It is hard to put down everything you know about a country’s people. People are the same all over the world, and still they are so different. This is absolutely right for Bulgarians too.
The people here are good, hospitable, and hard-working. This is if one has to describe them with only 3 words. But beyond them, one can see a whole lot of historical, cultural, geographical events and psychological factors that have left their impact on the local people.
Bulgarian people is very old, the country was founded in the far year 681 on a crossroad of civilizations in the South-Eastern part of the Balkan Peninsula. This was a territory often claimed by the strong forces of the times. Bulgaria itself was a strong force during some centuries of its history. Bulgarian kings have dominated large territories and several times helped the Byzantium Empire to drive back the attacks of Arabs. Later the country has fallen under Byzantium and Ottoman domination for 7 centuries altogether, but the people still kept their spirit and national identity. The lucky final of this was the Liberation in 1878 when Bulgaria regained its independence and place on the map of Europe again. The country participated in few more wars which have ended not so well for it – Bulgaria was among the vanquished in World Wars I and II and suffered severe losses.
But the Bulgarian people learnt its lesson well. There were a large number of wars in the Balkan Peninsula accompanying the struggle for independence of the former Yugoslavian republics. There was and still is great tension in Albania, Cyprus, and Romania. But Bulgaria stayed out of it, the people has learned there are no victors in a war – everybody looses. Hence, Bulgaria is a calm country, its people is calm and quiet.
Different people have found the country nice place for living. And they cohabit here in peace - gypsies, Arabs, Chinese, Europeans Bulgaria is very tolerable to religions as well. There are a lot of villages and towns with both a Muslim mosque and a Christian church. A very typical example for the religious tolerance is the center of Sofia, where at 5 minutes walking distance, there are a mosque, an orthodox church, a catholic cathedral and a Jewish synagogue.
Bulgarians are very hospitable, they will always invite you in their homes, give you a large meal, let you try their home made wines and Rakiya. They will not leave you in the middle of a road if you have troubles with the car. Usually, everybody can do several things – repair cars, fridges, TV sets, paint walls, parquet – so no matter you are, you’ll find someone to help you. If you decide to give him some money for the help you’ll become his forever friend, especially if this happens in the villages, where people, as general, are quite poor. Life in the countryside is completely different from the one in the larger towns. People in the villages still persevere their traditional way of living. This is clearly seen in thestrong family ties. Very often a whole family, consisting of 2-3 generations live under one roof.
Acommon practice in Bulgarian villages is people there to grow their own vegetables for family needs or breed hens, turkeys, pigs, goats, and cows, rabbits. Many Bulgarian people also operate their private vineyards. They don't do this for business purpose, but for themselves – wine is so common drink in Bulgaria. There were some troubles recently, since the EU prohibits this form of home made drinks. The small estates provide the fruit needed to make wine and rakiya (a home made drink prepared from many different fruit – apple, pear, apricot, grape…).
Some villages in Bulgaria are like ghost towns – they are small and have few inhabitants. During communism the dream was to receive a citizenship in one of larger cities. This changed after the fall of the communist government. A lot of youth escaped the country in search for better future. Some of them later returned, yet some would never even think of coming back to their homeland. Young people find it difficult to remain in the country because of the small salaries and low standard of living.
The older Bulgarian generation usually has a strange, rough appearance;you can onlyassume that this is owe to the emotional wounds communism left and the tough life the older generation has gone through – old people represent a clear picture of the old, characteristic period. Usually old people keep thinking that communism was better than the nowadays capitalist economy. They will also say the younger generation has lost the closeness they used to have when they were under communist rule. And they will always say that life during the communism was better. But this is normal – they have been told to believe so, from the beginning of their school life. They will also tell good things about the former Communist leader - Todor Zhivkov, although when he was alive and in control of the state, everybody was afraid of him. But - in his time people had fixed salaries and didn't have to worry about surviving. In the communist era everyone was treated equally, wages were standard and there was no competition. The state controlled the economy and divided equally the money.
Unfortunately, older Bulgarians can hardly speak English - it's not their fault - the Russian language was primarily taught as a second language during communist rule.
In Bulgaria cigarettes are very cheap and hence, smoking among Bulgarian people is a way of life. Bulgarians smoke wherever they are, even at prohibited places, so when you enter a restaurant you should expect to go outside afterwards with thisvery common though not so pleasant smell. Recently, entering the EU, Bulgaria had to show consideration with the EU laws of prohibiting smoking at public places. By now, there are separate places for smokers and non-smokers in every restaurant. The perspective is the absolute prohibiting of smoking in the public restaurants and bars.
Football is the most popular sport among Bulgarian people. Usually they support one local team and at least one foreign. The most prefer English teams. The big derbies, that are just like "Tottenham Hotspur" and "Arsenal" in the UK, or "Rangers" - "Celtic" in Scotland, are between the city rivals "Levski" and CSKA from Sofia, and the "Botev" vs. "Locomotive" in Plovdiv.
There are particular places in the parks, where people gather to play chess. These are usually pensioners, or just pure fans. Sometimes the opponents become very nervous and you'd better leave them :) Sometimes somebody may come and offer you playing chess with you for money - if you lose, you pay him, and the opposite. A lot of people gather to watch the "chessmasters".
One thing that usually annoys foreigners (especially Americans) is that you have to remove your shoes entering the house of a Bulgarian family. It is considered to be an act of disrespect to enter with your shoes still on.
When you walk through the streets, you'll probably see many beggars. You'd better keep away from them because you can never know what are their intentions. And something interesting - there is a saying that beggars in Bulgaria make a good profit of begging. Of course, if you feel sorry for them, you can always buy them some food - this is the best way to help them. otherwise they can spend the money on drinking, smoking or even light drugs.
So - these are Bulgarians - good and bad, like all the people in the world. When you begin understanding them better you'll probably start to like them even more :)