Bulgaria’s cultural heritage is a product of a diverse and ancient history. This, as well as the period of instability which followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, have profoundly influenced Bulgarian culture. As a result, expats will undoubtedly experience some degree of culture shock in Bulgaria.
Bulgarian culture is typically characterised as nature-loving, family-orientated and collectivist. Bulgarians typically prioritise the group over the individual. Age also tends to demand greater levels of respect in Bulgarian culture.
Expats from the developed world will need to adjust to the general state of infrastructure in Bulgaria, which is often in need of repair. Although this is improving, bureaucracy in Bulgaria has historically been inefficient and corrupt. Many expats learn to overlook these issues in order to enjoy Bulgaria’s beautiful landscapes, warm people and low cost of living.
Communication in Bulgaria
Bulgarians tend to be formal and polite upon first meetings. Greetings are often initiated with a handshake, while close friends might kiss each other on the cheek.
Bulgarians are known to be direct and may express their views vividly. Bulgarians also convey a lot of meaning in their hand gestures and facial expressions. Expats may experience some initial confusion, as head shaking in Bulgaria may convey the opposite meaning than what expats might expect. In Bulgaria, nodding the head indicates ‘no’, while shaking the head indicates ‘yes’.
Language barrier in Bulgaria
Although English is increasingly spoken, especially by Bulgaria’s younger generations, the majority of Bulgarians don’t speak English. Some Bulgarians can speak Russian, French or German, which is advantageous for expats with knowledge of these languages.
Knowing some Bulgarian will be useful to expats as many bus drivers, police officers and government officials don’t speak English.
Bureaucracy and corruption in Bulgaria
In line with EU recommendations, Bulgaria has been actively fighting corruption in the public sector. Despite this, corruption is still prevalent in the country and can manifest as civil servants asking for bribes, or doctors expecting a bribe for better care.
Bulgaria’s administrative system is also hampered by bloated and inefficient bureaucracy, with different policies often operating for different areas. As immigrating to Bulgaria involves a lot of paperwork, especially if expats plan on opening a business, navigating Bulgaria’s complex bureaucracy can be difficult for expats.
Food in Bulgaria
Bulgarian food is influenced by Turkish, Russian, Greek and Middle Eastern cuisine. Dairy features prominently in Bulgarian cuisine, while stews are traditional main courses. Although Bulgarians typically use meat in most meals, the prevalence of fresh produce means that vegetable dishes are also common.