Category Archives: Wasteland

Paid toilets — an economic mystery

First of all, please excuse the vulgarity of this post. I’m making a point. I took this picture a couple months ago at a bus station.

I had walked past an empty desk when a babushka came roaring out of some back room, gruffly demanding one hryvnia (12 cents) for the privilege of relieving myself amongst this sanitary beauty:

2013-04-26 14.34.06 2013-04-26 14.33.14

How is this travesty possible? Shouldn’t paid toilets be of better quality than the free toilets which businesses (McDonalds, among many others) make available throughout Ukraine?

Not so. Not at all. You see, the babushka is not a private owner. She’s not the innovative, risk-taking sanitation entrepreneur you might mistake her for. She is a bureaucrat squatting (no pun intended) on dilapidated, neglected Soviet era infra structure. What’s even more pathetic is the possibility that she paid a bribe to rise to her current position.

Oh, the humanity…

1990s Donbass — A Glimmer of Liberty and Prosperity

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, miners in the east homesteaded abandoned mines. Their efforts grew into a complex operation, but sadly, gangsters eventually took over (with considerable help from local bureaucracies which were — and are — indistinguishable from the gangsters).

The title of this article translates as HOW DONBASS BECAME, INSTEAD OF NEW AMERICA, THE INDUSTRIAL MIDDLE AGES.

http://texty.org.ua/pg/article/editorial/read/42483/Shahtarskyj_adat_Jak_Donbas_zamist_novoji_Ameryky

The article references “anarcho-libertarianism”.

Translation: here

***

Again and again and again: Half Ukraine’s problems would vanish overnight if everybody owned a gun.

Americans who favor restrictions on guns are the spoiled inheritors of a private law culture that evolved with the frontier where people owned guns and found private solutions to the problems of security and justice.

Unwarranted Pessimism & the Reason for Ukraine’s Bureaucracy

Thank you for the condolences I received on my previous post. I’m concerned, however, that this blog tends unfairly toward pessimism.

Ayn Rand wrote that the government makes us all criminals because criminals are easier to control. In the U.S., the federal tax code alone is more than 24 megabytes in length, and contains more than 3.4 million words; printed 60 lines to the page, it would fill more than 7500 letter-size pages. (The often cited figure of 80,000 pages seems to be an exaggeration.)

In any case, the vast quantity of laws, regulations and codes leaves every entrepreneur scared that he might have violated one of them. There’s no way to be sure. Hence, success should be enjoyed quietly. Entrepreneurs have good incentive to hide any triumph over bureaucracy. Failure doesn’t invite a bureaucrat’s scrutiny the way success does.

***

I’ve alluded to this before. I think I’ve come to understand thee reason for Ukraine’s psychopathic bureaucracy. Where western bureaucracies were created from nothing in pursuit of a goal — education, food safety, building safety. Perhaps the worst you could say, they were created with this public goal, while the private goal was the establishment of monopoly privilege. They had to at least appear to be working. Ukrainian bureaucracy is an *imitation* of these failed systems of the west built atop the lingering habits and moral depravity of Socialism.

There was no lustration as happened in central Europe. Ukraine inherited more Soviet bureaucrats and bureaucracies than did other post-Soviet states.

Days like today make me miss America

So for the past couple weeks, a friend of mine who works in a municipal level gov’t position has been telling me that everything’s fine, that he’ll call tomorrow and tell me when I can pick up documents I’ve been waiting for. His help has been completely selfless. I’m grateful, and want to be polite, even when he never calls. I kept waiting TWO days, giving him a chance to live up to his promise, and then calling him, and receiving the same reassurance.

When I called him yesterday, he finally said everything was ready. “Travel to the regional office and pick up your stuff.”

Public transportation in Ukraine kicks my ass. I’ve written about train stations before. Same goes for bus stations: the only way I’m able to figure out when a bus is going somewhere is to travel to the station, stand in line, and then ask the clerk.

Yesterday evening, I enlisted the help of a native Ukrainian. She made an inquiry online. She said there was a bus from L’viv to the regional office at 15:00. That didn’t sound right and I decided to take a marshutka first thing in the morning to find out when the buses travel.

