I had the same experience when I arrived in and when I left Sofia.
A man approached me at the station, asking where I was going.
I said I was fine; I didn’t need help.
He then opened his jacket to show a yellow visibility vest with an ‘information’ logo stamped on it. “I’m train information – where you going?”
“Tram line 9,” I said hesitantly.
“Okay, I’ll take you,” he picked up my suitcase and carried it down the stairs. He chatted to me as we walked to the tram and I grinned at how nice and helpful he was.
He took me up to the platform. Then he asked me for money.
The same thing happened on the way out, except the man had a photo ID on a lanyard. The second time I was much more insistent about not needing help, but he walked ahead of me the entire time and by the time we reached the platform it seemed harmless to let him drag my suitcase.
Then he, too, asked for money.
At the time I was shocked and insulted – because of their uniforms, I assumed that they were salaried workers doing their jobs. I thought they were just doing me a favour and, when they asked me for money, I felt as though someone was trying to charge me for directions. Back home this would be completely unacceptable. And I didn’t even ask for help.
I also thought they should have said at the beginning that this was a paid service they were offering – leaving the money until the end felt dishonest to me.
In contrast, to them this was completely acceptable. Like a waiter expecting a tip for good service.
The second time I was slightly more prepared so, when he asked for money, I said, “excuse me?” with raised brows.
“Money, some leva or euros or Australian dollars?”*
“No,” I said firmly.
“But this is good advice I gave you,” he motioned to the train and to my ticket. “You have the train; you know you don’t need a seat reservation . . .”
“I already knew these things – I checked them twice. I didn’t need your help, I didn’t ask for your help, and you should have told me you were expecting money before helping me.” I explained. See? Perfectly reasonable.
“But I gave you good advice,” he argued. See? Perfectly reasonable.
I’m curious about what you think – what would be acceptable in your world?
Am I a spoilt, selfish brat who should have given them a few euros? Are they con-artists trying to take advantage of people who look like easy targets?
Or is it just a difference of culture?
* Note – I don’t look wealthy at the moment – my jeans are hanging off me, my suitcase is falling to pieces and everything is in need of a wash (especially after an unfortunate yoghurt explosion yesterday)