9 Odd and Unusual Things About Ukraine
From an Englishman's Perspective
After spending much time in Ukraine, here’s some odd and unusual things I’ve observed in everyday life here from an Englishman’s perspective. If you are Ukrainian, don’t take it too seriously!
1. People Don’t Speak Ukrainian
Based on a logical conclusion, you’d assume Ukrainians should speak Ukrainian. While this is partly true, it seems to be the exception rather than the rule. It is the official language; however it’s mostly spoken in the west of the country and as you go towards the east, you’ll find Russian more dominant with those cities in-between mixing the two.
It is however said to be the second most beautiful language in the world (after Italian), so could be worth learning for romance points, but you’d still be better off learning Russian if you plan to stay for an extended period.
2. Don’t Assume People Don’t Speak English
More people understand English than they let on. If you ask, “Do you speak English?” in English, they’ll usually say no, then when you get your friend to translate what you are saying they’ll already have understood you before they translate.
Due to the generally poor service in the country, I do often complain to my friends in English assuming the staff don’t understand what I’m saying. I’ve not been caught out on this yet, but I could imagine it happening and someone getting angry. This is something I should probably consider more carefully before speaking my mind.
3. Transport Is Dirt Cheap, But Don’t Expect Luxury
You can travel the whole length of the Metro for 4 UAH (~12 pence) with buses and trams roughly costing the same. The Metro and larger buses are generally quite clean and comfortable, but trams and Marshrutkas leave a lot to be desired. Most trams are 1960’s soviet style and don’t look to have changed at all except a fresh coat of paint whilst Marshrutkas are rather unique; think of a transit van with windows and 50 people crammed onto it. They are fast, but expect zero comfort unless on the rare occasion you manage to get a seat.
Intercity trains are quite comfortable and compare favourably to European equivalents, but all other trains should be avoided unless you specifically crave going back in time.
4. Service – Expect Nothing and You Won’t Be Disappointed
There are a wide selection of food outlets serving everything from sushi to Italian and McDonald’s to gastronomic delights. The food is generally good and you can expect some great tastes for low prices.
The service however is completely the opposite and lacking. If you order a meal consisting of a starter and a main dish, it’s pot luck if you will receive them in the logical order (starter first), both together (with one getting cold) or starter after the main. If you are dining in a group, don’t expect everybody to be eating together as dishes come out when they are ready, so someone is always waiting without food while others are enjoying theirs. When you finish your meal, expect your plate to be cleared within seconds even though others are still eating.
When you come to pay most places except credit cards, although they usually ask you to pay for alcohol and food in separate transactions. Whether this is Ukrainian law or just some tax dodge, I’m not sure.
People don’t usually enjoy their jobs and you’ll see it on their faces and their attitudes. Their negative energy passes on to customers with every interaction and generally doesn’t make for good business. This is likely because of low salaries in the country, but a smile doesn’t cost a thing.
5. You’ll Be Very Welcome in Someone’s Home
While this point isn’t so odd, it’s a level up from other countries I’ve visited.
On entering (and leaving) someone’s house you’ll always be greeted by a strong handshake (men) or several kisses (women). Once inside you should remove your shoes and you’ll be asked to wear a communal pair of slippers.
You’ll be treated to coffee or tea straight away usually accompanied by some tasty homemade treats and dishes. You’ll never leave hungry. Even if they hardly know you, nothing will ever be too much trouble for your host and they’ll do everything they can to make you feel welcome.
6. You Can Actually Tell the Difference Between Seasons.
Back in England, the seasons aren’t so variable. If we are lucky, it’ll snow for a few days in Winter and there will be a couple of weeks of brilliant sunshine in Summer.
In Ukraine, Winters are very harsh (deep snow, -20° temperatures) whilst in Summer it’s scorching most of the time. You can relax on the beaches of Odessa or ski in the Carpathian Mountains, all in one country.
As a child, I can remember similar differences between seasons, so now it’s something I can enjoy again.
7. People Have No Concern for Safety
It’s very rare to see someone wearing a seatbelt; perhaps only the driver because the car sounds an annoying beep if he doesn’t. Passengers avoid wearing them at all costs and you feel slightly uncomfortable if you try to wear one as nobody else does and you don’t want to offend the driver.
The conditions of roads are generally poor if you get anywhere outside the city or wander off the few main highways. It’s not uncommon to see roads full of large pot holes that you need to slow down and drive around. The choice of car in villages consists of roughly 50% Lada cars which isn’t the most comfortable or safe either.
I’m not sure European law would count 50 people crammed into a Marshrutka as a safe thing either.
8. You Can Buy and Drink Draught Beer in Supermarkets
This is a cool thing – right next to the milk aisle in Novus supermarket is a full-on bar with a selection of beers and ciders. You can take a glass and enjoy it as you do your shopping or buy litre bottles to take home with you.
9. It’s an Unusually Great Country
Despite all the above, it’s a really great place to visit and live. Things are cheap, transport is efficient, the weather is perfect and there are some amazing places to visit. If you know what to expect and get used to the way of living, you won’t be disappointed.
The advent of cheap travel to the country is on the horizon too with Ryanair announcing they will start 20 euro flights from London and Europe in Winter. Let’s just hope it doesn’t attract lots of drunk and noisy tourists coming for the cheap beer and beautiful girls…
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Published on March 17, 2017 in Top 10's, Travel by Jason and tagged with beer, Cider, Hospitality, Language, Marshrutka, Novus, Odd, Safety, Seasons, Service, Transport, Travel, Ukraine, Ukrainian, Unusual.