Did you know that in 2014 alone 1.3 million European citizens emigrated to other countries within the EU? While Germany, the United Kingdom and France are the most popular EU members when it comes to immigration within the EU, there are other countries which suffer from massive emigration numbers. Among them is the country of Bulgaria, in which the number of emigrants outnumbers the number of immigrants, mainly for social and economic reasons. Today, I would like to introduce you to an exception and talk to Marie, a French born blogger, who has been living in Bulgaria’s capital Sofia and doesn’t even consider changing that in the near future.
So let’s start with the beginning. Tell us a little about yourself!
My name is Marie, I am 33 years old and French but I consider myself half Polish because my dad’s parents immigrated from Poland. I grew up in the North of France and then lived in different parts of the country because my father had to move a lot for his work. After I graduated High School,I started to study law with the aim to become a lawyer, a job I was dreaming of since I was 12. I wanted to be either a lawyer or a policewoman but I value life too much to take such a risk, so I went for the first option.
How did you discover Bulgaria ?
I discovered Bulgaria in December 2012, two weeks before Christmas, during a long week-end. I had never come before and neither had any of my family members.
What was your first impression of the country?
Do you really want to know? Living close to Lille, France, at the border to Belgium, I was flying in from the airport in Brussels on a low cost airline. When I arrived at Terminal 1 of Sofia airport, which apparently is the oldest terminal, my first impression, wasn’t the best, especially since it was raining. To be totally honest, I still kind of liked it.
What surprised you about Bulgaria and its people?
Many things surprised me. What I really loved right away was the atmosphere, the fact that people
seemed to be relaxed, unlike in some other capitals, like Paris or London. I know, when I say that to Bulgarians, many of them don’t understand what I’m talking about. Believe me, if people are not relaxed, at least they act as if they were relaxed. You just need to take the metro at 8:30 am to realize that people walk quietly while a Parisian would just push everyone aside to get to the stairs first. Things are getting done, but Bulgarians dot feel the need to add stress and I really appreciate that. It’s a way of life which is good for me because I tend to really get stressed out fast.
What are your thoughts on Bulgarian cuisine?
I find the quality and diversity of the food to be quite impressive (and keep in mind, I am a French woman). One of the dishes I discovered is chicken with cornflakes that Bulgarians enjoy with a little bit of yoghurt. I think I never ate as much as during my first weekend in Bulgaria, because I wanted to try everything.. The wine is also impressive (and once again, this is a French woman saying that). So far, I have never been disappointed by a Bulgarian wine, even the bulk wine that you can get in small restaurants is excellent. Bulgaria has a long tradition with wine and I believe that it has a lot of potential for export.
Do you plan to continue living in Sofia in the near future ?
Sure! I feel very good here. I finally found my balance and I feel lucky to be able to say that at my age. Sofia is a capital which is evolving fast and I think that Bulgaria is full of resources and potential. I have traveled a lot throughout the country, especially since I launched the blog Madame Bulgaria last June. That is my platform on which I write about things and places I like in Bulgaria. So, yes, I will stay here even though I still enjoy traveling abroad . I went to Spain and Greece last summer, and I will go to Bucharest soon and visit Vienna next December. There actually are a lot of direct flights to most of the main European cities from Sofia, which comes in handy.
Do you speak Bulgarian ?
To be totally honest with you, it’s not very motivating to learn Bulgarian in a country where all the people I meet speak very good English and sometime other languages like French and Russian. I still wanted to learn to speak with people who do not speak English, so I followed the courses of Suggestopedia Method at Go Beyond Suggestopedia Center in Sofia with a very attentive and friendly teacher called Violeta for 6 weeks. At the beginning I thought it was a very complicated language but then I realized that once you started, you start to develop a feeling for it. For foreigners who want to learn Bulgarian, the suggestopedia method is definitely the best way to start. You can find all the articles I wrote about my learning Bulgarian experience on my blog.
What were the major difficulties you’ve experienced while adapting to Sofia ?
I am lucky enough to live in a country where most of the people speak English and often one or two other languages, for example French. So for me the language barrier is not really a problem. In fact, I did not really experience specific problems. It is very easy to find expatriate networks in Sofia who help you with many things. For example, there is this great Facebook community called “Foreigners in Sofia and Friends” created by Giuseppe, an Italian guy, which has about 10 300 members. Not being employed but being an entrepreneur, I did not have to search for a job or go to job interviews. I could just continue with projects I had already started.
What do you do professionally apart from the blog ?
My husband Alexandre and I decided to start our own enterprise in 2012. When I met Alexandre who is now also my business partner he was working in the field of strategic management and corporate finance. Having lived and worked in the U.S and in London, he came back to France in 2010 to get involved in politics but he quickly realized that it was not a field for him. The reality was too far from his values and he decided to get back to business. But, in 2012, the situation in France was not that great and he could not find the job he really wanted. So, as I also want to do something different from law, we brainstormed a lot and we decided to launch our own business in the field of recruitment. Our initial objective was to build a tool to speed-up the recruitment process by highlighting the potential of candidates. Our business is now based in Sofia. We feel like our future is in Bulgaria and we have many other business ideas that we would like to develop once we get bored of the recruitment business.
What do you like most about Bulgarian people?
The intelligence of the people and their general culture. I definitely consider Bulgaria to be one of the countries where people are the most cultured and educated in Europe, without exaggeration. Some people who apply to jobs in call centers have earned a master degree, a PhD, and sometimes speak up to 5 languages! In France, most of the people applying for these types of job did not not graduate from High School. Some people might think that this is a symptom that the social lift does not work well in Bulgaria. To us, it seems that if we have more qualified people for these types of jobs it’s just because, generally speaking, most Bulgarians are very well educated so the probability to find highly qualified people applying for these jobs is higher than, for example, in France. As I already said, there is a lot of potential here and it would be a pity to waste it.
What do you like most about living in Bulgaria?
Bulgaria has a lot of potential, great resources and a clever people. Bulgarians are very often stunned by our positive thoughts about their country because we chose to settle here and many of them don’t understand our choice because their dream is to emigrate. But, the grass is not greener on the other side. There are many things to be done in Bulgaria and it is important to keep seeing the glass half full. If Bulgarians do not believe in their own country, it will not work out. I wish Bulgaria will manage to take the place it deserves in Europe and in the world in the next few decades. I did not study the history of the country in details but I am aware that Bulgaria has been a powerful country in the past. I saw pictures of Sofia and people in the early 19th century which did not have anything to envy to Paris or any other European capitals. If I can contribute, at my modest level, to help Bulgaria to recover with its glorious past, I would be extremely proud to do so.
All photos in this blogpost were taken from Marie’s blog, www.madamebulgaria.com.