Bulgarians can be both insufferably rude and unbelievably charming. According to World Value Surveys (WVS), the Bulgarian culture is "collectivist," meaning that good service and quality goods are traditionally reserved for "in-group" members, and that nepotism may be seen as a value, while individual pride, competitiveness, and initiative may be suppressed. These findings play out in the service industry; you may be shocked by the brusque or downright hostile treatment you'll receive in certain shops, hotels, or restaurants. Ironically, people you meet outside the service industry are often far friendlier. Things improve in the countryside, where curiosity and warmth are the order of the day, and simple requests may not be understood but are met with smiles and an invitation to sample a glass of home-brewed rakia. According to the WVS, Bulgarians, like most East Europeans, are fatalists, which helps explain their passive attitude to the endemic corruption and political cul-de-sac they seem to find themselves in.

Despite 4 decades of Communism and its atheistic philosophy, 86.6% of Bulgarians are members of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. There also is a significant minority of Muslims living in the south, including the so-called Pomaks in the Rhodope -- Bulgarians forced under the Ottoman rule in the 16th century to convert to the Islamic faith. The tiny minority Gypsies (or Roma, descendants of Indian refugees) are still victims of serious discrimination. Parts of the traditional rural society remain untouched by the advent of the 21st century (at the end of 2005 only 27% of the population had a bank account; over 60% had ever had dealings with a bank), and while the tradition of the extended family living under one roof is still common, patterns are changing. Many young Bulgarians are opting to remain childless or are migrating west to more lucrative jobs, but most say they have every intention of returning. And despite the problems Bulgaria faces, it's not hard to see why.

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