Bulgarian cafés get an Italian twist

Sofia - Can't afford coffee? No matter. In Bulgaria, an old Italian tradition that sees good souls buying hot drinks for those who struggle to make ends meet, has taken hold after weeks of tensions over deepening poverty.

More than 150 cafés across Bulgaria have joined a goodwill initiative modelled on the Italian "caffe sospeso" tradition, which literally means "suspended coffee", according to a Facebook page devoted to the movement.

The tradition - born in the cafés of Italy's southern city of Naples - sees people pay in advance for one or several coffees without drinking them.

A customer-in-need can then later ask if there is a "suspended coffee" available and have a hot drink without having to pay for it.

Poverty in Bulgaria - the EU's least wealthy country - is increasingly sparking social unrest, with several desperate people setting themselves on fire in the past month.

Weeks of street protests also forced the right-wing government to resign on 20 February.

Most cafés that decide to join the "caffe sospeso" initiative - which has been covered extensively on television - have posted pictures of payment slips issued for free coffees on the Facebook page.

"Super! The first 'suspended coffee' at our place is a fact," one user registered as Ethno Bar Red House said on the "Suspended Coffee in Bulgaria" page, which has so far garnered 19 011 likes.

Some cafés use a pot of small cards or bottle caps to count the number of coffees already paid for, which can later be claimed.

Apart from cafés, several fast food places and grocery shops have also joined the Bulgarian initiative, proposing that their clients buy someone a loaf of bread or a snack.

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