I take the #10 Marshutka to the bus station. I just googled the distance and see that it’s about 10.5 kilometers. The fact that a ten kilometer trip takes 45 minutes is one of the miracles of L’viv’s public transportation system. It’s a little cartel. Marshutky are filty, slow, and even more crowded than the NYC subways I grew up riding. There are never enough.

It turned out my Ukrainian friend was wrong. One bus leaves at 8:30 in the morning. I learned this at 8:45. The next one at 13:00. I waited in a nearby restaurant for almost four hours.

I eventually took the bus to the region where my paperwork was being prepared. During the two-and-a-half hour ride at a snails pace to avoid pot holes, I telephoned a cousin and asked him to meet me. We went together to the office where everything was supposedly ready. Nothing was ready.

I couldn’t even pay the 26 uah fee (about $3). I was told the following week not to return there, but to go to the Oblast center to get my documents, and then later to the regional office to pay the three bucks.

It would have been a foolish, rookie mistake to try and figure out why I’d been asked to go there in the first place when apparently I had to first picking up the documents in the Oblast center. The fact that the question didn’t even occur to me until much later is a sign of my maturing to the reality of Ukrainian bureaucracy. It has no logic, no center. It is idiocy for the sake of idiocy. It is a cruel joke without a punchline. It just keeps stumbling along, but without ever actually getting anywhere.

I waited another two hours for the bus back to L’viv.

Here’s what really made today special:

I had intended to take Marshutka #10 back toward my apartment. I thought I saw a #10, and moved to secure my place in the crush of people. (There are never enough Marshutky.) It turned out that it was #40. I zoned out for what I expected to be a 45 minute, 10 kilometer trip, and didn’t realize my mistake until I was in a little town beyond the municipal boundary of the city. My cell phone battery died.

I was able to take a different Marshutka back to the bus station, and arrived just in time to see the last bus departing toward the city center. Of course, I didn’t realize it was the last bus until after a good twenty minutes of sitting on the cold bench.

I started walking home, and found a big crowd of people at a different Marshutka stop. I waited with them for quite a while, but felt reassured by their number. Thirty one. I counted. I took that Marshutka. One lady told me it was the last of the evening. After a half-hour ride, it may or may not have gotten me closer to my home. Not sure. I exited and walked across what seemed like half the city, climbing piles of snow and wading through ankle deep slush.

It was after midnight when I returned home.

My day has been as smart and efficient as a bag of hammers.

My Post Office Experience

My landlord slipped a note under my door. It came from the Post Office. I had received a package. I had been expecting one — a French Press — a personal gift from a dear friend in Prague.

I carried the note to the main post office where they told me to go to my local post office, number 18 or something.

The next day, I walked to a post office near my apartment. They directed me to yet another one near the bazaar. At that post office, they told me packages are handled in the adjacent building, but they only worked until three pm. It was almost four.

I left and made a mental note of the adjacent door, which had no sign or distinguishing markings. It did not seem like a post office, but it was the only thing even remotely matching the clerk’s directions. I returned the next day.

The door opened into a small chamber which could have been foyer or waiting room. There was a table with one tall stack of papers leaning heavily against the adjacent cabinet.

One of two chairs was occupied by a middle-aged woman who ignored me. I sensed her fanatical indifference to the world. She seemed capable of ignoring a locomotive, should one ever come crashing through the wall of that chamber. If indifference was a religion, she’d be a high priest.

I felt very much the outsider in a world loathe to acknowledge me. Perhaps it was my own insecurity, but I felt like Alice who initially struggled for the attention of Wonderland’s denizens. They ignored her as another uninteresting fixture.

“Is this the post office?” I asked, breaking the silence. I had the suspicion the lady would look right through me without seeing me. For some reason, I felt started by the fact of her reaction.

She said nothing, but waved her hand to a door opposite the entrance. I tested it. Its bolting mechanism was sufficiently ill fit that the door gave a centimeter or so before the bolt banged against the latch hole.

