Raymond (name changed), a British expat in Bulgaria, felt like having a snack during his daily 10 kilometer walk through the city. The 68-year-old, a 188 centimeters tall and strong gentleman, had had a modest breakfast that morning and he felt a little cold. Just the right moment for a hot soup, he thought. So, he entered this cafeteria on Vitosha Boulevard, in the heart of the city. Luckily, they offered just the soup he wanted, which they advertised as “hot, creamy chicken soup”.
The guy behind the counter did not exactly love his job. Judging from his behaviour, he wanted to let everyone know he did not give a shit about anything. But he should have, at least in this case. He filled a paper cup with soup and handed it over to his customer, who had already paid for it. Raymond tried it and noticed it was almost cold. So he wanted it replaced by a hot soup. “This is hot soup”, the guy insisted. A short argument followed, but the employee was stubborn. What he did not know was that he was dealing with the wrong guy. Raymond looked at the employee and just poured the soup on the floor, before leaving that place, probably for the last time ever.
Yes, this could have happened in Atlanta, Anchorage, Athens, Bogotá, Birmingham or Budapest too, but it happened in Sofia.
Or, just the day before yesterday, an expat with a swollen foot entered the department for infections at Pirogov hospital, at the corner of Boulevards Tsar Boris III and Pencho Slavejkov. The doctor, a man aged about 35, wearing a golden chain, a golden watch, glasses and a doctor’s coat, which probably had been white in 1977, did not say a word at first. Then he looked at his patient with a demeanor which could be described as arrogant and bored. That physician just needed to let his patient know that he was great and too good for doing his job, while everyone around him wasn’t worth too much.
“Do you speak English?”. He did not like that question either. “We are in Bulgaria, so speak Bulgarian.” It took him exactly 20 seconds to look at the foot and come up with a diagnosis. In theory, he would have deserved a punch which would have made him a patient at his own hospital.
All of us, expats or Bulgarians in their own country, have gone through similar situations. The bank employee who insists on checking her fingernails, thoroughly, before dealing with customers. Or, just today, the cashier at the Immigration Office at Boulevard Maria Luiza, who talked to her first customer as if she was a prison guard and he was a murderer who had just been brought here.
In Bulgaria or abroad, there are cities which are well known for unfriendly service personnel. One of them is Berlin. “What in the hell do you want?” is the kind of quote people would get from some shopkeepers in certain parts of the city. New York City is no exception either. Neither is Sofia, where an estimated two thirds of all shopkeepers are either unfriendly, arrogant, ignorant or all of the above. This is not a phenomenon limited to shops, but it reaches managers, supervisors and team leaders in Sofia’s many call centers too. The latter will be covered in a separate article soon.
Soft skills, people skills, politeness, friendliness, whatever you want to call it, is the most important aspect in business. Act accordingly, dammit!
By Imanuel Marcus