Meeting / Greeting – Bulgarian greetings consist of a firm handshake, direct eye contact, and the appropriate verbal greeting for the time of day. Greet each person in a group individually, starting with women and elderly persons. Bulgaria is still a fairly formal society – initial greetings are more formal and reserved than North Americans are typically accustomed to. Address people by their titles (if you know them), or with Mr. (GospaDIN), or Mrs. (GospaZHA) followed by surname. Only friends and family address each other with first names and with a hug or kiss. One should always wait for Bulgarian counterparts to determine when it’s appropriate to go to first name basis.
Business Cards – Business cards are common but not essential among military personnel; business cards are usually exchanged during the first meeting without formal ritual. Have one side of your card printed in Bulgarian.
Values – Bulgarians enjoy being out in nature, hiking, walking, or touring in the countryside. Going to the movies is a popular activity; attending the theater is popular among urban adults. Visiting with friends and neighbors is less common than it used to be. Men usually socialize by fixing things together, telling jokes, or by gathering at clubs. Polite manners and neat appearance in public are important.
Presenting / Receiving Gifts – Gifts are generally opened when received. Typically, gifts are exchanged on Christmas, on birthdays, and when invited to someone’s house. The general rule for gift giving is that it’s more about the thought than value – in fact do not give overly expensive gifts as this may cause embarrassment. When going to a Bulgarian’s home for dinner bring flowers for the hostess and a bottle of good spirits for the host. If taking flowers avoid chrysanthemums, lilies or gladiolas as they’re used at funerals; ensure there are an odd number of stems.
Conversation – Hospitality is highly valued. Expect to linger over meals and spend quality time with hosts. Long conversations are the norm. Education is highly valued. Bulgarians take pride in their heritage and culture, which have been preserved despite centuries of foreign domination. They are particularly sensitive about Ottoman rule.
Dining – Continental style of eating is most common, with the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right. Bulgarians eat pork, chicken, fish, or lamb with most main dishes. Popular main meals include moussaka (a casserole with pork or lamb, potatoes, tomatoes, and yogurt) and nadenitsa (stuffed pork sausage). Grilled meat and kababs are also popular, especially in restaurants. Traditionally, the largest meal was eaten at midday and consisted of soup and/or salad, a main course, and dessert. Today, most Bulgarians have a light lunch during the work day – at a fast-food establishment, kiosk, café, or office — and then eat their main meal of the day after 7PM at home. Expect frequent toasting throughout both formal and informal meals. At formal meals, the host offers the first toast which is generally done with hard liquor such as vodka. You should reciprocate with your own toast later in the meal. If you are the guest of honor, your departure may be necessary following the meal before others can leave. Personally engage the host and other senior leaders before departing.
Nonverbal Gestures – Pointing with the index finger is rude. Don’t slap anyone on the back, even in jest. DON’T chew gum or check handheld electronics while in conversation. Friends, especially girls, often hold hands or walk arm in arm. Gentlemen remove their hats before entering churches. People also remove gloves before shaking hands. People cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing.