Many of us are expats, living in a different culture. Where are the differences between our culture and the Bulgarian one? What do we have to know, in order to adapt to this country or culture in a certain way? What do we have to expect? And what is it like for Bulgarians, who live in our countries? We spoke to someone who knows:
Vladimir Novkov grew up in both Bulgaria and Germany and therefore inhaled influence from both sides of the former Iron Curtain. The 39-year-old physicist co-owns a media company in Sofia, with 28 Bulgarian and foreign employees. In our interview, he talked about cultural differences, which he is very familiar with, as well as their implications in several contexts, including the economy.
Foreigners & Friends (FF): You basically have two nationalities and you know about the modus vivendi as well as the mentality of both the Bulgarians and the Germans. You might actually have both mentalities. Is there something like a mentality switch, which you use when you change languages or dialogue partners?
Vladimir Novkov: The way you approach discussion topics is different. In German, you usually announce the significance, purpose and intentions, before moving towards descriptions of specific measures, in the course of the conversation. With Bulgarian dialogue partners, it often is the exact opposite. In addition, you need to explicitly prompt Bulgarians to express their own opinions or to present other proposals, unless you know each other well. The mentality switch happens several times per day, in my situation, which is why I hardly notice by now. But, once in a while it’s like sitting between two mentality chairs, which feels rather stale.
FF: There are lots of Bulgarians, who live and work in Germany, far more than the other way around, for several reasons. I have met many of them, who did not really like it there – and that’s not because they miss Banitza or „Wafla Mura“ chocolate bars in Germany. What might the reason be? The discrimination of Eastern Europeans? The latter does exist.
Vladimir Novkov: Some Bulgarians do feel discriminated in Germany. But, to my opinion, they are not victims of deliberate discrimination. When it comes to a limited knowledge of the language or differences regarding perception, people tend to react in a reserved or maybe even negative way. I had some issues of this kind only shortly after moving to Münster. There were hardly any foreigners in that town. I was actually the only one in class. But there was not a single case in which I would have felt discriminated. Or maybe I did not notice (laughing). I believe, foreigners in Germany should not blame every personal failure on their origin. The Germans have their own, specific nature and it is not too much to ask to be a little considerate in this regard. In Germany, you live how you live. Incapable Germans will experience the same issues as incapable expats.
FF: Which cultures are clashing here? West and East, with their history during the Cold War era and their slow adaptation to each other? Or is it North and South, meaning the brittle North and the hot-blooded South?
Vladimir Novkov: Bulgaria is right in a cultural pseudo-morphose between East and West. The Western culture is being imposed on the Bulgarian people in an unreflecting way, it is being copied and forced on them. This basically suffocates their own affectivity, which might be less Western, depending on the perspective. That way, the Bulgarian culture can not bring its shape into perfection and is therefore stuck in some kind of a half-conscious ocean. Both influences are experiencing a lack of consciousness and reflection. In this Western and Eastern area of tension, this is a cultural problem, which is the cause for the other visible issues: the everyday life, the economy, proper communication, an ample amount of constructiveness and so forth. This applies independently from Bulgaria’s historical era since the 19th century.
FF: There are Germans, who will think of the mafia and prostitution immediately, when they hear of Bulgaria. This stereotyped thinking, of course, has to do with the fact that these groups are indeed active in Germany, while being more visible, e.g. in the media, than Bulgarian students, workers, doctors or musicians. But mainly, this kind of thinking has to do with ignorance and a lack of knowledge. How much ignorance of this kind have you experienced in Germany?
Vladimir Novkov: “Sofia, the capital of Romania” is a good example for the incompetence shown by many Germans in connection with South-Eastern Europe, which is being nurtured by the media, as you said. Only striking subjects, such as corruption, organized crime or other grievances would be covered by them. A proper exchange, visits to Bulgaria for whatever reason, can deliver the best, most appropriate picture of reality. This applies, if they are ready to refrain from sticking to the precast, medial picture. There is a lot of ignorance when it comes to Bulgaria. Unfortunately, this is the case.
FF: A reversed discrimination, of Germans in Bulgaria, does not seem to exist – with the exception of some bullying incidents at work places. As a German citizen, how are you being regarded by Bulgarians you work with, in case any of this applies?
Vladimir Novkov: As their boss, I will not be bullied. To me, it’s the same as in Germany. An ample knowledge of the language and a minimum level of manners will spare you incidents you could get upset about. The opposite, an unnatural admiration for the Westerner in me, pisses me off, just like quotes such as “… but you are German”. So, I can not confirm discrimination, but I see some kind of an indignation, when it comes to doing things differently or improving them.
FF: Let’s talk about ignorance of a different kind, down here, in Bulgaria. What are you observing, regarding the social interaction with minorities, such as homosexuals?
Vladimir Novkov: The gypsies have a long history on the territory of today’s Bulgaria. Their isolation still has not been overcome. Both sides are to blame. They are not being offered a long-ranging perspective. Programmes, which were supposed to integrate this ethnic group, were used for the enrichment of individual people. Instead of a tangible and effective approximation, I see a political abuse of voters on the one, and threats to spur conflicts on the other hand. Too bad. Other minorities are very well integrated in Bulgaria. In my periphery, I am not aware of discrimination against homosexuals. This subject does not play any remarkable role.
FF: There must be aspects you get upset about in both Germany and Bulgaria. Are these very different, depending on where you are? As an example, how annoying is the fact that, in Germany, there is some kind of a rule regarding any triviality?
Vladimir Novkov: Many of the rules in Germany do make sense, but they lead to a feeling of clumsiness. That is not always pleasant. In Bulgaria, you do not have rules thus far. The opposite is the case. Due to the lack of certain rules, the planning security suffers. The latter is one of the most important aspects for the economy. In Bulgaria, you need to know and like the feeling, which arises when half the things you do can not be planned properly. Otherwise, your life, as a person characterized in Germany, will become needlessly difficult.
FF: You are also an entrepreneur. Where will they put more obstacles in the way of newly founded companies? And where will they get more support?
Vladimir Novkov: I am not experienced regarding the support of commercial endeavours with state funds. When you have demand and a market, which generates a revenue which is sufficient, you can start the respective economical activity. Otherwise, one should not even start. Since, in all cases, demand also means spending, which will be income somewhere else. The austerity recipe fails, since it will stall demand, the basis of every economy. What kind of gain do you have from full warehouses, if nobody can afford the stuff you store? There is a lot of room between a healthy demand and living beyond one’s means. Via the monetary mechanism, the economy has unfortunately become a plaything for political power interests and greed shown by individuals. This point has ramifications to everybody’s lives. Therefore, the official manner of speaking, regarding subjects related to the economy, are argumentatively absurd.
FF: Thank you so much.
By Imanuel Marcus