Immediately, I felt guilty of something, though I wasn’t sure what. The noise of the deadbolt had echoed in the chamber announcing my effort. Perhaps the noise condemned me as a sinner in this wonderland, guilty of desiring some outcome and working purposefully toward it.

The lady’s indifference remained. One might think of a Buddhist monk, but without any hope of reaching of Nirvana. Hers was a more perfect harmony, without hope and without fear. If you ever find yourself by the bazaar, please find this door and peak inside. I suspect she’ll still be there.

It occurred to me that I might not have sufficiently twisted the doorknob. Surely, anyone inside in the room would have heard the clatter. Should I test the door again?

I waited, hoping for some sign of sentient existence beyond the portal. Nothing.

I grabbed the door knob again, with both hands this time, twisted with all my strength. I clearly heard a latch-bolt retract, but when I pulled the door, again, what must have been a deadbolt pounded loudly against the latch hole.

I felt glad for my second try. Though it didn’t represent progress toward to my goal, I helped me understand the situation. I felt confidence of two things:

1) The door was indeed locked.

2) The second chamber was almost certainly uninhabited, because any occupant would certainly have reacted to my noisy appeal.

Though the outcome was unfavorable, I the issue’s resolution filled me with an albeit miniscule sense of accomplishment. I had tried exhaustively, but failed. Now it was time to move on. Perhaps this wasn’t the adjacent building they’d told me of. I would ask a local friend for help. Now it was time to move onto the next task.

Perhaps the pleasant thought of leaving wonderland, of returning to civilization is what inspired a playful feeling in me. I flippantly rapped the door with my knuckles before turning contently. I walked half way across the room before the sound of an opening deadbolt froze me in place.

I felt the hairs standing up on the back of my neck. Did I really hear it? Surely, a human would not have waited for me to knock. Surely, a human would have understood the meaning of clattering deadbolt in a public building during business hours. I turned slowly to the door, bracing for whatever demon or alien life form might hurl itself toward me.

I felt my heart pounding. Looking at the door, I adjusted my stance, braced to move quickly, to dodge or to flee. Nothing. There was only silence. The door did not budge. Only it’s deadbolt had been pushed open by someone, or someTHING. Was this an invitation? Was it a dare?

The woman did not return my gaze. I felt lost. I did not know the rules of this world and reminded myself that I had once been a paratrooper, that I was a three time combat veteran, a warrior and leader of men.

I turned the knob and the door opened with a squeak. An office. Definitely an office. Perhaps a Post Office. Two desks. A woman at one of them. She doesn’t notice me.

I had reassured soldiers en route to Afghanistan that things are much less scary up close. This certainly seemed to be the case here. I closed the door noisily. There was nothing to fear, but much to puzzle over.

I surveyed the room. The strongest hint of a postal vocation was the cubby shelving on the wall. Other than that, it could have been any sort of office: Cabinets, two chaotic desks, one with an old Cathode Ray Tube monitor atop it. There was no sign of a computer. The strangest thing seemed to be the woman scribbling busily at one of the desks and not acknowledging me whatsoever.

I imagined her ignoring the pounding of the deadbolt. I imagined her, annoyed by my interruption, eventually rising from her desk, slamming open the bolt and returning to her place. I stood in utter awe of her capacity to ignore me, and didn’t even think to say anything until she finally looked up from her work and said something so quickly that I understood nothing beyond the irritated tone of her voice.

I did not react to her impatience, though, as my sensibilities had not yet adjusted to this strange world. I would have felt no less baffled had I discovered a troop of Kozaks sipping coffee in my kitchen one morning, their horses drinking from my toilet.

She spoke again, pointing the scrap of paper which I had forgotten I was holding, the paper my landlord slipped under my door. For the first time since entering her office, I felt I was interacting with a human.

My wonderment ended, and I stepped toward her, offering the paper. She responded angrily, indicating that she did not want the paper handed to her, but placed on the desk. Clearly, these were self-evident rules in this wonderland, and I, very much the clumsy, bothersome tourist. I placed it on the desk, and she immediately snatched it up.

