Life in Bulgaria as a foreigner: Interview with Thomas

Tell us more about your yourself and how you ended up in Bulgaria.

I'm Thomas, a Frenchman in Sofia, and the Content Strategist at ClaimCompass. I came to Bulgaria after a series of fortunate events. It all started with a summer internship: my university made it mandatory for students to work abroad for at least two months. While searching for the right placement, I came across this offer from ClaimCompass, at the time a very small company. I'll be honest, like many foreigners from Western Europe, at the time, I couldn't quite place Bulgaria on a map. I figured, "when am I ever get the chance to go to Bulgaria again?". The interview with Tatyana, the CEO, went well, and soon after, I was one of ClaimCompass' first interns! I had a formidable experience in Sofia and left to China at the end of the summer, for university purposes again; but I stayed in touch with the team and kept working with them remotely, until they made me a job offer, which I accepted. Six months after I left Bulgaria, I was back there again. 


What is your job and what do you love about it?

I'm ClaimCompass' Content Strategist. What I love about my job isn't quite covered by the title though, it has more to do with working in a startup in general. My main tasks are marketing-related, and more specifically, Search Engine Optimization (SEO). In plain English, I'm ensuring that our website appears among the top results in Google when users are looking for a compensation for flight delays. This lets me work closely with designers, developers, and most other people in the team. And that's what I love most about my job: the diversity of my tasks and the people I interact with. Not to mention the amazing working environment and the team itself


Have you experienced culture shock in Bulgaria?

I would say that I've noticed differences with my life in France rather than experienced an actual culture shock. Some examples that still make me smile after close to two years spent in Sofia include people answering "da" (yes) and shaking their head “no”, or squatting rather than standing or sitting. You just don't see that in France. I also find interesting how name days are almost more important than birthdays; in France, very few people will call you on your name day, except for your grandmother. The are a few other things that would have a Westerner surprised, but it would be a stretch to call it a culture shock. 


What are things you like or dislike about Bulgaria and living here?

I love Bulgaria's nature - and I think it's widely underestimated. The country’s relatively small size turns into a big advantage when you can cross it in no more than a few hours. I think that any place in Bulgaria is accessible in less than 7 hours from Sofia. That includes the Black sea for the summer, beautiful mountain ranges to ski in the winter, but also caves, ecotrails, and some more. 

Sofia also pleasantly surprised me with a large amount of cool cafés and restaurants where it's nice to co-work from and eat. 

Finally, the country's cost of living is relatively low compared to most of Europe. This allows me to save money and fly to one of the neighbouring countries: Bulgaria is ideally located for that, with cheap flights to many destinations. 

What I dislike is that the infrastructures are not always as developed as one would hope: the roads that take you to all those beautiful places aren't always in great shape; and the train is astonishingly slow. 

In Sofia, more specifically, I wish ecology were a bigger concern: the air is very polluted, especially in the winter, despite the capital city's many parks. On the bright side, I noticed that many of the antic buses are being replaced by new, electric ones!  


How are your Bulgarian language skills? Tell us your favourite Bulgarian phrase or word!

Mnogo dobre! I'm fully equipped to go shopping and order at the restaurant, which is enough most of the time.

But for someone who has spent so long in Bulgaria, I'd say that I'm pretty bad. I can read (which isn't so bad considering that I was completely unfamiliar with the Cyrillic alphabet) and ask a bunch of question, but I have trouble understanding the answers. Don't count on me for a meaningful conversation in Bulgaria anytime soon. A friend of mine recently felt that it was time to gift me a book packed with useful sentences.

The sentence I usually use to impress the locals is "Той е прав сам за себе си / Тя е права сама за себе си", which translates as something like "he /she is right for him/herself". If I use it at the right time of the conversation, I'm sure to raise a few impressed eyebrows! 


Have you travelled in Bulgaria and if yes, which places have you visited? Which one is your favourite so far?

Yes, I 'm very fortunate to have explored a large portion of the country, from North to South and West to East! Born 5 minutes away from the Atlantic Ocean, I'm more of a sea guy myself; but it's Bulgaria's mountains that have me in awe. I've been to the largest cities (Sofia, Varna, Burgas, Plovdiv) just like the smaller, cute ones (Melnik, Koprivshtitsa). 

I don't know if I do have a favorite place, but I particularly enjoy a nice hike around Pirin moutain, especially if I can get lost during the adventure - and even though I had a terrible time there once (more on that later).


What's your favourite Bulgarian meal? What's your least favourite?

So hard to choose! I'm one of these people who try and like everything! Except shkembe chorba. There, you got me: hangover or not, I cannot eat any of it. 

But I enjoy all the rest. I try to reduce the amount of meat I eat, but when I do eat some, I go all in, with a meshana skara: perfect to try some of Bulgaria's meat specialities all at once! I'm also quite fond of mussaka - including the veggie one. However, nothing tops lutenitsa:  I like to stay that I came to Bulgaria for a job, but I stayed for the lutenitsa - and I'm not entirely lying.

Something I want to point out, though, is that although I enjoy traditional Bulgarian dishes, I love that Sofia has so many international restaurants. Foodies will appreciate Sofia for that: you can find food from all over the world in the capital city! My favorite place? The Ashurbanipal, for delicious middle-eastern cuisine. 


Share with us a story that happened to you in Bulgaria and you will always remember!

I'm going to share my worst experience - because it's now a great memory for me. I went on a 2-day trip to Pirin with my girlfriend. But we were terribly unprepared for it. We left with city shoes and without checking the weather forecasts. The beginning of the first day was great: we met friendly people, the weather was okay, the sights fantastic. As we were getting close to the hut where we would stay the night, the weather got bad, and soon, we were soaking wet. Dinner was simply divine after a hike like that. 

But the next day got worse: we barely slept in our small tent because of the cold brought by the storm. When we woke up, a thick fog prevented us from seeing further than 20m in front of us. On our way back, we got lost a few times, were close to fall down the ridge more than a few, and were as wet as when we go out of the shower. When we finally reached the cable car, we were told it closed 10 minutes ago. No one wanted to take us down by car because the road was too slippery to drive. So we kept going on foot, got lost again, in the forest this time. Finally, after crossing a small river on foot, we randomly found where our car was parked. We undressed entirely, turned the heater to the maximum, and swore never to come back again (note: the next year, I was already breaking that promise). 

It certainly was an awful experience, but it's a great reminder of how rough and untamable nature can be, and how small we are. And it usually makes people laugh at our misery and, let's admit it, total lack of preparation. 


Any tips for people who consider moving to Bulgaria?

On a very practical note, get familiar with the alphabet. You don't really need to speak Bulgarian, although that would help, but being able to read the Cyrillic alphabet will help you in your daily life, if only to read the menu at the restaurant. 

Visit the country, don't stay in Sofia (and avoid Sunny Beach, no matter what people tell you): you might be tempted to come because of the low cost of living, but Bulgaria has more to offer, so don't hesitate to go out and explore. 

Make friends with the locals: not only will they know the best places to hang out, they will also help you with all the administrative tasks that come with moving to a foreign country. Because if you think that you can do that in English, think again. 

If you're going to work here, ask your company if they are part of the Multisport program: it gives you access to hundreds of sport facilities throughout Bulgaria. It's a great way to meet people too!

In general, don't be shy! Most people are very friendly and will be willing to help if you need anything. Enjoy your stay here! 

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