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A Guide to Manner When Visiting Bulgaria

Bulgaria is an Eastern European nation with beautiful, lush mountains, sparkling Black Sea beaches and a thriving metropolis located in the capital, Sofia.

If you are planning a trip to this small Balkan nation, you will not be bored the country's diverse natural landscapes, as well as unique history. However, it is always important to know a country's social mannerisms, etiquette and culture in order to avoid embarrassment or confrontation when visiting. Though many Bulgarian aspects of social interaction are very similar to the United States or Western Europe, there are minor differences which are crucial to making your trip the best possible.

Dining Etiquette
Bulgarians are very passionate people, who believe that a meal almost always must comprise at least one starter, ample conversation and good friends or family. The dining traditions of this country go alongside the family structure, and meals eaten together are a very important part of that family dynamic. When visiting, it is important to understand this as frequently mealtime is much more about socialization than eating. A typical restaurant outing may take anywhere from 2-4 hours, as people are very accustomed to eating slowly and enjoying each other's company. Plan ahead when visiting guests are their home or going out for dinner, as it will not be a 1 hour affair. Along with this, many restaurants take a longer time to cook your food, but that is most likely because everything is fresh and homemade!
Similarly, when visiting someone at their home it is customary to bring the hostess a small gift. For example, when going to a dinner party a bottle of wine or chocolates is a customary gift to the household, sometimes you may also choose to bring an extra gift for a small child. The hostess usually takes a lot of care in preparing for the meal and ensuring you are happy, so a gift is quite normal.
During a dinner, you will most likely be served drinks with appetizers and a salad first, follow by a main dish and dessert. It is also common for a hostess to continue filling your plate once it empties, so do not rush to finish your food to the last morsel, if you are feeling quite full.

Everyday Interaction
Bulgarian who are close friends usually greet each other with a kiss on each cheek, something also common in other European countries such as France and Italy. In addition, if you are meeting someone for the first time a handshake, smile and eye contact will be perfectly acceptable. Elders are considered a very respected part of the family, so you must yield your seat to them on public transportation and within normal customary situations.

A unique thing about this region is the head shake signal for Yes and No, which is reversed from the customary American way. If you want to answer Yes to something, shake your head sideways and No is shaking up and down. This can be quite confusing at first, so perhaps stick to "Da" (Yes) or "Ne" (No).
If you are from the United States, you may find that the level of customer service in Bulgaria can be quite lacking. Many store employees (especially store owners) will not greet you with the upbeat American chirp, and may not even address your presence until you decide to purchase something. Similarly, restaurant waiters do not exhibit the same friendly demeanor, and may see rather cold to you. Do not take this personally, it is simply a culture which has not adjusted to the new standards of customer service.

Driving Etiquette
I do not recommend driving in large cities such as Sofia or Plovdiv, if you have never driven in Bulgaria before. It can be quite overwhelming as many drivers do not abide by turn signals, merging and speed limits, creating a potentially disastrous situation for new drivers. In addition, in some parts of Sofia small children will begin cleaning your windows at stop lights, thus impeding your way once the light turns green. These kids can usually be told to stop, but some may not move until you give them money.
In rural areas, driving is a safer mode of transportation as traffic is considerably decreased, and people are not in stressful, time-intensive situations. Always abide by signs and signals, and do not speed. If pulled over, provide all documentation you have and you should not have troubles. Some friends of mine have cited that Bulgarian rural cops can be bribed, but I would not recommend this.
Other drivers going in the opposite direction will usually flash their headlights at you, to warn you if there is a speeding trap or cop nearby.
Following these suggestions will ensure that your stay is the most pleasant, and that your interaction with the hosts will be problem-free.