My International Marketing class was all about how differences in culture affect the way business is done in different countries, but this week I had my own mini business-cultural shock!

In the States, the term “team building” is associated with some sort of leadership skills exercises, brainstorming sessions, team discussions, and most of all, fun activities that require group work,  team communication, and the development of interpersonal connections.

Sozopol at Black Sea, Bulgaria

So when I was invited to attend a team building weekend in Sozopol, a beautiful Bulgarian Black Sea resort, I expected to join some organized team activities… eh, American business school brainwashing…

It turns out that in Bulgaria, “team building” means going for a weekend of heavy eating and drinking at the expense of the firm!

What details would you like me to give? Starting on Friday afternoon with a five to six-hour long dinner that starts around 8 and ends with breakfast for the survivors. Many liters of ouzo, wine, and beer. All the festive meals you can find on Easter and Christmas combined. “Brainstorming” is another word for telling jokes and sharing embarrassing real stories. On Saturday:  a yacht trip along the coast, grilled fish and cocktails onboard, and jumping off the deck in the water, then an afternoon nap, and again the “team building” dinner session all over again.

In the States, time is money. But in the nations of south-east Europe, we have all the time in the world. That’s why Bulgarians (and Greeks, Serbs, etc) take their sweet time to get to know each other in the way they consider most personal – at the table, with good wine and good food, laughing together, and making real relationships. To an American-trained business student like me, the Bulgarian “adaptation” of team-building at first seemed like a waste of time. But then I realized that it is perfectly suited to our culture and very, very effective for us! As my international marketing professor said, in order to make business in a foreign country, you first have to understand its culture.

ACTUALLY, I’m not sure that what I said above is right. In Europe, Bulgaria is second to last in terms of productivity per worker per hour. We are at $17.8 per worker per hour compared to $57.5 for Luxembourg at the first position and $34.2 for Spain, which is in the mid-positions. Only Romania is behind us with $10.0 per hour per worker. Enough said.