Bulgaria - Language, Culture and Etiquette (2023)

What will you Learn?

You will gain an understanding of a number of key areas including:

  • Language
  • Religion and beliefs
  • Culture and society
  • Social etiquette and customs
  • Business culture and etiquette

Bulgaria - Language, Culture and Etiquette (1)

The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia by Ivan Nedelchev on Unsplash

Stereotyping

Remember this is only a very basic level introduction to Bulgarian culture and the people; it cannot account for the diversity within Bulgarian society and is not meant in any way to stereotype all Bulgarian people you may meet!

(Video) Bulgarian culture & people, explained by Americans

Facts and Statistics

  • Location: Southeastern Europe, bordering the Black Sea, between Romania and Turkey
  • Capital: Sofia
  • Population: 7 million (2019 est.)
  • Ethnic Groups: Bulgarian 83.9%, Turk 9.4%, Roma 4.7%, other 2% (including Macedonian, Armenian, Tatar, Circassian)
  • Religions: Bulgarian Orthodox 82.6%, Muslim 12.2%, other Christian 1.2%, other 4%

Language in Bulgaria

  • Bulgarian is a Southern Slavic language with about 12 million speakers in Bulgaria and also in Ukraine, Macedonia, Serbia, Turkey, Greece and Romania.
  • Bulgarian is mutually intelligible with Macedonian, and fairly closely related to Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian and Slovene.
  • Bulgarian was the first Slavic language to be written. It first appeared in writing during the 9th century using the Glagolitic alphabet, which was gradually replaced by an early version of the Cyrillic alphabet over the following centuries.
  • At the end of the 18th century the Russian version of Cyrillic or the "civil script" of Peter the Great was adapated.
  • During the 19th century a number of versions of this alphabet containing between 28 and 44 letters were used. In the 1870s a version of the alphabet with 32 letters proposed by Marin Drinov became widely used. This version remained in use until the orthographic reform of 1945 when certain letters were removed from the alphabet.
  • A modern literary language based on vernacular spoken Bulgarian was standardised after Bulgaria became independent in 1878.
  • Many Turkish words were adopted into Bulgarian during the long period of Ottoman rule. Words have also been borrowed from Latin, Greek, Russian, French, Italian, German and increasingly from English.

Bulgaria - Language, Culture and Etiquette (2)

Seven Rila Lakes by George Ivanov on Unsplash

Bulgarian Society and Culture

Religion

  • Most Bulgarians are born into the Bulgarian Orthodox church.
  • The Church has long played a role in retaining a sense of being "Bulgarian", acting as the default support system under Ottoman and Communist rule.
  • Despite Communist attempts the Church held firm and upon the fall of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party in Bulgaria the church experienced a revival - religious holidays were celebrated again, baptisms and church weddings gained in popularity.

The Role of the Family

  • The family is the fundamental social unit and much of society is based around it.
  • Families still tend to be extended rather than nucleur.
  • Several generations may still all be found under the same roof.
  • The family is generally very close and forms large networks of mutual assistance and support.

Hierarchical Society

  • A common characteristic of strong family orientated societies is that they tend to also have hierarchical structures with corresponding rules of behaviours that enforce people's roles.
  • In Bulgaria respect and honour is given to people with age and position.
  • In normal social situations this is manifest where the oldest in the group is greeted first, accorded a title, served first or offered the best food at the table.
  • With such perks also come responsibilities, for example they would be responsible for making decisions for the group.

History and Culture

  • Bulgarians are very proud of their culture and heritage.
  • Stories and folklore still form an important part of life where legends and traditions and are passed between the generations.
  • These are also captured in poetic songs, rituals, music, dance, costumes and jewelry.

Bulgarian Manners and Etiquette

Meeting & Greeting

  • Bulgaria on the face of it is still a fairly formal society - initial greetings are therefore formal and reserved.
  • Greetings consist of a firm handshake, direct eye contact and the appropriate greeting for the time of day.
  • Address people with their titles (if you know them) or with Mr "Gospodin" / Mrs "Gospozha" followed by the surname.
  • Only friends and family address each other with first names and possibly a hug or kiss.
  • One should always wait for their Bulgarian counterparts to determine when it is appropriate to become this informal.

