1. Feedback needs to be gentle.

In Bulgaria, brutally honest critique is given directly and unapologetically. In the US, whenever I got criticized at school or at work, I was always shown the positive side, almost forgetting the point of the criticism. If you screw up in Bulgaria you will definitely be told so right away, and chances are, your feelings won’t be spared.

2. Sports are a big deal.

I never set my foot on the field before I moved to the US. In Bulgaria, you break a sweat in gym class only during “exam” week twice a year, when you are graded on your ability to jump, throw a medicine ball and sprint. During my first year as a high school student in the US, I found myself playing midfield on the field hockey team, running the 200 meters in track and shredding fresh powder up in the Gunstock Mountain Resort. American parents strive to develop their children’s athletic and artistic potential, while their Bulgarian counterparts focus primarily on academics.

3. Americans don’t actually want to know how you’re doing.

“Hi, how are you?” asks just about everyone in the US, and yet they really don’t seem to care about the answer. In Bulgaria strangers tend to keep their distance until they get to know you. On the other hand, if asked how you are in Bulgaria, you have the absolute right to go on a rant about everything that’s wrong with you, from not having enough time to go to the Black Sea, to having a persistent, mysterious pain in your left shoulder.

4. Your house is your castle.

Apartment culture is prevalent in Bulgaria. Regardless of whether you live in the densely-populated Sofia, or in the small town of Botevgrad, 39 miles east from the capital, you most likely live in an apartment, which also means that you know all of your neighbors and their life stories. In the US, on the other hand, people love living in houses and minding their own business, without having to host the customary neighbor dinner every two weeks.

5. Dinner can be at lunchtime.

The day before Thanksgiving my host mom told me to be ready early for dinner. Looking to get a head start, I came downstairs in my pajamas at 11am, and to my horror discovered that “dinner” preparations were well underway. In Bulgaria, dinner is always in the evening. Luckily, I realized this difference just in time for Christmas.

6. US cuisine is mega-diverse.

Growing up in Bulgaria, you get the basics down pretty quickly. There is feta cheese (softer and a bit sweeter than Greek feta), the beloved tomato spread “lutenitsa” and, of course, the country’s staple, crispy “banitsa.” We love our cuisine and we stick to it. My hometown of Botevgrad welcomed its very first Chinese restaurant in 2001. The United States, in contrast, offers diverse cuisine, ranging from Indian to Italian, Greek, Japanese, Korean, and anything else imaginable.

7. Café culture does not exist here.

When in Sofia, locals love going to the Café Wien, a classical and elegant little pastry shop on the corner of Moscow and Racovsky Street, where they order a Viennese coffee and chat for over an hour. This casual outing can last as long as you’d like it to, without the necessity to order food. In the US, not only are cafés visibly absent in smaller cities, but the leisurely activity of sipping an espresso and enjoying each other’s company without having a meal is almost unheard of.

Photo: decar66