City Slickers is a startup service that helps foreigners in Bulgaria to feel at home. Regardless of what corner of the world you’ve come from, or what you are looking for here, the slickers will guide you into the depths of contemporary urban culture.
The platform’s creators, Veronica Ninova and Epifan Pefev, were inspired by their foreign friends in Sofia, who struggled with public services in Bulgaria, had a tough time finding an apartment, or simply wondered what are the hottest bars of the season. City Slickers is a website, where you can ask for help and advice regarding virtually anything. You’ll receive a reply within 24 hours and pay…whatever you’d like.
I met with one of the co-founders, Epifan, to learn more about the foreigners in Bulgaria, as well as what draws them to our country.
Currently, you work mostly with foreigners in Sofia. What is the first thing that a person has to do, when they arrive in the city?
If it’s during the summer or the weather is nice – definitely go to a park. Sofia has an amazing park culture! This is where you can sense and experience the true spirit of the city.
After, walk around Sofia’s old, cobblestone center to soak in some beautiful, of somewhat shabby architecture.
How can we, the Bulgarian people, benefit from a multicultural society?
My experience so far has been that foreigners in Bulgaria offer a new point of view to the locals. It can be quite fascinating to see your city and language through the eyes of someone who was raised in a completely different setting. Besides, there doesn’t seem to be a big tradition of traveling here, in Bulgaria. But the more foreigners we have in our society, the more curious we become of other countries.
In the City Slickers experience, and your own opinion, what is the initial reaction of foreigners who arrive in Bulgaria?
The moment they set foot on Bulgarian soil, foreigners often feel a bit confused. They are sometimes disappointed to find out that many people don’t speak English, including at the airport metro station in Sofia. The Bulgarian language definitely seems challenging and I’ve often heard it being described as the Portuguese of the Balkans.
On the other hand, however, it’s quickly obvious to foreigners that here they can have a much higher standard of living, compared to most other countries.
People from which countries like Sofia best?
Mostly Scandinavia and Western Europe. Compared to many other European societies, we are accepting of people who look different. Most people in Sofia are tolerant and open-minded.
Have the foreigners that you work with shared any particular struggles that they have experienced here?
It seems that the language barrier is usually the biggest issue, especially if you’re from a country that does not use the Cyrillic alphabet. When foreigners move to Bulgaria, they need to fill out a lot of paperwork, and a great deal of it is in Bulgarian, which makes it a challenge.
What makes Sofia and Bulgaria so attractive to expats?
My answer may come as a surprise to many Bulgarian people, but it turns out that foreigners feel quite secure here. They can let their children out to play, without having to worry about safety. Most people are also impressed by how green Sofia is.
Some of the people that we work with have shared that here they can afford a much higher standard of living than they ever could in Western Europe.
For instance, a friend of mine, who does not have a high level of education or specific professional qualifications, was easily able to find a job as a customer service representative, in Sofia. So, just by speaking his native language, he can afford a great life here.
Another example is a Norwegian friend of mine, who is studying medicine in Sofia. He would like to stay here and build a life, because it’s possible to afford more, with less money, and provide a better life for his future family, than what he could in Norway.
In the description of your services, you mention that City Slickers offers support in every step of building a home. Does this mean that you are willing to accompany people to open houses and deal with repairmen?
For such services, we normally outsource to trustworthy experts in the field. For instance, we can put a foreigner in touch a real estate agent who speaks good English and will not take advantage of the situation. If it’s necessary, we also accompany our clients.
You say that you’d like foreigners in Bulgaria to immerse themselves in the local culture and you’ve been planning events, to help the process along. What exactly do you have in mind?
The idea is to have events where locals and foreigners can mingle or even build relationships, effortlessly. Something friendly and laid-back, like you’ve met a cool person at a music festival, somewhere around the world, and they’ve decided to come visit you in Bulgaria.
Currently, we are planning the first of these events. We’d like to keep the number of participants relatively low so that people can really talk to each other and connect.
What is the most difficult task that the City Slickers have had to with so far?
А girl from Finland, who had a return ticket to her home country in two weeks, told us that if we managed to find her a job in Sofia, she’d cancel her flight and stay here. We offered her several options and even though she did not choose any of them, it was a great challenge for us.
What are your City Slicker boundaries?
It’s important for us to add value with what we’re doing. If we believe that there is a chance we might mislead a client, then that’s a boundary we would not cross.
Your services do not have a set price. Instead, clients can pay whatever they want. Why did you choose this method?
What matters the most is for our clients to be satisfied with the help they receive. We would like them to feel like they are giving as much as they are taking. That’s why we thought it best for every client to decide, at their own discretion, how much our help was worth to them. Besides, this payment method will keep us motivated to deliver our best.
Even though the idea behind City Slickers is to integrate foreigner into the Bulgarian culture and lifestyle, locals can also reap the benefits. It’s an opportunity for us to get to know our country better, through another perspective, and to inspire our own adventures. For now, the slickers are most active in Sofia, but they are quickly spreading to other parts of the country as well.
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