Gift Giving

  • Gifts are generally exchanged at Christmas, birthdays and when invited to someone's house.
  • The general rule for gift giving is that it more about the thought than value - in fact do not give overly expensive gifts as this may cause the recipient embarrassment.
  • When going to a Bulgarian's home for dinner take bring flowers for the hostess and a bottle of good spirits for the host.
  • If taking flowers avoid chrysanthemums, lilies or gladiolas as they are used at funerals. Also ensure there are an odd number of stems.
  • If giving a gift to a newborn only give an odd number of presents.
  • Gifts are generally opened when received.

Dining Etiquette

  • Table manners in Bulgaria could be considered casual, but there are certain rules of etiquette that should be appreciated.
  • When invited to sit at the dining table wait to be shown your seat.
  • Napkins should be left folded next to the plate. If others unfold them and place them on their laps, do the same - you will be at a more formal meal.
  • Wait for the hostess to give the green light before starting to eat.
  • Although you may be the guest of honour it is polite to insist the eldest person at the table starts proceedings.
  • Do not rest your elbows on the table, although your hands should be visible at all times.
  • Eating more food shows appreciation for it, so on the initial serving take little to allow you a second serving.
  • Glasses will always be refilled - leave a mouthful at the bottom of your glass if you don't want more.

Bulgaria - Language, Culture and Etiquette (3)

(Video) 13 Unusual Bulgarian traditions

A typical Bulgarian spread. Photo taken in Mechi Chal, near Pamporovo in the Rhodope Mountains by Stefan Vladimirov on Unsplash

Business Culture and Etiquette in Bulgaria

Bulgaria - Language, Culture and Etiquette (4)

If you're looking for expert help and advice on doing business in Bulgaria, then this is what we do!

(Video) Why I Love Bulgaria ... the history, culture, and traditions

Click here to learn more about our customized cultural training.

Meeting & Greeting

  • Greetings consist of a firm handshake, direct eye contact and the appropriate greeting for the time of day.
  • Handshakes are used when meeting and departing.
  • Address people with their titles (try and find out if people have one beforehand) - if not then use Mr "Gospodin" / Mrs "Gospozha" followed by the surname.
  • Business cards are exchanged on initial meetings.
  • There is little protocol to follow.
  • If your company/firm has been established a long time (25-50 years) include the founding date on your business card.
  • Add any academic qualifications you may have too.
  • Translating cards into Bulgarian may not always be a necessity but it would certainly impress recipients.

Business Meetings

  • Relationship building is important in Bulgaria. Try to spend time getting to know people before getting down to serious business.
  • Initial meetings should be used as an introduction. The next meetings can then be used for more business focused discussions.
  • If you are aware that your counterparts in Bulgaria, hire an interpreter and fully brief them on your needs.
  • Eye contact is important is relaying trust and sincerity.
  • Any presentations should be factual and backed with statistics. If possible try to present information visually.
  • Bulgarians do not appreciate too much "talk" so avoid over zealous statements.
  • Once meetings have started to get into more serious matters they will start to proceed at a much slower pace as details are digested, scrutinized and discussed.
  • Bulgarians are not deadline oriented. They prefer to ensure they have comprehensively covered a topic before bringing proceedings to a close.
  • Be patient and do not rush meetings - successful ventures in Bulgaria will never happen overnight.
  • Meetings often last much longer than anticipated. Do not rush the process.
  • It is important to retain a sense of formality and professionalism. Any slip into casual behaviour may not be appreciated.
  • Bulgarians have a tendency to talk in a roundabout way when concerned about not saying anything that could be used against them later. If you are asking questions and not getting direct answers try asking the question in different ways

Management

  • Check out our Bulgaria Management Guide for more on this topic.

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(Video) You Know You're Dating a Bulgarian Man When...

FAQs

What is the culture in Bulgaria? ›

Bulgarian culture is an unique mix of fairly advanced cultures – mostly of Thracian, Slavic and Bulgar cultures, but there are Byzantine, Turkish, Greek and other influences making numerous masterpieces of the world significance coming from the remote past of antiquity.

Which language do they speak in Bulgaria? ›

BBC - Languages - Languages. 85% of the approximate 8.7m population of Bulgaria speak the official language, Bulgarian. 2.5% speak Macedonian, considered in Bulgaria as a dialect of Bulgarian and not as a separate language.

