Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Life in the Trenches: Daniel Nylin Nilsson

I've received a lot of positive feedback about the interview I did with Annie last week. Thank you all so much for that! I had a gut feeling you guys would like it. Today, I present to you Annie's partner: Daniel. Please give him a warm welcome, OK? And, also, can I just say... these two are TOO CUTE!

Please introduce yourself. Who are you? What do you do? Where are you and your partner from? Where do you currently live?

Tough question ;) My name is Daniel, I am 28 years old and born and raised in Sweden. I am an educated teacher, but never practiced my profession. After the university I went to Moldova to work as a volunteer. There I met my Bulgarian girlfriend, and when I was finished there I went to Bulgaria. We just moved from Bulgaria to the very south of Sweden, to my country, but not to my city.

How did you and your partner meet?

We fell in love immediately at a seminar for volunteers in Moldova. She was then working in the volunteer organization CVS in Bulgaria. After our first meeting we started writing letters and sms (and sometimes calling ;) ). We were very involved, writing at least one letter per day. We arranged to meet again, and in one of the letters I actually confessed my love, so at the second meeting we were already together. :) It was quite a complicated story... I was supposed to travel to Bulgaria, but had problems with my papers in Moldova and could not leave the country, so eventually she came to me.

How did your friends and family initially respond to your relationship? Have their reactions changed?

They accepted it and were very glad to meet my girlfriend. Of course, I think they would appreciate if we lived closer to them, but I don't think they think her nationality is a big thing. Maybe it is even a kind of family trait - my dad is married to a woman from Finland, and my grandmother crossed the entire country to meet my grandfather.

How do your different backgrounds play into your relationship?

Ohh... I think different backgrounds play in in so many ways in almost every situation. There are soo many differences, and sometimes it is difficult to say what is due to coming from different countries, and what is only individual. One of the biggest differences is that I immediately, and emotionally, identify with social groups and a social class. I have an impression that Bulgaria is in one sense a class-less society, and I find it quite difficult to explain these sentiments for someone born into a different culture.

To be a man is also not so easy, when your partner has different ideas of what a man is than you grew up with ;) I think an important point is that these differences are not important on the good days, but when you have some sort of conflict, the cultural differences flare up and seem huge. On the other hand, I think cultural differences can be easier than other differences to accept, as you have an explanation.

What are some of your your biggest cultural clashes: food, social life, domesticity, communication, family?

Food - hahaha. My was crying over the Swedish food after the first week here :) I think eating is quite uncomplicated - actually Bulgarian food is very delicious. But cooking is much more tied to culture - it can be difficult to cook together, because you are used to doing all the small details in different ways. Of course you can do in one way or the other, but not both.after living three years abroad eating everything and learning two languages, I still cook the way my parents thaught me.

Social life is also quite easy. Or maybe Bulgarians were only tolerant towards me. I found it much more difficult to work with Bulgarians than to see them outside work. But in a relationship you are kind of dependent on your partners friends, which can be kind of problematic I felt much better in Bulgaria after some time, when I started to get my own friends.

Communication is interesting... Swedish people, including I, can be very silent about their feelings. In Sweden its very taboo to complain, and we try to avoid that at any prise. On the other hand Swedes can be very verbal. In Bulgaria I often had the feeling that people told me only what they thought I need to know, which I found an outright insult some times. In Sweden you are served all the information all the time, and the privilege to choose what is important and relevant is yours.

What do you love about being in such a relationship?

I love my girlfriend, and that is the reason I am in such a relationship in the first place. But the best sides are the challenges, the rapdid development, the sense that I get more intelligent and continue to grow, because few things are taken for granted. Which can be exhausting at times. I also feel very liberated in a way, since my girlfriend would not bring all the traditional Swedish values into the relationship. This way we can somehow "choose" what values are important and what are not.

Somehow I also feel a little safer, because I know my girlfriend is not in the relationship because it is convenient. I feel more valuable :)

Do you have kids? What part does "BULGARIA" play in their lives?

Not yet. But when we get I am sure Bulgaria will be important to them, thanks to their mother. Personally i will introduce them to Hipodil and Kontrol.

How often do you travel to Bulgaria and what are your visits like?

We just arrived in Sweden, but I guess we will travel about twice a year, and that it will be very emotional, with lots of laughter and tears.

Has your relation to Bulgaria changed as a result of your being in this relationship?

Profoundly. I didn't know anything about Bulgaria before meeting my girlfriend. Knowing a country through an intense personal relationship makes you feel somehow connected to it yourself. I think this relationship and knowledge has also helped me understand Sweden better. There are very real sides of every society that are invisible from within. Being with a foreigner can help you see some of these sides. There is a Swedish proverb that one needs at least two mother countries, and maybe this is the reason...

Any advice for other people who are in the early stages of a committed relationship with a Bulgarian?

Put an effort in learning the language. Not only for practical reasons, but as a sign of respect. Be very patient, and don't think that you are a Bulgarian yourself. Listen more than you speak - Bulgarians really love to tell you stories. I can add that I didn't follow any of these advices my self :D

Thanks for a wonderful blog!

You can read more of Daniel's observations about Bulgaria on his blog "Maladets!". He also blogs about climate change over at Think About It.

If you like this series and wouldn't mind talking about your personal experiences in the trenches, please let me know. Your interview can be composed of just one question, if you don't have a lot of time to devote to this AND your partner does not need to get involved.


  1. This is brilliant! It makes me feel so much better when I read that people are going through the same experience. I immediately forwarded this to my boyfriend as I am sure he would find it funny how similar his experience is to Daniel's. There should be a blog where people can talk about their Bulgarian partners and expose all the things we do to them! :)

  2. I really love these interviews! Please keep them coming!

  3. this one never occurred to me but it is so so true: 'bulgarians will only tell you what they think you need to know'; so interesting to see your insight on our Bulgarianism.
    Thank you for a wonderful interview Daniel!

  4. Bulgarians really love to tell you stories....if only my husband would shut up once in a while! Always with his 'stories'! :) I'll ask him if he wants to do this before I volunteer us to tell our story though.

  5. I really liked what Daniel said about never quite knowing whether "X" is a Bulgarian habit or an individual characteristic to your partner. In the early stages in our relationship I used to drive Kyle MAD by always saying "oh, you won't understand, it's a Bulgarian thing". And he would always insist: no, it's not a Bulgarian thing. It's something that YOU do and you need to explain to me why you do it the way you do it.

    I think he was right most of the time and my "it's a Bulgarian thing" was more due to the fact that I was a poor communicator than anything else.

    Also, Daniel, I have had a couple of people ask me to write about gender roles in Bulgaria. A friend of a friend is married to an American guy and they were going through a rough time because she kept expecting him to do handiwork around the house (like good Bulgarian man do) hahahah. Not really funny, of course. I will ask you to comment on that when the post is up because I think it's an important area of our lives that many of us struggle with.

  6. What a cute story! I hope you don't mind that I put a link to it in my blog post How to Make Your Bulgarian Girlfriend Happy