Two-and-a-half years ago, Mario Montesoro left his native Genoa, where he had a café and was the president of the local association of restaurant owners, and moved to Bulgaria.
The 50-year old is now the owner, manager and the sole chef of a small Italian bistro, Pesto, in the Central Sofia.
Why did you move to Bulgaria?
I came, because my son lives here. He is also two-and-a-half years old. If I go back to Italy, I will become a Skype father and I don't like it.
Is there something you consider typical Bulgarian?
I want to love this country because I want to live here. But the mentality in Bulgaria is very different from Italy. Here, the quality of a start-up project is measured by money first. Whether the idea is good comes second. But for me, the idea and its sustainability are more important than the initial investment.
Small business cooperatives would help the Bulgarians as they connect people. But because the Communist-era mentality is still strong, these cooperatives don't work. For my colleagues from the restaurants and cafés around, I am competition. But I am not competition to them as far as I am concerned. I am an alternative. We – my bistro, the other Italian restaurant, the patisseries, the Bulgarian restaurant, the American restaurant – we all provide diversity to our clients. Together, we create a stronger market.
The Bulgarians are all good as individuals but they cannot create something together. Two summers ago, I went to the protests and everyone asked me why. I said, "Because I live here and I want to get involved. I want to help the country." It isn't strange, it's a normal way of thinking. And it's normal not only because of my son. After 10 years, I may decide to move. But I am here now, and this is important.
Do you have Bulgarian friends?
I know many people, mostly through the bistro. But these are not the friends I have back in Genoa. There, I need half an hour to walk a distance of 100 meters, there are so many people I have to chat with. Friends are the salt of the earth for me, but only true friends, not the ones on Facebook. Still, I am open to meet new people. I believe that bavno-bavno, or slowly-slowly, I can make friends here.
Do you celebrate Bulgarian holidays?
In March, I gave my foreign clients the Martenitsa, and told them the story about the tradition. They were very happy.
Can you describe Bulgaria in three words?
Opportunity. Need to think in perspective. Good women.
Do you plan to stay in Bulgaria?
Da. For minimum hmmmm.... I don't know. But I would stay.
For me, the important thing in a country is not the living standard. People are more important. Bulgaria is medium-sized, but few people live here. I believe, in 10 years, if the fiscal policies stay the same, the country will change. I already have two friends, Italians, pensioners, who plan to move to Bulgaria. Because it is a good country. But Bulgaria needs a revolution of mentality. In my bistro, for example, I use many good Bulgarian products, but the potential of the country is bigger. Why, for example, I have to buy expensive imported basil or rosemary if someone can grow them in Bulgaria? Why the Bulgarians don't care more about their agriculture?
But I already see the new Bulgarians. They speak foreign languages, they study and work abroad, band sometimes they come back here. They will change Bulgaria.
The UnBulgarians is a project of the Free Speech International Foundation and the Multi Kulti Collective, sponsored by the NGO Programme in Bulgaria under the Financial Mechanism of the European Economic Area 2009-2014