No girl simply grows up to be a ‘woman’. Instead, we all learn how to be women. We learn what society expects us to be, do, and look like. Then, we spend our entire lives struggling to fulfil these arbitrary and meaningless expectations.
As if this is not difficult enough, we must then adapt upon moving to another country and a foreign place. The reason for this is that all countries and cultures have their own beliefs regarding what a woman must be.
Thus, it is not surprising that women find it extremely challenging to adapt to a new place, especially when moving to a country that is less progressive than the one they came from.
How does it feel to be an expatriate in Bulgaria?
To answer the above question, Sip of Culture conducted a survey and asked 33 women between the ages of 18 and 59 to share their stories. The survey’s respondents were women who had moved to Bulgaria from the following places: Hungary, United Kingdom, Greece, France, Germany, Slovakia, Turkey, Iran, Finland, Montenegro, Spain, Denmark, Belgium, Portugal, Russia, Israel, Czech Republic, Indonesia, Serbia, Italy, Canada, USA and Latin America.
Over half of the women have experienced sexism and culture shock
A whopping 72.7% of the interviewed women shared that they had experienced culture shock upon moving to the Eastern European country. Sharing what they found most shocking, several women pointed to the uniform appearance of the buildings. Moreover, they revealed that they were surprised by the conditions of the infrastructure and the lack of technological advancements in Bulgaria.
Of course, it is not uncommon or unusual to experience culture shock upon moving to another country. However, it is disappointing to find that more than half of the surveyed women (51.5%) had experienced sexism in Bulgaria.
Expanding on this, the majority of respondents pointed to the over-sexualization and objectification of women, with one woman explaining that there is a “doll culture” in the country. This was echoed by another respondent who disclosed: “Several times, my colleagues told me that I needed to get my nails done to be pretty for my man.”
Commenting on the beauty standards in the country, a Hungarian woman explained that she felt that there is no space for any woman who does not resemble what she called a “plastic wife”. Taking this further, she noted: “I see how many women here try to imitate this look and it is very toxic because there is a lot of types of beauty in different sizes and shapes, but Bulgaria embraces only one.”
Women are often viewed as weaker or less intelligent
Multiple women shared specific examples of situations in which they were told that, as women, they are weaker or less intelligent than men. One woman from Greece shared her story, explaining that she feels invisible as people often ask to speak “to the man of the house”. Summing up these points, a 23-year-old expat from Denmark said:
“I think there are more expectations as to how a woman should look and be in Bulgaria. If you don’t follow ‘the norm’ you are treated differently. Women are sexualised in advertisements, less represented in politics, should appear very feminine, etc. There is a belief in Bulgaria that women are not as strong or intelligent as men, and they should stick to certain jobs like nursing or teaching. These are not things we deal as much with in Denmark. We also deal with sexism of course, but in Bulgaria, I see a huge need for improvement.”
87.8% of expats feel safer in Bulgaria
When asked if they felt safe in Bulgaria, only 6.1% of women said “no” and 6.1% responded “sometimes”. It follows then that a staggering 87.8% answered yes, with 54.5% sharing that they felt safer than they did in their home country.
Expanding on this, one woman said she felt safer walking alone in Sofia at night than in the capital of Canada. Similarly, an expat from the UK revealed that she walks home alone at 5 am without having any fears.
“In Bulgaria, for 9 years, I have never experienced street harassment (even at night). In France, it is every day,” revealed one respondent.
Better career opportunities and maternity leave
While several expats feel pressure to adhere to the “trophy wife” look that is promoted in Bulgaria, they also feel that there are many opportunities for professional growth. Furthermore, numerous women praised the way mothers are treated and the laws surrounding maternity leave.
“Women in Bulgaria may have certain roles expected of them at home, like cooking and raising a child, however it is normal to also work and it is not seen as unusual when a woman has a strong opinion or argues publicly. I have seen examples of women in roles of power in Bulgaria […] The rights of mothers are far more advanced than in the UK, with a better state maternity pay and support with subsidised baby food, to name a few,” shared an expat from the UK.
On the whole, women in Bulgaria are expected to handle a massive workload at home whilst taking care of their physical appearance and striving to achieve ambitious professional goals. For this reason, when asked to describe what being a woman in Bulgaria feels like, one expat responded with a single word: “Hard”.