With surprising animation, she shuffled through some papers and boxes in one part of the room, then in another. She found my package, much to my delight, then placed in on the table and asked to see my passport. I signed two or three slips of paper, and she returned to her previous posture, huddled over her desk, scribbling.

“Is that it?” I asked.

“Yes, yes,” she said impatiently. “That’s it.”

“Thank you,” I said.

It seemed she no longer heard me, or saw me, but I was happy. I left, gently shutting the door behind me. The woman in the first room also seemed oblivious to my passing.

Q: How many signatures does it take to receive a water delivery in Ukraine?

A: TEN! I couldn’t believe it. Exactly ten. I counted.

I had two jugs (approx. five-gallons each) delivered for my water cooler. This was the initial delivery. Subsequent deliveries will only require three signature.

Here’s a picture of the documents they left me:

documents left after water deliver

On the other hand, Nova Poshta is emerging as a Ukrainian FedEx. They are professional, efficient and require only a single signature for deliveries.

Ukrainian man on 50-hour drunkfest opens door on plane

The sad story of modern Ukraine can be summed up in this sentence from the article:

He had gone to Ukraine to build a house, but told the FBI that once he learned he could not start construction as hoped, he decided to start drinking.

***

“Hung over from a 50-day drunk, Anatoliy N. Baranovich thought Delta Flight 1215 was on fire when the aircraft landed at Salt Lake City Tuesday night, so the Ukrainian man frantically tried to open the rear door of the aircraft and furiously struggled with passengers trying to restrain him, authorities allege.” (Read More)

Concise Summary of Ukraine’s Upcoming Election

Okay, let me start by saying that I haven’t been paying attention to politics. Democracy makes me sick. In the words of Albert Jay Nock:

“. . . a decent person could find no place in politics, not even the place of an ordinary voter, for the forces of ignorance, brutality and indecency would outnumber him ten to one.”

However, I overheard the following concise summary from a well-respected lawyer who’s been doing business in Ukraine for over a decade. I think it’s worth sharing:

The Party of Regions will either falsify the election, or they’re all going to prison. Expect to hear a lot of noise in about a month. It’ll sound like all hell is breaking loose. But you know what it means for you? [He was talking to a prospective American investor (not me).] Nothing. Business as usual. Ukraine’s economy is already 70-80% underground. I just want to warn you.

Ternopil Area Taxpayers on the hook for €10 million loan

“The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has issued a loan of EUR 10 million to Ternopilmiskteplokomunenergo under full municipal guarantees under a pilot project to modernize Ternopil’s central heating system.

The parties signed a relevant credit agreement in Kyiv on Friday.

“The term of crediting is 13 years, the interest rate is 5.9% per annum. The payback period of such projects in the field of heat supply is now five or seven years,” head of Ternopil City Council Serhiy Nadal said at a press conference in Kyiv following the signing of the agreements.” (Read more)

It is translated!

They were closed for an “archival day” but she had a connection and got us in to have a lady check our documents. The lady studied the one page document for a full minute, holding it close to her squinting face.

“The problem is this: it needs to be translated and the translation needs to be certified,” she said. She sort of leaned back in her chair, relieved, no doubt, that she wouldn’t be required to do any actual work this moment.

I looked at her with such a dead expression that she asked whether I understood Ukrainian. I told her it was translated. Every other line was in Ukrainian. We argued briefly about whether or not it was translated. Eventually, she realized it was.

To her great relief, however, she found a problem with the translation of my passport. It needed to show the page with my last entrance stamp to Ukraine. I needed to have it re-translated and re-notarized.

The Invincible Army of Saint Nicholas, Patron of Merchants

I thank the 2012 Property and Freedom Society Conference for reminding me that my opponents are bureaucrats, that their obstacles are weak and fake. They are centrally planned and therefore stupid and inefficient.

They can’t touch me. They can’t even come close. Commerce is as powerful and inevitable as the blossoming of flowers in the Spring. No amount of laws and bureaucrats can stop it.

