It’s important for me to begin this piece by clearly stating that I would never even think of looking down on any job. Each of us makes their contribution so that society would function and its members would feel safe, as well as cared for. That’s why I do not believe that some jobs are more important than others. Just consider what would happen if the people who stay up all night to collect our garbage stopped doing it. Sure, some jobs require more time and resources to prepare for than others, but they are all important and necessary. As my grandma likes to say: “The only thing that matters is that you like your job and put your heart into it.” That’s enough of an overture, I think.

Eastern European migrant workers
Photo: Josue Isai Ramos Figuera

A week ago I was in Cyprus – beautiful nature, nice weather, friendly people and all kinds of colorful experiences that I am going to post about next week, in the “Travel” section of the blog. Coming back from one of them, a hike called Aphrodite’s Path, I went through the town of Polis to get the bus back to Paphos and to grab something local for dinner. TridAdvisor guided me towards Savvas Café, with tables spread out on the main square, unassuming interior, tasty dishes, and welcoming staff.

The owner, a sweet middle-aged man with a big smile, welcomed me to his restaurant by giving me a few tips on the order and thus made a great first impression. Sure, it’s no 5-star dining, but has plenty of homely charm. As he was resting my glass of ouzo on the table, the owner made small talk, asking me where I’m from, whether I live and work in Cyprus, etc. When I told him that I was there just on vacation, he replied: “Come work for us!”

Eastern European migrant worker
“I am Eastern European, here’s your coffee.” Photo: Sahin Yesilyaprak

At first I thought it was funny and sweet. “The guy is nice,” I thought to myself, “He likes to smile and can see that so do I, so he probably thought that I’d be good for his business.” But then, just as I went on to send a message with laughing emojis to a friend about being offered a job with dinner, I was suddenly struck by a realization. I remembered the people on my flight from Sofia and a suspicion crept in. I started wondering if the nice owner might have offered me a job not because he was so nice, but rather because he thinks that all Bulgarians come to Cyprus looking for work. Would he make a similar offer if I had told him I was English or French?

A moment later he returned, carrying a confirmation in the form of a business card. Completely ignoring my explanation that even though I once used to work as a waitress, I am now a journalist with a master’s degree in psychology, he insisted with a wink: “If you want a job, call us on either one of these two numbers.” I was left breathless and speechless.

Then, one of the waiters set my suspicion in stone, by explaining that the only Romanians and Bulgarians he ever met in Cyprus were there to work. “I am Greek,” he said, “And I know that you guys like to come to my country on vacations. But here Bulgarians come as workers.” I didn’t know what to say. On the one hand I was mad at these people who see an entire nation, or perhaps the whole Eastern European region, as a source of migrant workers. On the other hand, however, we learn from experience and if everyone you’ve ever met from a certain place confirms the stereotype, of course you’ll think your prejudices are right.   

On the way from the restaurant to my bus stop I met a loud group of Bulgarian gypsies. Two days later, a friend and I witnessed and interesting event. Picture a tiny village at sunset. Nobody around, total silence. Suddenly, the door of а nearby bungalow slams violently, a girl runs out angrily and lights a cigarette, while deafening music start blaring from inside the house. Just as the girl walked by us, she started a phone conversation in heavy Bulgarian slang.

Eastern European migrant workers
Photo: Barrett Baker

What I wanted to do with this story was illustrate one of the issues that we, the People of Eastern Europe (#POEE) often face abroad. It seems that even in countries like Cyprus, which are not that far removed from Bulgaria culturally or economically, people can’t see us as anything more than migrant workers. And yet I can’t be totally angry at Cyprus because my experience there made it obvious that the people from my country have zero interest in making a good impression or representing our region well.

Eastern European migrant workers
Photo: Barth Bailey

The reason I am sharing what happened is because I’d love to know what you think. Have you experienced something similar? What would you have done in my place? Please share your thoughts in the comments below or in the Facebook group People of Eastern Europe (#POEE).

If you’ve missed some of the interviews that several amazing people gave for #POEE you can check them out here. I guarantee that what they had to say is worth a few minutes of your time 🙂