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Business Etiquette in Bulgaria

Top Tips for Doing Business in Bulgaria

The language and culture of a nation are inextricable. Culture influences language and language, in turn, influences culture. This happens in ways both obvious and almost imperceptible. Cultural context plays a major role in how language is used as well as how it develops, and non-native speakers can often find it difficult to translate particular words and phrases from one language into their native tongue without a thorough understanding of the cultural background from which it has arisen.

The subtle factors which influence language can make a huge difference to international business interactions.

TJC Global understands that being fluent in a language also means being fluent in the subtleties and intricacies of the culture and business etiquette associated with it. To ensure that no embarrassing misunderstandings occur in a professional context, all our translators and interpreters are experts in the business culture and etiquette associated with the languages they work with. Read on to find out our top tips for doing business in Bulgaria.

Business Etiquette

Try to be on time, but do not be surprised if your business partners turn up late. Bulgarians have a rather relaxed pace of life.

The common greeting is handshaking, but in some occasions you can also expect to be kissed on both cheeks. Handshaking takes place both at the beginning and the end of the meeting.

Exchanging business cards is the norm amongst businessmen in Bulgaria. This takes place immediately after the handshaking at the beginning of the meeting. The accepted dress code for business discussions is a suit for men and fashionable clothes for women.

Even though most members of the Bulgarian business community have a good command of English and sometimes French and German, you will find that the presence of a professional interpreter will help advance the meeting.

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Communications

It is essential that you make an appointment prior to your meeting to ensure that it will take place. Your Bulgarian colleagues might not be in their office if you pay them a visit without a notification. You should address your Bulgarian business partners with their title and family name, but you can expect to be asked to call them by their first name fairly soon. Bulgarians are very direct and open, so you can expect to hear their candid opinions from the very start of the business meeting. You will be also be expected to express your views without unnecessary circumlocutions.

Body Language

Bulgaria is the one of the few countries in the world in which a shake of the head indicates consent/agreement and a nod expresses negation. For example, if you are asked whether you would like some wine and you want to say “yes”, you shake your head horizontally, while if you want to refuse the wine you signal this by moving your head vertically. If you cannot get into the habit of using the correct Bulgarian gesture, you can remember the words for “yes” – “da”, and “no” – “ne.”

Unlike in many Asian countries, kisses are not considered an intimate act in Bulgaria. Business partners, regardless of their gender, can extend lips as if to kiss their partner, or just touch the other’s cheek with their own as a symbol of mutual understanding and friendship. This is normally done twice or thrice.

Bulgarians do not always say explicitly what they mean. You can guess, however, your Bulgarian partner’s thoughts and emotions by observing their posture, facial expressions, gestures, manners or even appearance. Equally important, when you are not comfortable conveying your thoughts verbally you can use subtle non-verbal messages instead.

Expensive gifts could be taken the wrong way, especially when they are intended for young women in private. Flowers, however, are given on a regular basis to women and do not necessarily imply hidden feelings when they are given in public. If you are thinking of making a present to your Bulgarian business partner, the best choice would be a pen with your company’s logo or a bottle of good wine.

Business Culture

Bulgarian people have a great sense of humour and they do not hesitate to use it whenever they see fit. Jokes and laughter can not only help you break the ice, but also make your business negotiations in Bulgaria smooth and efficient. Perhaps it is safer to direct laughter towards yourself or to make institutions, rather than your business partner, the object of fun.

Bulgarians openly criticize everything and everyone, intentionally and unintentionally, so you should not be shocked at their comments.
Relationships are often based on sense of reciprocity. If you have been done a favor by a Bulgarian you might be expected to return the favor in the future, but this is not necessarily the case.

It might prove beneficial to you and your business if you can make friends with influential businessman, politicians, and bureaucrats. Establishing connections with influential individuals as well as individuals with extensive personal networks might prove advantageous in times of trouble.

Bulgarian people are ready to work during the weekends and holidays as well (including Christmas and Easter holidays), if they see this as profitable. However, you should avoid making business contacts during July and August, as these are the months when Bulgarians take extensive holidays.

Societal Rules

In Bulgaria you will be expected to express respect for elderly people, and if you omit to do so, the people around you will not hesitate to embarrass you. To avoid becoming the object of criticism, you should avoid occupying seats in public transport, especially if elderly Bulgarians are present. In the capital city, Sofia, it is your own responsibility to make sure you have a ticket for the public transport you are using. If you fail to produce a ticket you risk being scorned by the people around you and/or being fined by the authorities.

Beliefs and Superstitions

If you start eating a second slice of bread before finishing your first one, you will be asked by Bulgarians to give half of the forgotten slice to another person. This is one of the numerous Bulgarian superstitions, and it signifies that somebody must have remained hungry.

Bread cutting: Bulgarians say of women who can cut bread well that they are ready for marriage. If you leave a piece of the bread you have started eating, you will be told that you are deserting your luck. You can expect to be told the same if you do not pick up coins you have found on the street.

Dining Customs

You will be served your food on a separate plate, but there will often be some nibbles called meze on the table to which everyone helps themselves. It is common in Bulgaria to spend an hour or two eating meze and drinking alcohol before the main meal.
Bulgarians like toasts as well as hearing foreigners saying “Na zdrave!”, which means “Cheers!”. Heavy drinking is common among men, who consume strong alcoholic drinks, such as rakia or vodka.
Eating all the food that is served to you indicates that you would like some more, while leaving too much demonstrates that you did not like it. The best policy is to leave just a bite or two in your plate. At many public places, such as restaurants and tourist sights, you will be charged a small fee of 0.50lv. or 1lv. to use the rest-room.

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