I was carrying a plastic bag in addition to my shoulder bag, so I think that helped me look Ukrainian. As is becoming my routine, I worked till 6:30 in the morning, then went to the gym, then went to eat. Mafia, a Japanese & Italian food franchise with good wifi wasn’t opening for another 10 minutes, so I went to the Videnski Bulochky (Viennese Buns) next door. I ordered in Ukrainian and the lady asked me something extensive in Russian.
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand very well,” I said in Ukrainian.
She cocked her head and looked at me like I was teasing her. “You don’t speak Russian?” She asked, eyeing my clothes. I probably looked too modern for her guess that I’d just arrived from some village.
I would like to speak Russian. I studied it for two years in high school, but remember very little. I’m sure I’ll get better the more time I spend in Kyiv. People describe the Ukrainian – Russian divide as a west-east divide, and it is, generally, but it’s just as much a country-city divide. When I visited the Parkhomivka Art Museum in the countryside near Kharkiv, people spoke Ukrainian.
“No,” I said.
“You speak Ukrainian, but don’t understand Russian?”
“Yes,” I said, then, to assuage any belief that I might be teasing her, I added: “I’m from America.”
“You’re from America and you don’t speak Russian, but you speak Ukrainian?” she asked, now smiling.
“I’ve before met anyone from America who speaks Ukrainian, but not Russian.” She confirmed that I wanted the omelet breakfast and asked if I wanted tea or coffee, green or black tea, then lemon or honey.
Good wifi here. :)