Bulgarians like to do business face-to-face and it is important to visit local partners and customers in person to get to know each other and build a lasting relationship. If communication is limited to only emails or faxes, it will not be well-received and will not have the desired effect.
Many Bulgarians are direct but it is important to pay attention to non-verbal signs of communication and sometimes to ask the same question a number of times, to see if the response changes.
Bulgarians make a lot of gestures while communicating and clearly show their emotions in facial expressions. It is important to note that Bulgarians have different head gestures to indicate ‘no’ and ‘yes’ to other cultures, such that shaking your head from side to side signifies ‘yes’ and an up and down movement means ‘no’. Most Bulgarians maintain eye contact while talking, which indicates sincerity, friendliness and respect. Bulgarians usually stand close together at arm’s length when they are talking to one another.
85% of the population speak Bulgarian as their first language, followed by 9% who speak Turkish and 4% whose mother tongue is Romani. A large percentage of the young population speak foreign languages and English is widely used, having been taught at all schools and some universities. About 60% of the working age population (25 to 64 years) speak at least one foreign language and around two thirds of the students learn English or German. Despite that fact, outside of Sofia, interpreters are often required for business meetings. Other languages such as Spanish and French are commonly used and most of the older generations understand and freely speak Russian. Bulgarians also understand other Slavic languages when they are spoken slowly, such as Serbian and Macedonian.
Bulgarian culture is very vocal; people are generally quite talkative and enjoy conversations. They feel uneasy about sudden breaks in conversation and although interruptions are not well accepted, they can demonstrate that someone is interested and paying attention to the subject matter. In most cases, it is considered very rude to interrupt. At first, it may be difficult to start a conversation but with a little perseverance, Bulgarians will normally open up and may start talking a lot, at times with several people speaking at once.
Contracting is a very important part of doing business, because it serves to document the arrangement and states what the individual participants have agreed to. It also ensures the agreement is respected and what corrective actions may apply, in case it is not. If part of a contract includes penalty clauses for missed deadlines or milestones, Bulgarians will pay close attention and consider them very seriously. Mutual trust and personal relationships in business may take a number of years of cooperation to develop and, even then, it is advisable to have a written contract. Sometimes, Bulgarians accept verbal agreements as contractual obligations, but this is not a widespread practice and not seen in serious business relationships.
Being able to allocate responsibility is something that Bulgarian managers are not very good at. Typically, all important decisions are made by the head office or senior management. Bulgarian society is highly centralised and only in recent years have there been attempts at decentralisation. Management is not democratic and there is a very clear division between employer and employee.
Bulgarians usually consider the demonstration of intense emotions in the workplace as unprofessional. They have a high appreciation for humour and can often have a self-deprecating attitude. They use a number of understatements when they do not like something or they are unhappy with a situation.
Normally Bulgarians shake hands when meeting and maintain direct eye contact. Light hugs are something typical between close friends and family. A kiss on each cheek is a usual greeting between women who know each other. With members of the opposite sex and business colleagues, it is appropriate to keep a moderate amount of space when conversing. Between friends and family, the need for personal space is less.
Mr. and Mrs. are the titles used during formal occasions and when meeting someone for the first time, but it is not uncommon to be called by your first name and formality lessens as time goes on. It is normal to exchange business cards at the beginning of a business meeting. The use of formal titles is mainly limited to the workplace and even in situations where the person is highly-regarded, they might prefer to be addressed by their given name. Terms of address between spouses are also very informal and women are no longer solely identified as ‘the wife of’ and addressed by their husband’s name.
It is important to include your job title and professional accreditation on your business card, although mentioning an academic degree will hold little weight without supporting evidence. It is important for Bulgarians to be well acquainted with the person they are doing business with.
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