Bulgarian Etiquette, Customs and Traditions



When you first come to Bulgaria, a lot of things can surprise you. One of them is the people's behavior. As in every other country and culture, there are some small differences in the way people interact and expect you to react. 


There are some useful phrases you can use when greeting a Bulgarian, or you can do it in your own language. Besides this, it is polite to shake the person's hand and to smile. Kissing on the cheeks and hugging are considered in Bulgaria as more intimate, so they are not quite appropriate when you meet someone for the first time. Bulgarians are polite and a little reserved at the beginning but as you grow to know them they become much more amiable. 

Personal space

Bulgarian attitudes to personal space are more relaxed than in some other cultures. People may approach closely when speaking to you or stay close in a crowded room. Also because of the bad organized public transport, you can find yourself much closer to other people than you are comfortable, but unfortunately this is part of the experience. Another tip about the Bulgarian public transport is that it is considered very poor form not to relinquish your seat for a pregnant woman or elderly person. 

Tipping and paying the bill

Rounding up a bill, or leaving 10% of the total, is the standard tipping practice. Also, in a normal restaurant, don't expect that your order will be brought together with all the others. More common, you will receive for food when it is ready, this is a common practice and it is not considered as bad service. Bulgarians will often take turns paying the bill or split it in half. Offering to pay the bill is considered very generous, but a small argument about it is part of the custom.

If invited to a Bulgarian home

If you are lucky enough to be invited to a Bulgarian home, flowers for the hostess (always an odd number) and a bottle of wine or other spirits will be more than appreciated. You can also ask what to bring if it is just a friendly gathering. Bulgarian people won't hesitate to tell you what will be needed, but if they don't bring some beer or snacks, because it is considered a bad manner to go empty-handed. In Bulgaria, people also bring gifts for different occasions - birthday, name day, new home, baby shower (usually done after the baby is born), etc. The general rule for gift giving is that it more about the thought put in it than the value - in fact, do not give overly expensive gifts as this may embarrass the recipient. If you are visiting a home with a small child, make sure to bring a small present for the child. You will also usually be asked to take your shoes off and, even if you are not asked, do it anyway. You will be given slippers in the winter. 


Bulgarians are not exactly the masters of small talk, they just talk about whatever concerns them at the moment. You can hear a lot of topics being discussed and even some racist comments. It's your right to decide how to react, but keep in mind that Bulgaria is quite diverse both ethnically and religiously and has managed to exist free of conflicts for many years and such discussion and jokes are probably just a bad sense of humor, rather than an insult. Also, don't be surprised if you are asked all kinds of personal questions or hear a detailed discussion about the other people's problems. 

Bonus tip:

If someone approaches you with a box of chocolates, explaining that they have a birthday, their niece graduated high school, or their daughter-in-law has a name day or any other seemingly strange reason - just take a candy. Don't explain that you don't eat sweets, you don't want to or whatever. Just congratulate, take the chocolate and smile. The act of eating the candy is a form of well-wishing and refusing it is very rude and offensive. And no, being on a diet is not a valid excuse.