Ukraine – You have probably heard a lot about Ukraine in the last few years. Unfortunately in these news reports and during the conflict with Russia mass media has nothing to offer but the usual news filled with war, suffering, political mayhem and hate. We wanted to show you a bit more about Ukraine, something that you will surely remember and help you understand Ukrainians a bit better. Some of the things we will post here are well known to other Eastern Europeans, but anyone that comes from the West will appreciate this info.
All Ukrainians are bilingual. Even though Ukraine is a sovereign country, there is a huge unofficial division between its Western and Eastern parts. People in the West speak Ukrainian and lean towards Europe and European standards while people in the East speak Russian and still accept the principles of communism and miss the USSR. As for some people these ideas are the complete opposite, you may encounter people who won’t talk to you in Ukrainian or Russian just because of their principals. They will always understand you though, it doesn’t matter which of the two languages you speak.
99% of Ukrainian jokes are about politics. One could think that the Ukrainian government plays the rule of the local circus in Ukraine. People catch the phrases and mistaken speeches of the politicians and create all sorts of jokes on the topic. Maybe you will think that it makes no sense, it is actually quite sad that you have to laugh at your own politicians who have power over you. You might be right. But it is so funny that Ukrainians cant help it.
The road police are one of the most corrupted institutions. If you are stopped by them on the road, it doesn’t matter if you broke the rules or you didn’t they will find a way to get a bribe. Try to bargain. You will always get a discount. There were cases where people could pay bribes by apples or a spare wheel. Be imaginative and unique! But don’t be aggressive or pretend you are poor. The police think they are the poorest people in the world so it won’t work anyway.
The translation of the first words of the Ukrainian anthem are as follows: “Ukraine isn’t dead yet”. The word “yet” became the topic of long discussions on all levels of the Ukrainian society. Lots of people joke that the possible continuation of the first line is: “Don’t worry, soon it will happen”. The lyrics were written in 1862 by a famous Ukrainian folklorist but only in 2003 the Ukrainian government tried to put an end to the discussion. They changed the last letter of the word Ukraine which in a way changes the whole meaning of the first line for a bit more of a positive one. Let’s hope it will help!
Smiling to an unknown person on the street is not common in Ukraine. It is not because Ukrainians are gloomy. It is just some kind of a tradition. This is considered to be normal in the Ukrainian society. Furthermore, there is a saying in the Ukrainian language that literally translates as “Laughter without a reason is a sign of stupidity”. So don’t try to smile to everybody on the street or expect it from the others. People don’t like to look stupid and they will think that something is wrong with you if they see a smile on your face without an evident reason.
People dont like impudency. If somebody tries to push in the queue without asking everybody, everybody will hate this person silently but its doubtful that somebody will express their feelings. Everybody will go quiet but not much will happen. The same goes for the beggers. Some beggers in Ukraine are impudent enough to be eating crisps while asking you for money for bread. Or they can even refuse the food if you offer them, they will tell you they need money. But people still explain them in a very polite manner that they don’t have money and in fact they cant afford to buy a pack of crisps themselves. Probably, Ukrainians are too patient towards such people.
Rude or polite?
Ukrainians think it is rude to refuse. While in other cultures refuse means being polite, Ukrainians will take anything you offer them just because they think this is what polite means. They may say “no, thank you”, when you offer them something for the first time. But if you try to insist they will fall under the pressure very quickly. So be careful if you offer something you dont want to share just because you want to look polite and hope that a Ukrainian will refuse. The chances that you will have to share are very big.