, goes in and shakes the house with a massive door slam. We get in the car, giggling and weak with relief. The little guy seems disappointed.

We go to the house they had been working on, seeing what needs to be done. 30 minutes and a rusty old car pulls up. Out gets a middle aged man in a bad suit and kipper tie. Lots of Brylcreem. Then a policeman, gun in the holster. The agent does his breathing in trick again, putting me back on alert ‘What, what?’ ‘ We have problem. This is mayor of village and local policeman, they are his relatives’. They come walking down the path. I hold my hand out to shake, the Mayor ignores me and walk into the house. Starts banging around. The policeman leans against a tree, hand on holster, glaring at me. What’s he doing, he can’t just walk in!’ ‘He is mayor – much power – does what he likes.’ The stress is back.

‘Tell him we can discuss. I wish to help, we are all Europeans and civilised men.’ 20 minutes of voluble Bulgarian and drinking Rakia from the agent’s bottle, policeman joining in, me smiling inanely and shaking hand at every opportunity. A conclusion is reached. Mico is a drunk, no one in the family likes him. I can do what I wish with any of my houses. The mayor has a present from the heart – a 20 pound note. The policeman has another – he does not know what it is, but has seen the mayor looking happy with his. Also he is now the new security. If any gypsies are even seen in my gardens, never mind the houses, he says he will shoot them. A result.

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We find later they used the money to buy three street lights.

Challenge and response. I really love this country!

Submitted by David

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