Culture, Introspection

Some Cultural Dimensions of Lateral Thinking in Window Painting


The window stood three meters above the ground, vulnerable, peeling, rotting wooden frame exposed to
the elements. As the British weather started to display characteristics of a full blown summer, it was time to do something about it. Yesterday I went up a ladder – after a quick sanding which revealed the extent of the damage, it was time for the protective tint. Perched on the top step I attempted to reach with the white-dipped brush. The off run made its way to my hand dressing it in a pale sheen. Half way though I cursed, realizing a second coat and another expedition would be necessary. It wasn’t just paint – a sealant or plaster would be an imperative. I finished up that segment of the task and went to recharge my energies with some wholegrain noodles.

As I woke up this morning I looked at the results and had a Homer Simpson moment- the ledge of the window was wide and comfortable. Why did I need to use the ladder? I could have just climbed up from the inside. I had friends who were climbers, I’d borrow a harness and moor myself to the sofa in the room inside for safety… or I’d bribe one with a beer to keep a watch on the line while I painted. Yesterday I had contemplated needing a scaffolding. My neighbours had just used one to repaint their house. It was the usual way to do things.  

Drinking my first coffee, I contemplated how the two versions of doing this task seem rather culturally imbued. I am quite certain a few of my British friends would raise an eyebrow or straight out laugh at my suggestion of a harness. However, on Sofia’s streets you can see adverts for alpinisti.“No, it’s not that mountaineering has suddenly become a ridiculously popular Bulgarian national past-time. Alpinistirefers to experienced climbers who bring their own harnesses and paint, or fix bits of difficult to reach wall. It is an ingenious solution to the task of mending the formally grey socialist tower blocs which dominate large swathes of the city-scape.

You see, while ‘the British’ have health safety combined with endless attempts at efficiency and optimization, in dispersed with calls for lateral thinking, ‘the Bulgarians’ labour a common category of tarikatluk. It has both sinister and positive connotations. It represents the value of finding a short-cut to doing this, an ingenious solution. As a friend working in construction once told me – our workers are highly praised for the ability to work around problems.

The sinister side of it (and it is not an over-statement) is when short-cuts excuse laziness or don’t lead to the same quality of work. Quite often the notion suggests swindling or playing others. Imagine the end of Zorba the Greek when the construction tumbles down. Glossed-over by the music and charming demeanour is a tarikat (someone who habitually practices tarikatluk) who has failed on a major scale.

Yet sometimes Bulgaria’s version of lateral thinking doesn’t bear that taint. Sometimes, it’s just plain elegant. The trick is to try and work out when that’s the case.


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