Do you think Bulgarians are grumpy? Think again

Mihaela Ilieva from "Who is Bulgaria?" will tell you where and how to find warm and welcoming people

Edited by Tamar Weisert.


Hi there, my name is Mihaela Ilieva, and I am one of the creators of "Who is Bulgaria?", a series of short documentary film portraits, that aims to find out more about the life of the people of Bulgaria and what it means to be one. As someone who has lived abroad and has worked for an international company here, I have an interest in connecting with foreigners in Sofia. I have studied abroad (actually that's how I met the friends with whom we filmed the series!) and am aware of how difficult it can be. 

"Who is Bulgaria?" was born as an idea in the Spring of 2019. I was still living in Bournemouth, the UK, and often had conversions with my Bulgarian friends there, Mitoshka Alkova, Ignat Ignatov, and Ana Petrova, about it. We would discuss the pros and cons of getting back home after graduating, what we miss the most, and what exactly Bulgaria means to us. In our conversations, we often would come back to how intense (typical Bulgarian style, you know what I mean) the news was, the opinions of the older generation and, of course, the mantra "If you can leave, do it!". 

We would ask ourselves, "If it's so good here, why do we miss Bulgaria? Why do we see how it's getting better? If we are not the ones that bring some change, then who?". We were torn apart internally between what we felt was right and what was considered better - to live away from our beloved ones and the place we have been calling home our entire lives. 

As filmmakers, we decided to find the answer to the question (the word choice makes more sense in Bulgarian), “Who is Bulgaria?” Is it the government, the nature that we are so proud of, or the people that live in it? We decided to film 17 days, traveling across the country, trying to capture as many different points of view as possible. Unfortunately, we could not find a foreigner to film who had decided to move here; we had a couple of failed attempts. 

Our audience are the Bulgarians abroad who, just like us a year ago, want to see a more objective perspective. It is also targeted at the Bulgarians that live here, as a reminder of how similar we are and how much love we hold in our hearts. We all want to live a better life, and we should not feel alone and powerless in this! Another target of ours are the people who want to know more about our culture and country. Many of our university friends watch it, and the feedback we get is, "I want to visit and see it with my own eyes!". They are mostly surprised by the depth of the episodes, the issues we have, and the pain and love we all experience.

I wish people knew that the grumpy faces on the streets are not caused by hatred but by pain. We are generally very warm and welcoming people. This is the main reason I know I want to spend my life here. The human connections that you can establish here in quite a short period of time are nearly impossible (from my experience) somewhere else. If you come to live in Bulgaria, you should be aware of corruption levels, though. It is shocking. Right now, we are in quite an unstable situation (with the protests that have been happening for more than 20 days now), and we don't know what will happen next. 

My generation wants change, and it will slowly happen. But right now, the bureaucracy is cumbersome, and if you are in a situation where you happen to need help from the government, you must be prepared that it will be difficult. The good thing is that there is always a way to make things happen, but it is more complicated than it needs to be. 

Last but not least…the food. The local cuisine, fresh fruit, and vegetables are so delicious that they can make me cry! As a Bulgarian, of course, I will have to say that the tomatoes here are the best. I have tried enough to say it with confidence! Once you have some local friends, be prepared to try, in the best-case scenario, their grandma's food. Once you try it, you'll know what I'm talking about.

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Would I move to another country? As I've been back here in Bulgaria for a year now, I would say no. This is where I have my ancestors, my family, and my friends, and there are so many issues, so many possibilities for a change! This is an idea I really like, which an inspiring young man from Stara Zagora named Venko shares in episode one.

Living abroad can be easier in some ways, but I feel like I want to give back to the community I have grown up in and has given me so much.


My piece of advice to a newcomer here?

  • If you love weekend getaways, you should know that there are lots of them here!
  • Don't forget to pack your patience!
  • Grumpy faces don't mean people don't like you.
  • Most of the younger generation speaks pretty good English.
  • Knowing just a couple of Bulgarian words can have a magical effect on your communication with the elderly. 

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