***

I am reminded of the legend Dan Gable:

“If I knew I was going to Wrestle in the finals of the Olympics against a Russian and I knew he had been training specifically to beat me, but then I knew the guy was on Steroids, That would HELP me. Whereas some might think ‘oh he’s cheating, for me you didn’t pay the price. You’re not as committed as I am. It’ll tear him apart. He may be strong, but all I have to do during that 9 minutes of wrestling is loosen one single wire in his brain, make him do something that isn’t perfect, and he’ll fall apart.”

***

I am reminded of a conversation I had in Iraq in 2003.

Some context: Since the fall of Sadaam’s regime, farmers were no longer scared to take more than their quota of water from Iraq’s open air canal system. The farms down stream were drying out. My job involved escorting incompetent police in support of their stupid, archaic irrigation system. We’d go harass the farmers tapping the canal illegally. One industrious farmer had dug a channel and created a pond in his backyard.

When I told my colonel that enforcement was near impossible, and that arresting farmers was hurting the morale of my soldiers, he suggested we have our engineers fill up his channel, repeatedly if necessary, until the farmer gives up. “I’m pretty sure the US Army can out work some guy with a shovel.”

He was wrong. The US Army didn’t stand a chance.

***

The Devourer of Dreams — a requiem for Ukrainian aspirations

I stand in utter, horrified, awe at the density, enormity, and sheer stupidity of Ukraine’s bureaucracy. It is a hell of futility and waste — an amorphous, brutish, rank, smothering blob of contradicting rules, locked offices, and stamped documents.

Yes, I know. In western countries bureaucracy is also evil, but you can at least discern a purpose. You understand your enemy’s logic. It is there to control you. It is there to enrich politicians, their friends, or the bureaucrats themselves, to kill competition or efficiently extract money, perhaps. But this miserable place . . . . dear Lord. So pointless, so ponderous.

Perhaps Western bureaucracies have arisen like tumors atop wealth accumulated during freer times. Ukraine was never free. The Soviet Union was not reality but “a monstrous caricature of reality.” Upon this caricature, in the hope of imitating the West’s wealth, Ukraine’s aspiring elite readily built shoddy imitations of the tumors growing atop it. They’ve combined the lingering institutions and habits of socialism with the parasitic institutions of the West.

What has arisen is hideous altar to some sadistic god, festooned with politicians’ smiling faces and patriotic appeals. It looms terrifyingly, incomprehensibly, casting a fetid shadow over all facets of life. It is the alter upon which Ukrainians sacrifice their dreams, ambitions, and what little time God has given them on the Earth.

However, it is not the altar itself which perplexes me most, but the masses who kneel before it, come to worship its many heads. Yes, native born Ukrainians will be the first to point out its difficulties, to condemn it, insult it with blazing intensity, but what they’ll cling to to the last bit of strength in their cracked, laborer’s hands is the idea that such an altar is necessary. It is just a matter of swapping this face for that one, this political appeal (victory over the Nazis, seventy years later, still the enemy of enemies) with that one (preserving the Ukrainian language).

The thought of conducting peaceful, mutually beneficial commerce with your fellow man without an array of permissions and constant inspections? Unthinkable! The idea that marriage should not be the government’s business? Radical! The thought of not being REQUIRED to register yourself at some address? Impossible! How could such a society function? Let us not even speak of the right to defend oneself.

No. The problem with Ukraine, they say, is that people do not follow the rules. There are rules, and if only more people followed them, things would be as they should be. Things would be orderly and proper. (I wonder how many more rules are required for society to finally achieve perfection.)

It is as if 46 million innocent people have been wrongly convicted and imprisoned, their hopes and dreams sentenced to death. And when one of them finds a loose brick in the prison, digs under a wall with his bare, bloody hands, files away a bar on his cage after many years of dedicated effort, rather than rejoicing, Ukrainians condemn their fellow prisoner. He’s not following the rules! They’ll grab his ankles to drag him back into his cage. They criticize the guard for not being more watchful, for aiding the aspiring renegade (as the guards here are known do), because he was breaking the rules, conducting commerce without the full and proper array of permissions, and only bad people break rules.

