Portugal and Bulgaria: seemingly far away, and yet so close

Interview with Anaísa Gordino, Director of the Portuguese Cultural and Language Center Espaço Camões, Sofia

Written by Denica Yotova, edited by Lindsay Martin, photos from Unsplash


“Bulgaria seems far from Portugal, but it's actually closer than it looks,” is what Anaísa Gordino likes to say to her friends when asked about Bulgaria. Anaísa is the Director of the Portuguese Cultural and Language Center Espaço Camões in Sofia. She moved to Bulgaria in 2017 because of her job and does not have any plans to leave the country for now.

According to Anaísa, Bulgaria is not typically a popular destination for Portuguese. Having a look at the relationship between Portugal and Bulgaria, there is not a huge history of such and possibly lack of knowledge on both sides, but this is slowly changing. Perhaps like many others, she never thought of Bulgaria before moving to Sofia. But she later discovered how similar the mentalities of Portuguese and Bulgarian people are. “There might be a lot of differences in terms of history, culture, and languages, but we have similar ways of approaching life,” shares Anaísa in a friendly conversation about her experiences in the country. 

“I try to keep an open mind and not have many preconceived ideas,” she says. “Bulgaria is a place of crossroads and several influences, which again is already similar to Portugal. Bulgaria is something different from most places I have lived - it is Southern Europe, but also a mix of east and west. I love this feeling of being in between different worlds.”

Part of her job at the Portuguese Cultural Center in Sofia is to build bridges between cultures and promote the Portuguese language and culture. Anaísa observes a growing interest of Bulgarians in Portugal, which leads to the expansion of their network in Sofia and the countryside. The pandemic did not manage to stop motivated Bulgarians from learning Portuguese online, and there are many Portuguese courses available for foreigners.

“I find it funny how sometimes Bulgarians keep talking to me in Bulgarian, even if they know I don’t understand. I love that eagerness to communicate - the attempt to connect and reach out to the other person,” shares Anaísa about her interactions with Bulgarians. “Sometimes people tell me that Bulgarians are a bit grumpy. But I think if sometimes you get that impression, it is perhaps because you don’t scratch the surface. When you do, people really open up, smile, and try to communicate with you.”

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Anaísa seems to approach her life in Bulgaria with a big smile, open-mindedness, and a positive attitude. She is always searching for the good in everything around her - often finding it in things that people usually don’t particularly enjoy, such as taxi rides. “I have met people from very different backgrounds in my taxi rides. I remember one taxi driver who worked as an engineer in France but decided to become a taxi driver because he wanted to talk to people from different backgrounds and origins. Then another driver who lived in Spain before and asked if we could speak in Spanish, and we started talking about his life there. I have many examples to tear down the stereotype of the grumpy taxi driver,” says Anaísa. "I think that, in general, people in Bulgaria are very keen on helping out and making you feel welcome, just like in Portugal."

It is a bit unfortunate that the current Portuguese EU Presidency is overshadowed by lockdowns, as there is a rich cultural program that should accompany it. But Anaísa is hopeful for the possibility to organize events in May and June. In fact, they already managed to hold a week of Portuguese cinema in February. She even jokes with friends from Portugal that they should move to Bulgaria as there are not as many restrictions at the moment and there is still a possibility for some cultural life. 

“Sofia is a nice place to be based and I would like to keep the relationship with Bulgaria for as long as I can,” admits Anaísa. Here is her advice for newcomers: “Keep an open mind and let people surprise you. Find the charm and your own little rituals in the city. Allow yourself to feel surprisingly comfortable and surprisingly at home, even if this is a little different from your country of origin.”

Despite how different or how similar two cultures could be, it is always up to us how we will experience a new place. Anaísa Gordino seems to have found the perfect balance between her warm Portuguese background, rich experiences abroad, and her new dynamic Bulgarian life.