What are some customs and traditions in Bulgaria? ›

5 Traditions Only Bulgarians can Understand
  • Wake Up Before Dawn to get Dirty in the Valley of Roses. ...
  • Climb a Mountain to Attend a Music Festival at 5000 Feet. ...
  • Celebrate the Beginning of Summer on the First July Morning. ...
  • Tie a Martenitsa Around Your Wrist in March.
Feb 7, 2017

How to be polite in Bulgaria? ›

Bulgarian Manners and Etiquette

Greetings consist of a firm handshake, direct eye contact and the appropriate greeting for the time of day. Address people with their titles (if you know them) or with Mr "Gospodin" / Mrs "Gospozha" followed by the surname.

How do you greet someone in Bulgarian? ›

Zdrasti! Здрасти means “Hi,” or “Hello.” We should only use this greeting with friends or relatives. There is another informal way to say “Hello” – Здравей! It has the same meaning as Здрасти and is used when we speak with only one person.

What are the top 3 languages spoken in Bulgaria? ›

The official language of Bulgaria is Bulgarian, which is spoken natively by 85% of the country's population. Other major languages are Turkish (9.1%), and Romani (4.2%) (the two main varieties being Balkan Romani and Vlax Romani).

What is Bulgaria known for? ›

The country is remarkable for its variety of scenery; its rugged mountains and relaxing Black Sea resorts attract many visitors. Like other nations of the Balkan Peninsula, Bulgaria claims a mix of Eastern and Western cultures, and the mingling is evident in its cuisine, its architecture, and its religious heritage.

What language is Bulgarian most similar to? ›

Bulgarian is most closely related to modern Slovenian, Sebo-Croatian, and Macedonian. It is also closely related to East Slavic languages like Ukrainian, Belarusian, and Russian, and to West Slavic languages like Sorbian, Polish, Slovak, and Czech.

What are examples of customs and traditions? ›

Sharing a meal with turkey is a Thanksgiving tradition in the United States.” Or: “Fireworks are part of America's July 4th holiday tradition.” Customs are also usual ways of behaving. But they are not as old as traditions, and they are practiced by fewer people.

Can you flush toilet roll in Bulgaria? ›

While Americans in particular are used to flushing their used toilet paper down the pipe, they must break that habit if they are traveling to Turkey, Greece, Beijing, Macedonia, Montenegro, Morocco, Bulgaria, Egypt and the Ukraine in particular. Restrooms will have special waste bins to place used toilet paper.

What are customs and traditions? ›

A tradition is a practice that has been passed down over generations and observed by most people of a society or culture while custom could be short lived and even observed at a family or individual level.

How do Bulgarians say yes and no? ›

In Bulgaria nodding your head means no

The most common way to show agreement and say 'yes' in Bulgaria is to shake your head from side to side, a gesture that in many countries means no. And it's not just Bulgaria! Greece, Iran, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt all follow the same method.

What should I be careful of in Bulgaria? ›

Watch out for pickpockets and bag thefts in tourist areas and major public transport hubs, including airports. Be vigilant at all times, particularly late at night. If you wish to report a crime, call the local police on 112 and make sure you get a crime report.

What is unique about Bulgaria? ›

Bulgaria is the oldest country in Europe that hasn't changed its name since it was first established. This happened in 681 AD. Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, was founded 7000 years ago. This makes it the second oldest city in Europe.

What is Bulgaria known for crime? ›

Bulgarian organized crime groups are involved in a wide range of activities, including drug trafficking, cigarette smuggling, human trafficking, prostitution, illicit antiquities trafficking, extortion (often under the cover of ostensible security and insurance companies), racketeering, various financial crimes, car ...

How do you answer Merhaba? ›

Marhaba (Welcome) It comes from the word “rahhaba” which means “to welcome”. The common reply is “Marhaban bik”, “Marhaban biki”, and “Marhaban bikum” to a male, female, and more than one person respectively.

What is the Bulgarian word for yes? ›

In Bulgarian, "da" (да) means yes and "ne" (не) means no. When in doubt, use these easy-to-remember words to make sure you're clearly understood.

