Bananas of the West: Growing Up in Bulgaria With Steve Jobs, Apple

applejobs.png I grew up in Bulgaria in the 1980s. Before the fall of the communist regime in 1989, scarcity underpinned the status quo -- of commodities, of information, of opportunity. So limited were Western imports that once a year, around New Year's, a handful of grocery stores would make available "exotic" produce like tropical fruit. The supply-demand ratio was so skewed that the store had to ration these exorbitantly priced annual luxuries -- one banana and two oranges per person -- and people would line up around the block to get them. (Meanwhile, the unworthy apple, Bulgaria's most ample fruit crop, would sit neglected in the produce aisle at 50 stotinki a kilogram, roughly $0.15 per pound.) The most ambitious parents would camp out in front of the store overnight to make sure they got the bananas and oranges first thing in the morning as they went on sale.

In my lifetime, I've only seen such lines twice since -- first in front of the Apple Store on June 29, 2007, when the iPhone was released, and then again in April of last year, when the iPad became semi-available. Under Steve Jobs, Apple became the bananas of the West.

In the 1990s, my mother joined Bulgarian Business Systems -- Bulgaria's first and, for over a decade, only official Apple dealer. I had grown up reading Jules Verne, so when we got our first Macintosh, I remember thinking that the man behind it -- because, let's face it, such was the cultural conditioning that I wouldn't have expected a woman -- must be some modern-day Jules Verne, having just handed me a portal for curiosity and exploration that helped me lean into knowledge in a way that has since become the fundamental driving force of my intellectual life.

That iconic 1984 Apple commercial, with its undertones of Big Brother rebellion and escapism, always had special resonance with me.

In the early '90s, about a year after I had started learning English, my mother reminds me of this jingle I wrote for a Macintosh Performa ad in one of the big newspapers:

An Apple a day keeps the doctor away

A Performa a day lets you thrive and play

(Oh come on, cut me some slack. I was nine.)

By the mid-'90s, I was spending my school holidays folding Apple brochures and helping my mother set up the big annual Apple Expo, held every December at the Zemyata i Horata ('Earth and People') museum.


In 1998, my high school was the only school in the country to have Macs in its library. I vividly remember the day the first candy-colored iMac G3 arrived. It was the bondi blue flavor, the kind of translucent greenish-blue I'd always imagined as the backdrop to Captain Nemo's world. When I was exploring the budding Internet on it, I felt like it had opened to me the doors to the library on Nautilus.


When I came to the states for college, I went through a 13-month period I've since referred to as "the dark days" -- being broke and beguiled by a sweet-talking UPenn senior, I bought his lightly used Dell laptop for the bargain price of $400, rationalizing it as a handy investment in class assignments. It was a foreign land to me, with its confusing navigation menus and counterintuitive interface. The blue screen became a frustrating frequent.

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Maria Popova is the editor of Brain Pickings. She writes for Wired UK and GOOD, and is an MIT Futures of Entertainment Fellow.

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