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Learning the Social Customs of Bulgaria

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The Bulgarian population consists of about 84% ethnic Bulgarians, 10% Turks and 5% Roma. The prominent language is Bulgarian, which is a Southern Slavic language written in a form of Cyrillic. Most Bulgarians are Bulgarian Orthodox (the Turks are usually Muslim), which is considered a vital part of the Bulgarian identity, having survived through the Ottoman Empire and then the Socialist regime. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, baptisms and church weddings were proudly celebrated.

The family is considered the most important social sphere in Bulgaria. People are close with their extended families, and multiple generations often share dwellings. Families tend to be very large, and everyone is expected to support one another.

In Bulgaria, age and honor are respected, and this develops a hierarchy. The oldest person of a group will often be introduced first and served food first. They are usually expected to make decisions for the whole group as well.

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Folklore plays a role in Bulgarian society, even today. Families will pass traditions down through the generations. There is a strong sense of pride in Bulgarian stories, poetry, rituals, jewelry, dance, music and other folk traditions.

In terms of greetings, they tend to be formal and reserved. The typical gesture is a firm handshake with direct eye contact. You should address people with their formal titles; Mr is “Gospodin,” and Mrs is “Gospozha,” and this should be followed by the person’s last name. You must wait to be invited to use first names.

For gift giving, people practice this during Christmas and birthdays, and when they are invited to someone’s house. Gifts do not need to be expensive, they should just show that you put effort into giving them. If you are invited to a Bulgarian home for dinner, you should bring flowers for the hostess, or a nice bottle of liquor for the host. Flowers should be given in an odd number, and should not be chrysanthemums or lilies.

During dinner, the manners are not overly formal, but should still be observed. You should wait to be seated. Napkins are usually folded to the left of the plate, and are only placed on the lap for fancy occasions. You should wait until the hostess invites everyone to eat. Glasses get refilled when they are finished, so if you do not want to drink more, you should leave a little liquid at the bottom of your glass.

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