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Brits in BG


There is no doubt that Europe is getting smaller and much of this view is thanks to the integration of countries through the European Union. Europeans rate the EU’s freedom of movement for travel, study and work high above voting or having a directly elected president. The result of this freedom of movement has lead many EU citizens to purchase property abroad with greater numbers than ever making a permanent move. But what happens when different cultures come together? Judith Allen from theUniversity of Westminster and Dr Iskra Dandolova from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences researched this issue by interviewing groups of British settlers, estate agents, developers and local officials in Bulgaria. We take a look at some of the results.



The British Villager

Many Brits have bought property in Bulgarian villages and this has had two benefits; it has brought income in the form of the land or property they have bought along with income from their day to day purchases of local goods and services. Secondly, they bring new resources like cars and inject cash into what were cashless exchanges. In terms of impact on villages as a whole, these vary to some extent with the scale of settlement and particularly of new building. Large scale settlement increases demands on urban services, especially on water and sewage systems. Where English settlers purchase plots of agricultural land, outside the urban plan areas, there is pressure on land management processes. Bulgarian villages have seen a vast migration of young people and the new Brit dwellers bring a younger, fitter and richer population to the villages. When newbie Brits move into a village they quickly form relationships with their neighbours. The language barrier exists as long as the Brits fail to learn Bulgarian; however, most manage to communicate using day-to-day words. However, the lack of language skills does lead to incomprehension between British and Bulgarian villagers.


Brits and Bureaucracy

Most newcomers are perplexed by the complexity of Bulgarian bureaucratic processes and fail to comprehend the specific mix of person and role in the Bulgarian system and this can sometimes lead to suspicion. Brits rely heavily on the banking system, which is still deemed as old fashioned despite the more recent introductions of tele and internet banking. One aspect that has impressed Brit buyers is the way property transfers are organised and some find that the process is much more straight forward than in England, but they are still wary of pitfalls.


Cultural Differences

Expats are readily available to help newer settlers and often this leads to a kind of ghettoisation where expats live and socialise in an ‘English part of the community. Naturally this gives rise to separate British gossip networks. Bulgarians don’t understand English gardens and are puzzled about why the English don’t grow their own vegetables and buy everything from shops. They also find our love of domestic pets abnormal. Bulgarians think English incomes are very high and Brits feel that there is a dual pricing system for many commodities. Bulgarians appreciate the dynamism of those younger English people who are working. Brits think that when a Bulgarian gives you fresh produce or a helping hand, this is a sign of “friendliness” because they are not familiar with the significance of cashless exchange as a survival strategy for Bulgarian villagers; if a Bulgarian offers something he will expect something in return at some stage in the future and this may not necessarily mean money.



Profile of the Brit Settlers

There are three distinct groups of British settlers in Bulgaria. The first group are those who have retired to Bulgaria. These settlers are older in profile but not necessarily of retirement age. They chose Bulgaria because the low cost of living means that their pension goes a lot further. They are more of a “younger” elder group, which is still physically fit, active and healthy. This group is primarily integrating into Bulgarian society through their place of residence.

The second group is much younger who were attracted by the low cost property available in Bulgaria. This group is primarily integrating through the labour market, but given the nature of the real estate business are geographically mobile within Bulgaria. The third group is also young in profile and consists of people often with children, who were experiencing unemployment and/or a benefits trap in England and who were integrating through self-employment, largely in providing specialist building services to older settlers. This group appears to have a stronger commitment to staying in particular places in Bulgaria than those who have been recruited for specific jobs. Particularly among this group, there seems to be a tendency for a more extended family to become settled in Bulgaria.