So this is it: a portrait of demographic suicide in Ukraine. Suicide by bureaucracy.

I’ll return, as I often do, to Hans Hermann Hoppe, not because I hold much hope of being heard, but because we should all blaspheme at unholy altars: Who owns your body? And if you own your body, who owns your labor? And if you own your labor, who owns the fruit of that labor?

A joke about Soviet hell

Some Americans I’ve told this joke to don’t get it. Ukrainians always get it.

***

Two men die and go to hell. The Devil asks whether they want to go to American hell or Soviet hell. In American hell you can do whatever you want, but you have to eat a bucket of shit every day, and in Soviet hell you can also do whatever you want, but you have to eat two buckets of shit every day. One man chooses each hell and they meet after a year.

“How is American hell?” The guy in Soviet hell asks.

“It’s not as bad as I expected,” he replies, “but eating a bucket of shit every day is driving me crazy. I don’t think I can take it much longer.” Then he asks: “How is Soviet hell?”

“Well,” The guy is Soviet hell replies, “there’s either a shortage of shit or somebody keep stealing the buckets.”

Black Harvest

“. . .
But I am afraid that Ukrainian farmers suffer more from lawlessness than from the current drought. The main issue is the so-called black harvest. In a nutshell, small-scale farmers are forced to load trucks with their grain for free. It’s the so-called black harvest. The black harvest trucks operated by thugs, allegedly from Donetsk region, show up when a farmer harvests his crops. Thugs take grains by force and load them in their trucks. Farmer is left with nothing. If farmer cannot recuperate his losses, he will go bankrupt.

If you wonder why farmer doesn’t call police, the answer is quite simple. It does not change anything. If the local police receives this call, they have to check with their headquarters whether someone is behind the stickup operation. Their headquarters has to check with other law enforcement offices at district level, city level, and province level. By the time they are done with the so-called background check, thugs are gone. But you cannot blame cops for their inefficiency. Cops and farmers have to play by the same rules.If cops arrest well-connected thugs, they will loose their jobs and they will be also fined.

What causes these unfavorable business environment? It’s also drought. Other kind of drought. The Ukrainian elite is running short on cash that it needs for the upcoming parliamentary elections. To get cash, they do what they do the best – rob hard-working people.”

Read more: http://ukrainewatch.blogspot.com/2012/07/black-harvest.html

My reaction in two words: GUN. OWNERSHIP.

“the toilet paper is softer in America”

Before I returned to Ukraine, a American who’s lived here for almost a decade advised that it’s not for everyone. “The toilet paper is definitely softer in America,” he said.

He was talking about all the little things which are more difficult in Ukraine. These are no big deal in my opinion, but they are interesting.

***

First, some reasons I prefer Ukraine . . . for now:

All in all, I feel safer in Ukraine than in the US, especially from violent crime.

Toilets work. (The privately owned ones, that is.) For an expose on American toilets see Jeffrey Tucker’s, The Relentless Misery of 1.6 Gallons.

The markets are much less developed. Opportunities abound. I walk around everyday and imagine various enterprises. I think: “this could work. That could work.”

Although there are real, devoted advocates of economic Marxism here, everyone considers them ridiculous. I think they’re mostly devoted to the sacrificed their ancestors made to the red banner and hammer and sickle. As I’ve written before, when an endeavor is sprinkled with the blood of good people, it becomes its own justification, regardless of whether or not is a moral and economic abomination. In the U.S. Marxism is treated like a good idea that hasn’t yet been properly implemented.

There is less cultural Marxism here. It is okay for women to be beautiful and men to be manly and people to be successful.

There is less of a slave mentality (maybe). Although the U.S. still has the hottest entrepreneurial talent in the world, by far, I feel like most Americans now have a slave mentality. They want to be caged and taken care of by the state. Perhaps it’s because government in Ukraine is such an obvious and spectacular disappointment, that most people (excluding pensioners) don’t expect anything from them.

