One sure way to recognise Bulgarians is by watching how they season their meals. We take the salt shaker, then we tap the bottom of it few times on the table (to shake it well) and then we season.
The reason is that often in restaurants the salt is dampen by use or general humidity and it sticks together in the shaker. This is also why you can sometimes see raw rice in the salt shaker - the rice absorbs the humidity and the salt remains loose.
Always use polite form - "gos-po-DIN' (mister), "gos-po-ZHA" (Mrs), "gos-PO-zhi-tsa" (Miss) until otherwise asked. Children are usually not referred to as either Mr or Miss.
"Gospozha" (Mrs) is the widely-accepted reference to all women, regardless of age. Single women above certain age (say 35) are also better referred to as "Mrs". If someone is specifically insiting on being called "Miss", it's probably a subtle sign that she's looking, but that's a tentative suggestion.
There is a twist, tho: Old people could be called the traditional "baba" (grandmother) and "dyado" if in rural setting. This is really tricky. If you see people in traditional clothing (for example if the woman wears a headscarf), you probably shouldn't call her "gospozha".
Personal correspondence is probably done more and more via email.
Business correspondence is done mainly via fax.
Allright - so there's the tip :
when you have a meal at the restaurant and you want to put some salt on it,
take the saltern and hit twice the table with it ( should be like "knock, knock")
if you look around you'll see everybody do it :)
Bulgaria, like many Southern or Latin countries, has a big coffee culture. "Na kafe" is our life style.
People go for a coffee daily, sometimes couple of times a day -- it's an excellent way to catch up or exchange news and gossip. It is equally spread among men and women.
Generally, in establishments or kiosks 'kafe' means espresso. You may order short ('kuso') or long ('dulgo') depending on how much water you want in it; small ('edinichno') or double (dvoyno). Note that a 'dvoyno kuso' (double short) may keep you awake for half a week.
At kiosks, the sugar may not be available in sachets, but in a lose form at the counter. The cups will also be plastic.
Cappuccino, Wiener, Irish and other varieties will be spelled out on the menu, and may not be widely available.
You may be asked which brand you prefer - Lavazza & Illy are the most widely distributed. Altho there is a said difference in quality, this is an implied question of price.
At home, 'kafe' may mean 'Turkish' where the beans are grounded and then boiled in water and the coffee is not filtered. This is also used when you want your future read in the coffee cup.
We start with a salad and a drink, then on to a main course with more drinks. Luckily, we don't use more than one set of silverware and china unless it turns really messy ;-)
Wash hands before sitting on the table (this is really important!) Desserts are optional. We hold the knife in the right hand and the fork in the left. The knife is held under the palm and NOT like a pencil.
Never decline food or drink if you are a guest (or an in-law). An empty plate or glass will prompt your host to give you some more. If you don't get a second helping, you'll imply the hostess can't cook, or you are dissatisfied. So my advice is get a small second helping but don't finish it.....
Birthday: ×åñòèò Ðîæäåí Äåí! (Chest-it Rozh-den Den) = Happy Birthday!
It is customary to buy flowers for the women on occasions such as birthdays. If you see the mother of the birthday person, you should bring some flowers for her, too. It does not have to be anything fancy -- even a stalk will be enough -- it's the gesture that matters.
Birthday cards should carry a wish - usually for long life, health, love, happiness, prosperity.
Office parties may turn into drinking feasts, so be prepared.
Nameday: ×åñòèò Èìåí Äåí! - (Chest-it Ee-men den) - Happy Nameday!
Usually, the day of the saint whose name you carry, but there are also other, more pagan, holidays. It is customary to verbally acknowledge the fact. No gifts are necessary, unless you are invited to a special celebration.
Some links are obvious -- Georges and Gerganas celebrate on St George Day; Ivans and Ivanas on St John; but others not so much -- all names, which mean flowers (Ruzha, Tsvetelina, Rosa), celebrate on the pagan Tsvetnitsa (literally, Flower day).
Some of the other Local Customs tips indicate which names go with each festival.
if you are invited at someone's place, it is customary to buy flowers for the hostess and/or a bottle of wine for the host. If you can prepare from before, it will be great to bring something from your own country. The host may feel obliged to open the bottle and drink it with you but you are free to say no (see the tip on how to say no).
In some places it is customary to take your shoes off just after you step in the house (so make sure your socks are presentable;-)) It is polite to show that you want to take your shoes off and then take your cue from the host.
If you are visiting close friends with kids you may not want to disappoing the little ones: chocolate does the trick.
If you are given a gift, do not spare your thanks and praise. If you come from a reserved culture, make that extra effort to say more than just 'thanks'! You do not want your host losing sleep over whether you liked the gift or not. Useful things to say: "this will go nicely w/ my furniture", or "I'll use this next time I go to the sea". If you are not sure about what the gift actually is or does, simply ask. Your host will be more than happy to explain.
RESTAURANT: Service is included in the bill. Small tips are perhaps expected. However, SMALL is the operative word (American travellers, pls think MINISCULE). You can round it up to the nearest half or full LEV – which generally means up to 50 cents. If you are ABSOLUTELY EXTATIC, and you have racked up a bill, you can leave a few leva.
The basic rationale is that if you leave a large tip, you are bound to be someone who can be fleeced without much anguish ;-)
BIG/CHAIN HOTEL: If you are and woud like to leave something for the maid, it'll be good to do it personally (then you ensure the money ends as expected).
PRIVATE HOTEL: If you wish, you can tip the owner. If you don't want to give money, you can buy say, flowers for women and a bottle of wine for men.
The family relations are very complex and in some parts of the country there are words for ALL possible relationships within a family. Here are a few which are popular and in wide use.
