Bulgaria is a nice country in many ways, with a great summer season, beautiful scenery and good food if you know where to look.
But what about the people? What is it like dealing with Bulgarian people? Are they friendly and helpful to foreign English speakers? Or are they more rude and blunt?
I’ve been living in Bulgaria the last few months on the Black Sea coast, so I can speak from personal experience here. And just being honest, I haven’t been overly impressed with the people I’ve encountered here. I’ve not found them easy to deal with, especially when I’m a customer and they’re a staff member.
But that’s only one aspect of life, so here’s a quick set of general observations on dealing with Bulgarians:
- Bulgarians can be friendly with each other.
- However, they are not always overly friendly to foreigners unless they’re making money off them.
- Bulgarians are often not very helpful to foreigners in shops.
- You’ll also often encounter a rudeness and dismissiveness from some shop staff.
- Some younger Bulgarians that speak English are friendlier.
But the bottom line on this is that I’ve not overly enjoyed dealing with Bulgarians in my travels here as a nomad, and am looking forward to moving on soon.
Let’s look at the issue in more detail.
Are Bulgarians Friendly?
As a general rule, I would argue that Bulgarians can be friendly with each other, but not so friendly with foreigners, especially in customer service settings and/or if they don’t speak much English. Overall, Bulgarians can come across as more negative than positive, and aren’t exactly the most welcoming and inclusive of people.
In other words, I’d characterize them as quite an insular nation of people – they can be friendly among themselves, but not from my experience with strangers or people from other countries. And they’re NOT generally friendly or helpful whenever there is a language barrier or when they’re serving you from behind a counter.
They’re not alone in this at all, as there’s other nations with this same mindset. Also, the country I’m from – the UK – doesn’t have the friendliest people, especially in the south. But honestly, living here in Bulgaria for several months now, I’ve found a rudeness to many Bulgarians in shops especially that’s even worse than my home country, which I already thought was bad.
I have experienced some friendliness and helpfulness from locals, but it’s been quite rare. I’ve also observed a friendliness between fellow Bulgarians. Most of the time interacting with them though, there’s a rudeness there that I don’t like and isn’t particularly endearing.
Overall, I wouldn’t call Bulgarians a particularly friendly bunch of people. I also wouldn’t characterize them as particularly positive or vibrant, and think they fall much more on the negative/pessimistic side in terms of demeanor and attitude to life and foreigners especially.
Contexts can vary though, so let’s cover some different settings to look at this issue in more detail.
Dealing With Bulgarians In Customer Service Settings (My Experiences)
This has been the most annoying part of living in Bulgaria. If I were to give Bulgaria as a whole a rating for customer service/helpfulness/politeness for English speaking expats/travelers, I’d give it two or three out of ten. My experience has been very poor with this.
I can only speak for the Black Sea coastal resorts around the Burgas area, but I haven’t been impressed dealing with Bulgarians as a customer in shops. There’s a rudeness, disinterest and unhelpfulness there that’s unpleasant to deal with.
Here’s just some of the negativity I’ve encountered dealing with people here:
- Rudeness and unhelpfulness from bus conductors (the ones who get the money off you for the ride).
- Rudeness and poor service from people in shops/banks (especially smaller ones). Whenever they can’t help you, they’re often rude/dismissive/dis-respectful in the way they tell you. Not very tactful or polite at all.
- Not overly helpful in pharmacies either. They speak a little English sometimes, but don’t do much to help with language barrier issues, and aren’t exactly bending over backwards to help you from my experience.
- Poor service and unhelpfulness in Post Offices (just stood around waiting while they seem to just sit behind the counter talking among themselves, largely ignoring you). Little or no English spoken, making sorting things out harder.
- Not particularly helpful in bus/coach stations (Sunny Beach terrible, Burgas OK but not spectacular service)
- Rudeness dealing with office people who manage holiday complexes where I’m staying. Depends on the place you’re staying at (some resorts have nice admin staff), but the manager at my complex is a total b*tch and I hate dealing with her.
- In all these instances, not exactly working to resolve any language barrier issues, no attempt made to be at least helpful in some way (writing things down, calling over someone who CAN speak English if they can’t, showing maps, getting phone out to translate, etc). A lot of the time, they just sort of ignore you, hoping you’ll go away. In other words, just poor customer service.
- Overall, I have NOT found Bulgaria to be a very helpful country or helpful culture. You’re pretty much on your own getting problems sorted.
Before I get hate mail in from Bulgaria, let me clarify – I HAVE encountered some shop staff who were helpful and polite in shops. But it’s like one in three or one in four at best. Most of the time, I’ve got this rudeness and dis-interest that’s really off-putting and hasn’t endeared me to the people at all I’m afraid.