***

Now, the bad:

1. Opening a door. There seems to be a 50/50 chance that the door will bump into another door, or a closet, or a person standing by the sink of a restaurant’s bathroom. Things aren’t designed as well in Ukraine.

2. Turning on a light. In most apartments that majority of light switches are centrally located. It’s as if the home’s commissar, following in the great socialist tradition, wanted a commanding height from which to bestow the blessing of light upon his subjects who are obviously too stupid to do it themselves. The result — I spend frustrating seconds switching lights on and off until I see, through the cracks of a door at the end of the hallway, that the proper switch has been flipped.

In renovated apartments, the light switches are no longer centrally located, but they are poorly placed. You have to reach around a door, for example, to flip the switch.

3. Unplugging something. If you’re not careful, the plastic socket casing will come out of the wall pulling guts and wiring with it.

4. Browsing the internet. It has to do with how IP addresses are assigned. When I unplug one laptop and switch the ethernet cable to the other, I have to wait for 30 minutes before I can use it. (This was solved when I got WIFI.) Also, if you misspell your password just once on a Ukrainian website, you’re immediately confronted with a Captcha verification. No second chance.

5. Showering. Hot water is unreliable, even in my gym. It’s getting much more reliable, though! Some building have gigantic water heaters beside them — again the Soviet lust from centralized control — but little by little, people are installing private water heaters in their homes. Many bathrooms are small and crowded, and many showers are handheld, with the fixture for fastening the nozzle above you broken. I’m learning to wash single-handed.

6. Going to a restaurant. There is the generally poor customer service which I’ve written about before. There seems to be a common practice of labeling every table “reserved” on certain nights. A place will be half empty, but every seat and table will be marked “reserved,” and you’ll get scolded for sitting there. (What the fuck?) You’d think they’d welcome your money. They don’t even offer to sell you a reserved table. Perhaps it’s up to me to offer them money. I don’t understand this system.

7. Shopping. A store may be locked during normal business hours with no explanation. Or, the main door may be locked and you’ll never realize that only the side, alley-way door is open. When you point it out, the lady behind the counter will have no idea why you’re bothering her with such trivialities.

Also, in Soviet times, shops were run by the government. The clerk, much like the clerks Americans interact with at the Department of Motor Vehicles, is a government employee who enjoys a monopoly on the “service” they offer. They were rude as hell, and asserted their authority by abusing customers. The legacy of this is that some retail people assert their authority by being rude. This is changing slowly. The free market takes time. Businesses with bad customer service has to go bankrupt or change. The best ones will slowly increase their market share. The further a market is from free, the slower this process. Also, you have to pay for your bag and bag your items yourself.

8. Finding your way around. Street signs are not located at intersections. They are *sometimes* located on little placards on buildings. I’ve walked a quarter mile trying to figure out the name of the street I had turned onto.

Address numbering is weird. It can still be in the single digits on one side of the street, while on the other they’re reaching the thirties. Some addresses are inside courtyards accessible only by alleyways.

Also, major roads in Kyiv (and in some other cities) are crossed by going through underground passageways. They are often filled with shops and it’s impossible to go the direction you think you need to go.

9. Checking a movie listing. Once while walking through Kyiv, sounding out the names of stores, I noticed a ‘kinoteater,’ a theater. There was no brightly lit sign depicting movie listings as one may find in the US, so I went inside. I studied the various posters and announcements above the ticket booths, but found no listings until a crowd off to one side attracted my attention. They peered over each other’s shoulders to study an 8 1/2 by 11 sheet of paper taped to the wall below eye level on which the listings were printed in black & white. Hunger Games was not playing.

10. Water deliveries. Despite repeated promises, they don’t arrive. (Ukraine’s tap water is non-potable.)

11. Calling a cab. The operator of a cab company hung up on me suddenly and without explanation as soon as we began to have difficulty understanding each other. When I called back the first time, the same lady answered. She recognized my voice and hung up instantly. I called back a third time, got a different operator and ordered my cab. I still use them, because they’re inexpensive and tell you the price beforehand. When no cabs are available, sometimes you’ll get a text message telling you. Sometimes they just leave you waiting.