Why do Bulgarians say merci? ›

In Bulgarian, the casual way of expressing gratitude, for example, “thanks” is merci (мерси). Yes, that's right! It is similar to French and this is exactly where this word was borrowed from. Keep in mind that the original French pronunciation has mutated and Bulgarians say it with the hard Slavic r.

Is Bulgarian the hardest language to learn? ›

Bulgarian uses the Cyrillic alphabet. It is considered the most difficult second language to learn due to its complex grammar and extensive vocabulary.

Is the Bulgarian language easy to learn? ›

Bulgarian is known as one of the most difficult languages in the World (category 4), knowing that Japanese is in the most complex category (5). Learning Bulgarian is estimated to 44 weeks (1100 hours).

Does anyone in Bulgaria speak English? ›

With regard to the number of speakers, the most notable 3 countries are United Kingdom, United States, and New Zealand. Less than a quarter of the population speaks English in Bulgaria, 1.74 million people in total.

What is the most common food in Bulgaria? ›

One of the most popular dishes in Bulgaria is known as taleshko vareno, a traditional beef and vegetable soup. The soup is usually cooked for hours due to the usage of tougher beef cuts such as beef shank. Vegetables such as carrots, onion, potatoes, and celery are also cooked together with the beef.

Is Bulgaria US friendly? ›

Bulgaria is a reliable ally in an area of strategic importance to the United States. The United States and Bulgaria maintain shared use of several Bulgarian military facilities through the U.S.-Bulgarian Defense Cooperation Agreement, which came into force in 2006.

What is Bulgaria's main religion? ›

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 7.0 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2011 census (the most recent), 76 percent of the population identifies as Eastern Orthodox Christian, primarily affiliated with the BOC.

Why is Bulgarian so hard to learn? ›

One of the biggest difficulties for Bulgarian-learners is pronunciation, especially when Bulgarian textbooks make it seem even more complicated. But how difficult is it to learn Bulgarian pronunciation and phonetic changes, really? Well, once you have the alphabet down, the process really isn't so difficult.

How can I learn Bulgarian fast? ›

Bulgarian for Beginners

Start learning the basic Bulgarian words and phrases with just a few minutes of daily practice. Cover all four basic skills – reading, writing, listening and speaking. Start learning grammar through analyzing sentences. Be able to introduce yourself and take part in simple conversations.

Who are Bulgarians most closely related to? ›

Bulgarians are considered most closely related to the neighbouring Macedonians. The ethnic Macedonians were considered Bulgarians by most ethnographers until the early 20th century and beyond with a big portion of them evidently self-identifying as such.

What are 5 examples of culture? ›

Customs, laws, dress, architectural style, social standards and traditions are all examples of cultural elements.

What is language in culture? ›

Language is one of the most important parts of any culture. It is the way by which people communicate with one another, build relationships, and create a sense of community. There are roughly 6,500 spoken languages in the world today, and each is unique in a number of ways.

What are beliefs in culture? ›

Cultural beliefs are the ideas and thoughts common to several individuals that govern interaction-between these people, and between them, their gods, and other groups-and differ from knowledge in that they are not empirically discovered or analytically proved.

Does Bulgaria use bidets? ›

Bidets are not unheard of in Bulgaria, but having one would be a novelty rather than business as usual. The only one I have ever seen was in a hotel.

What should not be poured down the toilet? ›

To ensure that your pipes stay clog-free, here are the 16 items you should truly avoid flushing down the toilet.
  • Baby Wipes. This is important. ...
  • Q-Tips, Cotton Pads or Other Cotton Products. ...
  • Menstrual Products. ...
  • Condoms. ...
  • Diapers. ...
  • Dental Floss. ...
  • Paper Towels & Tissues. ...
  • Medication.
May 7, 2020

Do you take your pants off to use a squat toilet? ›

Getting In Position

Squat toilets can be difficult for a beginner who is still wearing their pants. If you are new to squat toilets, it can be a good idea to fully remove your pants and underwear. If you are comfortable with squatting, you can try to leave your pants on, simply lowering them to your ankles.

What are 7 examples of culture? ›

They are social organization, customs, religion, language, government, economy, and arts.

What are traditional beliefs? ›

meanings of traditional and belief

following or belonging to the customs or ways of behaving that have continued in a group of people or society for a long time ... See more at traditional. belief.