And then better experiences:
- Restaurants – Can’t really complain here. Generally much more polite and accommodating. Similar when getting food from smaller stalls. A bit more friendly.
The upshot of all this is that I’ll actually be leaving Bulgaria in a few weeks, and I’m not sad at all. I was actually very much looking forward to coming here, but after a few months, I’ve not been impressed, and am very much looking forward to leaving for somewhere with friendlier people.
That’s not a good reflection on a country’s people, but it’s my honest appraisal from living here for a while. And I consider myself a very polite, tolerant and patient person (probably all these things to a fault). But I’ll be glad when I’m out of here, and I don’t want to come back any time soon.
The most friendly things I’ve encountered here by far are the cats in the local area! Brutal but true!
Note – These are my honest reflections, having come here very positive, and willing to give the country and people a chance. But I try to be fair in these articles, and I like to hear other feedback if respectful and intelligent. I also haven’t been everywhere in Bulgaria, so if anyone has had a different experience living in Bulgaria for an extended period, especially inland in Sofia, Plovdiv etc, please get in touch via the Contact page.
Dealing With Bulgarians In Social/Work Settings
Honestly, because of the language barrier issues, and the fact that Bulgarian is a difficult language to learn anyway, I haven’t been able to make many Bulgarian friends while I’ve been here. There’s a guy at the local restaurant who was really nice who I got talking with before he shut for the winter. He was really cool. I’ve also found some (not nearly all though) younger people who speak English to be quite friendly.
But other than that, integration has been difficult in the few months I’ve been here. But I think that’s the case for many expats and nomads. Bulgarian and English are too far apart as languages for it to be a easy transition like some European countries. It’s a whole new alphabet and beyond the few basic phrases (which I have always used to be polite), it’s hard for an expat to get fluent and conversational in Bulgarian.
Therefore, I have less experience of this, but feedback from forums and the like on this is much more positive. As with any country, you will definitely find friendly people in Bulgaria. And they do seem to be very friendly among themselves. It’s mostly dealing with them as a customer that’s really wound me up.
Regarding dealing with Bulgarians in a work setting, see this article for some excellent points on this. Some things considered important are building relationships with people and get to know them before doing business, dressing conservatively, and being direct and clear.
Some Typical Bulgarian Characteristics
But as people in their private lives, Bulgarians can be friendly, especially among each other, and do have a particular set of “stereotypical” characteristics that define them (some perhaps cliched, some with an element of truth).
Here are some of these “typical” Bulgarian traits, pulled from a forum entry:
- Beautiful, model-like young women (all very well, but some of them seem to be rude and have an attitude problem as well, which is a turn off)
- Well-educated, intelligent young people (most of them, at least). You’ll find these in Plovdiv especially.
- Being mostly unhappy despite everything (I’d second that – it does come across as a negative, beat-down society in many ways).
- Being overly negative (again, one vibe I definitely DON’T get is positivity from most Bulgarians, so I’d second that).
- Being good in math and engineering
- Exposed to corruption, even at the highest levels
- Proud of their history (Bulgaria has existed since year 681, so more than 1300 years)
- Lack of acceptance, diversity, inclusion (just look at what happens at each pride parade in Sofia). (I can’t speak for other forms of diversity, but I haven’t exactly felt welcome as a foreigner here, so would second that)
- Good command of the English language for most young people (agreed, see our post on this)
- Good command of the Russian language for most older people (I would also add poor command of English for most older people)
- Bulgarians like having long, heavy meals, never alone, usually with family or friends
- Have a love-hate relationship with almost anything
- Like complaining
- Like over-exaggerating
- Like parties and celebrations and drinking and dancing.
- Bulgarians are an interesting mix of the east and the west
- Lazyness for Bulgarians is a virtue (not generalizing to all, but does match my experiences as a customer – I’ve been stood there in shops and post offices multiple times while staff seemingly do nothing to help, or don’t exactly go out their way to help you. Or seem to take a long time getting simple stuff done. Again, customer service is often poor).
- Like eating tomatoes, feta, yogurt, filo dough pies, bread at almost every meal
- Not being very tidy or clean (you can see garbage on the streets almost everywhere)
- They can appear rude and too direct to some more refined nations (DEFINITELY agree on this last one, except I don’t excuse it away as “directness”; I just find it rude and ignorant and DON’T like it at all)
I can’t speak for all of these traits, but a lot of them do match my experiences dealing with Bulgarians on a daily basis as a relative stranger or in shops as a customer. Getting to know them more personally might be a different story, but for daily interactions, there’s a lot of negativity and rudeness.
Again, I have had good experiences asking some Bulgarians for directions for example. I have found some that speak English and were polite and helpful. Those experiences do stick out, and I remember and appreciate them, because they were unfortunately quite rare. Most of the time, it’s rudeness, apathy and unhelpfulness, which doesn’t leave me feeling warm about the country as a whole, despite some isolated good experiences.