12. When it rains neither umbrellas nor taxis seems to be available.

13. Interpersonal space. Ukrainians sometimes have a strange sense of it. Example #1: When the metro leaves a station, it is not usual to be tapped on the shoulder immediately and asked whether you’re getting off at the next station, simply because you’re standing between another person and the door. They expect to switch spaces with you even if it’s too crowded to switch spaces, even if you’re the only person between them and the door, and even if you’re a nice person who always gets out of the way for people.

Example #2: I went to eat at an inexpensive local buffet style restaurant called Puzata Xata. There were many free tables, but beside the windows, there was only one. A small table. It had a blue folder on it. I didn’t see anyone nearby, so I sat there and began to eat. A middle aged woman put her tray down opposite me and sat down. She rummaged through her purse. “Was this table taken?” I asked in Ukrainian, ready to move elsewhere if it was. She seemed not to hear me. I asked again, a little louder. She didn’t react in the slightest, and I wondered if she was deaf. “Excuse me,” I said in English. Again, no reaction. She pulled a cell phone from her purse, and then I knew she wasn’t deaf. She was ignoring me. “Was this table taken?” I asked again in Ukrainian, determined to get an answer. She looked at me angrily and said “Well sit. It’s a common area. Sit and eat. What do you want?” We both ate our food, sitting just a few feet apart facing one another. Both of us took phone calls during our meal. I left when I finished.

14. Boorish behavior. The lady behind me in line at the supermarket kept tapping my bag, accidentally, I thought. I was in a good mood and felt more shocked and amused than irritated. She seemed to be with her husband or lover. He was whispering softly to her in Russian. I guess her tapping was supposed to be a hint that I didn’t grasp. Eventually, she shoved me from behind. I turned around, shocked. She raised her chin defiantly. The man immediately grabbed her and moved himself between us. He scolded in in the same gentle, lover’s voice. The line was unusually long and slow — late night rush. Eventually, she shoved me again. I think she felt frustrated that I wasn’t crowding the person in front of me. I turned around and again the man put himself between us, and lectured her. I did too. I told her I was a foreigner. That in America people don’t push each other. She waved her hand dismissively and said something like “move along America.” Her man continued to gently berate her in a lover’s voice. He said something like “this man came all the way from America to visit us and his is how you’re treating him.”

Pretty pathetic behavior from an adult. I was on my way home from Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and therefor in a good mood. I was more stunned than anything else.

15. Banking. This is related to the interpersonal space issue. When I go to a bank, to inquire about my account, withdraw money, or the like, the people behind me in line are right up in my shit. Their noses are on my shoulder. They watch closely as I fill out forms, count money. Sometimes they pretend I’m not there and begin conversations with the teller while she’s in the middle of helping me.

16. Leaving your apartment. You need a key, sometimes two. This is a fire hazard catastrophe waiting to happen.

17. Toilets in public places. You have to pay an attendant. Despite that, they are filthy. Often, they are squat toilet. Often, they are filthy squat toilets. Filthy, pay squat toilets.

18. Old ladies closing the windows on public transportation. Okay, so most public transportation is crowded, a little dirty, uncomfortable, etc. Ukraine’s public transport has the added feature of, old women who sincerely believe that drafts (as opposed to germs) cause disease. It’ll be miserably hot, steamy and smelly on a public bus, and some idiotic, sweater-clad babushka will insist that the windows be shut. She’ll insist as if her life depends on it, because she believes it does.

19. Removing a price tag, especially from a cup or dish. They don’t have the ones that come off smoothly like in America. These bastards are sticky and fall apart. Once you’re done picking off the paper — one torn bit at a time, you have to use a scouring pad to remove the glue from your new dishes.

(I’ll likely be expanding this post as more things occur to me.)

I like to describe Ukraine as not quite designed for humans . . . yet. Socialism is not designed for humans, and Ukraine, given the perversion and distortion that characterizes it’s two decades of lurching away from the Soviet system, is recovering slowly.