Getting to know the locals in Sofia
British and European expats have been flocking to Sofia for years now. Drawn by the sun, the snow, the history, and of course, the low cost of living (Bulgaria is the cheapest country in Europe), they can have a quality of life that might not be affordable back home.
But that lifestyle often comes at a price, and that is being far away from family and established friendship networks.
However, your new life in Sofia needn’t be lonely. There are plenty of ways to love thy fellow expat neighbour and get to know the locals.
Break the ice:
When looking for new ways to make friends, it’s really easy to forget the simplest method; introducing yourself to new people. That can be as simple as a ‘hi’ to your neighbours in the morning, or getting to know your co-workers. You’d be surprised at how friendships can begin from the simplest things.
The social network:
Sofia has an active social network, not just among the expat population but also the locals. Take Sofia’s Fryday Group for instance. At a typical meeting, you’d find around ten expats, mostly from France, Britain, the US and South America. However, there would be many more locals in attendance, eager to meet and make friends with expatriates.
You’ll also have plenty of opportunities to meet the locals through shared interests and activities, common acquaintances, and even through work (always exchange business cards whenever you can). It is through the locals that you will learn about the local area – where’s good to go, what’s good to eat…
When introducing yourself at networking functions, try to come up with an adage or saying that is characteristic to your industry or area of business. That will give you a common theme or topic to talk about straight away, and is always better than the awkward ‘hey, how are you?’
While expats enjoy meeting locals, it can create some challenges. One of them is the language barrier. Even if a local is well educated and speaks your language, you may tell a story or a joke and wonder why they are staring at you blankly like you just grew a second head. Humor is one of the hardest things to translate, as are subtleties in language. Or perhaps you are just talking too fast and they have no idea what you just said. When communicating with people who are not native speakers of your language, always remember to talk slowly and clearly. And remember that not everything has a literal translation.
Another barrier to overcome is the cultural barrier. What is acceptable in your culture might be completely taboo in another person’s. Always make an effort to understand the local customs. Bulgarians are friendly but, on a whole, they are still quite formal. Even something as simple as rushing straight into first name basis could cause offence. It is also customary to bring a gift when dining at a friend’s house.
The easiest way to overcome cultural barriers is to have empathy. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
In the end, it’s all about how you manage your contacts and how open you are to a variety of personalities from diferent backgrounds. There is no rule of thumb for making new friends but a positive attitude does bring results.