‘I feel Dutch rather than Bulgarian, really’

mario-panevMARIO PANEV (33) came to the Netherlands from Bulgaria for the first time in 1994. After years of traveling back and forth, he settled in Hilversum. Panev has his own construction company.

“We were pretty much the first ones to leave for the Netherlands in our country. I remember it wasn’t easy for Bulgarians, either. The first six years we weren’t allowed to stay, because my parents were denied work permits every time. That meant we didn’t have a home, because you needed a steady job for that. We traded Hilversum for Sofia every few months. I had to change schools all the time, which was difficult.

When I was eighteen, my dad managed to start a business here. Things went fast from there, and we got a house in Hilversum. Soon after, I started my own construction company.

I hardly ever work with Bulgarians. They will tell you they can do anything, but they’re just not as skilled as Dutch workers. Because they’re cheap, I sometimes hire one for demolition work, but never for painting or stucco – they’re just not good enough.

And they have a different mentality because of communism. They feel that no matter how hard they work, they’ll still be paid the same.

My parents are retired and live in Bulgaria now. It’s a great place to be retired: there’s peace and quiet and nature is beautiful. The climate is warmer, too. I will never go back to Bulgaria for good. I feel perfect over here.”