Are Bulgarians Rude or Direct?
Some guides on this general topic of dealing with Bulgarians claim that they’re not rude; they’re just direct and straightforward, and it can take a little time to get used to, and that Bulgarians are actually quite friendly
Unfortunately, I don’t agree with this statement based on my experiences. Rudeness is rudeness, and ignorance is ignorance. I HAVEN’T found most of the people I’ve encountered in shops to be direct but fair and respectful; I’ve just found them rude, unhelpful and dismissive in most cases. And there is a clear difference between the two. I actually respect and like directness, as long as the person is still a) helpful in customer service jobs; and b) respectful. But that’s not what I’ve seen here.
I’ve experienced it too many times for it to be a coincidence, and have not been impressed with the demeanor and manners of many Bulgarian staff in customer facing roles I’ve encountered. They’re just not interested in helping you out, not interested in being polite and respectful, and not interested in even attempting to bridge any language barrier issues. Put simply, I haven’t found them to be direct; I’ve just found them to have poor customer service and bad manners.
I’ve waited for several months to really rule out the chance of it just being a few bad experiences or a coincidence. But after encountering rudeness and poor customer service again today in the bank, for the umpteenth time in only a few months, I finally lost patience and decided to write this article.
Where Might I Find More Friendly Bulgarians?
Of course nothing can be 100% generalized to a whole country, and for sure there are plenty of friendly Bulgarians, as with any nation of people. I’ve just encountered rudeness far more common than I’ve encountered friendliness.
There are friendly Bulgarians everywhere, as there are rude Bulgarians. Nevertheless, specifically for a native English speaker, there are places you can go to give yourself a better chance of bumping into more English speakers for a start (which helps with communication), plus more friendly people in general. And in a nutshell, these are the main tourist areas where the most English speakers go and visit/live.
You’ve a few main places here:
Sofia – The capital city, gets loads of tourists every year, and English is widely spoken in all the central areas. Plus it’s got more of an international feel, with lots of younger people as well, so you’ll be able to converse in English a lot. You’ll encounter a lot more helpfulness here.
Sunny Beach – The other major British-focused holiday resort on the Black Sea Coast in Burgas. Receives a lot of tourists from April to October, and also has an expat community, so you’ll be able to speak English all along the main strip, and even live there speaking English if you want to. The people there are used to dealing with Brits. And you will find friendly people here in the summer months, because they want your money! Moving outside Sunny Beach though to nearby Nesebar (and certainly Ravda), English proficiency falls off massively and the unhelpfulness and rudeness increases as well. Watch out also for the staff at Sunny Beach bus station, who’ve I’ve also found especially unhelpful and annoyingly disinterested in doing a good job. In restaurants there though, it’s much better and they’re more polite and helpful.
Plovdiv – University town, so loads of younger people here who will speak good English and be more willing to help you out.
Pretty much anywhere else in Bulgaria though, you’re going to find much lower levels of English spoken, and therefore more of this annoying unhelpfulness combined with rudeness and disinterest, that’s could really put you off this country (it has for me I’m afraid). In Burgas and Varna you get some English spoken, but still very hit-and-miss and nowhere near universal. Anywhere else, expect communication to be difficult.
Advice For Moving To Bulgaria Long Term (Expats/Nomads)
As you might have guessed by now, I haven’t been overly impressed with the Bulgarian people where I’m staying. And if I ever did live here, it would only be the for the cheap cost of living, decent food and the good summers. Not for the people for the most part unfortunately.
But there are still plenty of expats living in Bulgaria, largely because of the cheap property and cost of living. Given how unhelpful and rude I’ve found a lot of Bulgarians, here are some suggestions for moving there long term:
Location – I’d only move to place where English is widely spoken, which is basically Sofia or Sunny Beach. Anywhere else, you’re going to struggle conversing with locals, and you’re going to find more of this annoying disinterest/rudeness.
Networking – Wherever you go, it’s vital to start networking with fellow English speaking expats right away, especially ones who’ve been living there a while. They’ll be able to help you out finding where stuff is, how to get certain things, finding bargains, visa rules and other daily “stuff” that you’ll want to get sorted.
Daily Issues – Get ready for some frustration whenever you have to deal with the Bulgarian “system” of bureaucracy, getting paperwork sorted, visas, etc. Most of the people you deal with won’t speak English, and likely won’t be particularly friendly or helpful to foreigners. Being mentally prepared for this instead of being caught by surprise will help a little with this. Bring someone along to meetings if you can to interpret/translate. And Google Translate if your friend when dealing with most Bulgarians who don’t speak much English.
See our guide on living in Bulgaria for more information on this.