What is values in culture? ›

Cultural values are a culture's core beliefs about what's good or right. We all have cultural values. These are sometimes called 'cultural value preferences'. They're informed by the cultures we most associate ourselves with. These values are neither positive nor negative - they're just differences.

What is Bulgaria mostly known for? ›

The country is remarkable for its variety of scenery; its rugged mountains and relaxing Black Sea resorts attract many visitors. Like other nations of the Balkan Peninsula, Bulgaria claims a mix of Eastern and Western cultures, and the mingling is evident in its cuisine, its architecture, and its religious heritage.

Do you flush toilet paper in Bulgaria? ›

While Americans in particular are used to flushing their used toilet paper down the pipe, they must break that habit if they are traveling to Turkey, Greece, Beijing, Macedonia, Montenegro, Morocco, Bulgaria, Egypt and the Ukraine in particular. Restrooms will have special waste bins to place used toilet paper.

At what age do Bulgarians get married? ›

According to the Bulgarian legislation, the age for marriage is 18 years.

What is traditional Bulgarian food? ›

Traditional Bulgarian foods

Tutmanik – similar to pita, made with yeast dough and milk, but with white cheese. Milinki (singular: milinka) – bread roll type pastry with eggs and sirene. Princess with minced meat – open-faced baked sandwich with minced meat, and possibly some yellow cheese on top.

What is the most popular food in Bulgaria? ›

Tarator, a scrummy cold soup is among the Bulgarians favourite foods, especially for the summer months. It is generally served as a first course however, it can also be served as a side dish to a main meal. It is commonly made with fresh cucumbers, walnuts, garlic, Bulgarian yoghurt, dill, herbs and vinegar or lemon.

What do Europeans use instead of toilet paper? ›

In Europe, toilet paper is certainly an option for sanitation, but most occupants overseas prefer to use the bidet for cleaning themselves post toilet use.

What country can you not flush the toilet? ›

Visitors to this country are often mystified by the seemingly universal rule that you can't flush toilet paper in Costa Rica. Typically, they learn of this from a sign on a bathroom wall instructing them to place toilet paper in the trash can and not in the toilet.

How do you marry a Bulgarian? ›

The documents for civil marriage (the only valid in Bulgaria), required by both parties, are: Proof of identity, ID card if EU citizen, passport non-EU. Certificates of No Impediment to Marriage (Legalized and in Bulgarian language), to prove that the person is free and legally eligible to marry.)

Is it legal to marry your cousin in Bulgaria? ›

Cannot marry each other: Close relatives; Brothers and sisters, their children and other collateral relatives up to the fourth degree including. Same-sex marriage is not permitted in Bulgaria; there is no legal recognition of same sex partnerships.

What is a Bulgarian wedding like? ›

The typical Bulgarian wedding is lively, cheerful, loud, and emotional, with a lot of fun and dancing and considerable quantities of alcohol especially homemade rakia, and wine, but at the same time can be very tiresome – with many different locations to attend – sometimes with a total duration of more than 16+ hours!

What is a typical Bulgarian breakfast? ›

Banichka and Boza

A traditional Bulgarian Breakfast is “Banitsa s boza”. Banitsa is traditional Bulgarian food prepared by layering a mixture of whisked eggs and pieces of cheese between filo pastry and then baking it in an oven. Boza is a drink with thick consistency and a low alcohol content, it has a sweet flavor.

What is the national drink of Bulgaria? ›

Rakija - the national drink of Bulgaria. Rakia is a traditional Bulgarian fruit brandy.

What alcohol do Bulgarians drink? ›

If you have just arrived in Bulgaria and are still curious to taste the vast variety of authentic Bulgarian meals and drinks, undoubtedly the most traditional and emblematic alcoholic beverage to start your night with is the local rakia.

Videos

1. Learn Bulgarian - Bulgarian in Three Minutes - Bulgarian Manners
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2. Should our language be taught in schools? – Standardized orthography – Banat Bulgarian Collection
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3. Bulgarian Culture and Traditions
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4. What is Bulgarian Turks? Explain Bulgarian Turks, Define Bulgarian Turks, Meaning of Bulgarian Turks
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5. LANGUAGE CHALLENGE - Romanian VS Bulgarian
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6. Good Manners: What to Do and Say in Bulgarian
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