"Mama" & "Tate" - ma & pa
"Batko"/"Bate" & "Kaka" - Older brother and sister. Used for people who are slightly older, but in the same generation. Please note that "kaka" is an exremely important reference for all Bulgarians so do not make jokes or laugh about it in any way. If you do, you'll not only insult the people but also damage your own standing among them.
"Chicho"/"lelincho" & "lelya" - uncle and aunt on the father's side. Also widely used for non-related adult men and women (i.e. neighbours, family friends, etc.), generally one generation older than you.
"vuycho" & "vuyna" - uncle and aunt on the mother's side.
"baba" & "dyado" - grandma & grandpa. Also widely used for non-relatives, two generations older. "Pra-baba" and "Pra-dyado" are the great-grandparents.
"zet" & "snaha" - son- & daughter-in-law. "Zavryan zet" is a folksy derogative for a man who lives with his wife's parents.
"tust" & tushta" - father and mother-in-law, parents of the wife
"svekur" & "svekurva" - father and mother-in-law, parents of the husband. Also used after the divorce (with an ex- preffix, of course)
Note: Svekurva i snaha don't get along, and tushta i zet neither.
"kum" & "kuma" - the witnesses of your wedding (similar to Best Man and Maid of Honour, but in Bulgaria those are married to each other)
"kumec" & "kumica" - people to whose wedding you have witnessed (i.e. been Best Man or Maid of Honour)
INDIVIDUAL IN-LAW RELATIONS
"dever" - husband's brother
"zulva" - husband's sister
"balduza" - wife's sister
"shurej" - wife's brother
"badzhanaci" - husbands to two sisters
"eturvi" - wives to two brothers
"zet" - sister's husband
"snaha" - brother's wife
The Bulgarian word for nepotism is 'shuro-badzhanashtina" - i.e. something you share with your wife's brother and the husband of your wife's sister. ;-)
Introductions: Altho' we tend to be very friendly people, introduce yourself w/ both first and last names. If it is a business meeting, you can use only last name (but not only first). Shake hands with both men and women, and make sure you apply moderate pressure and don't shake much. Using both hands (to clasp the other person's hand) is a sign of extremely good faith and thanks, but generally is not used in introductions or first meetings.
Always use polite form of reference (in English, it's always "you", in French use "vous") and call your conversants "Mr" and "Mrs", until you are prompted otherwise. "Miss" is allowed but be careful not to be interpreted as flirting. Your host will do the same (use polite form, not flirt!) Generally, using singular (i.e. "tu") is a mark of bad form unless you know the person well. We do NOT use polite form with first names (i.e. Mr Ivan, Mrs Maria) like in some other Eastern European countries, unless you are prompted by your host to do so (very rarely).
Business cards: I'm afraid we are a bit formalistic when it comes to cards. If you have a business card, you are looked upon more seriously. The downside is that not everyone with a business card is a real business person, so beware! Cards are given and accepted in the manner of most Western societies (i.e. no two hands, folded corners, and bowing like in the Far East). You can scribble things on the back of the card if needed. Bulgarians are economical folk, so you can see corrections of phone numbers and addresses made by hand (why should you order new cards, if you can correct the old?) This is a perfectly acceptable practice, but make sure you can read the scribbles.
Loss and pain are not expressed everywhere the same. The traditional way is very vocal, with lots of public display of grief, which can be baffling for more northern cultures. Older people are especially prone to loud grieving.
The funeral is usually within 3 days, so you'll probably have very short notice. Black attire is not compulsory but make sure the clothing is sombre. No bright colours (reds, yellows, greens, etc.) -- gray or dark blue will do. Make-up is not always appreciated, so if you can't go without, make sure it is the bare, bare minimum. You can bring flowers, but make sure they are not fancy bouquets (fancy is the operative word).
Services are usually at the cemetery, altho there might be a mass. After the ceremony, it is customary to file in front of the open coffin and bow. Then you offer condolences to the family. Most people are given little black lace to wear on the lapel as a sign of bereavement.
We do offer food (boiled wheat is the traditional, but also bread and pastries) after the funeral, very often at the grave, and it is not polite to decline. It is for remembrance of the dead.
Wakes are held at the 3rd, 9th, and 40th day after the death, and then on the 3rd, 6th and 12th month. Visiting the grave at those dates is usually for the relatives; friends, neighbours, etc., are optional.
We do not have the custom of sending cards or letters to the immediate family. If you, however, feel like it, you could certianly do it (if you don't receive a reply, it is not a sign of bad intentions, just not the custom).
For those who are interested in social psychology or ethnography, there are some very interesting customs. The mourning chants are very descriptive and can even be perceived as gross by some people,
Weddings are one of those special things -- if you are invited, don't miss the opportunity. You have to bring a gift though, but luckily we do not have wedding/marriage lists. Everyone buys whatever they decide (or afford).
If you are somehow personally involved in the wedding (getting married or related to someone who is getting married), you'll have to make gifts to each member/branch of the family. They don't have to be fancy, but it is an all or nothing affair (pick and chose is not an option). Pay particular attention to the old people (i.e. the grandparents, and in some cases, great-grandparents).
Today, most Bulgarians have both church and civil wedding (the civil is the only one legal). Both are usually on the same day (civil first, then church), followed by lots of food and drink.
There are some special rituals during the party -- like feeding the mother in law ('stuff her mouth now, so she does not say anything during your marriage'); breaking the glasses; the bread w/ salt/pepper (i.e. the good and bad thingsin a marriage)... and of course, the bouquet. The first toast is to the newly-weds and everyone chants 'Gorchivo' ('Bitter'), i.e. drink all the bitter stuff now and have only goods experiences together.
If you are inspected by cops (happends regularly) and you bring even small ammount of any drug you can visit our beautiful jails :)
However if you got in trouble, you should try bribing