I like discovering foreign details of day-to-day life, different approaches to similar things. After two weeks, I’m already ceasing to notice them, perhaps a sign of my increasing comfort & assimilation into Kyiv life, so I thought I’d detail them before they’re entirely forgotten.


1. Light switches are in strange places. It’s like a big Easter egg hunt, except the reward is being able to see.

2. There are many “Solon’s of Beauty,” which struck me as an adorable turn of language.

3. Groceries are usually marked with big signs that say “продукти” or “Products.”

4. Lots of women walk around on impossibly high heels, especially when scaling steep, cobblestone streets.

5. There are lots and lots of Sushi restaurants, including at least two different franchises. Even some coffee shops serve sushi. When I visited Kyiv for the first time I stared, and stared at a sign that read “суші.” I sounded it out, “su-shi,” but could not believe it. It’s a word I never expected to see in Cyrillic letters. I crept closer, crossing a street and peering into the window, confirming it was, in fact, a sushi restaurant. As much as I like sushi, I told myself, you’d have to be crazy to consume raw fish in Ukraine. That was then.

6. In one products store, I only saw 15, 20 and 25% milk. (The box of 15% makes a cameo appearance in an earlier post.) I thought that was the standard, but I’ve since discovered bottles of 0%, 1%, 2%, and the like. So this really doesn’t count.

6-again (since the last one didn’t count). Ads very frequently appear on my cell phone. My phone doesn’t vibrate or ring, and the ads aren’t stored as text messages, though they look like them. The ads are in Russian, which I struggle with, but I can understand enough to know that some of them are for ring tones.

7. Metro tokens are plastic.

8. In many places, cars park diagonally on the sidewalk. Occasionally, where they can’t pull directly from the street onto the sidewalk, they drive amid pedestrians for a bit.

9. The cost of food is surprisingly high. I usually pay the equivalent of $4-$7 per meal for eating out when it’s nothing fancy, $15 for sushi. For a country whose average annual income is usually reported as between $4,000 and $7,000, this is very high. Several possibilities: Kyivian are a lot wealthier than other Ukrainians. Kyiv restaurants benefit from massive tourism. Statistics about income are artificially low because much of it goes unreported.

Regardless of the cause, there doesn’t seem to be as much of an eating out culture here. When, after yesterday’s music show (which I’ll write about soon), I asked a Ukrainian guy to recommend a place where a few of us U.S. expats to eat, he immediately joked: the best place to eat is home.

10. Ukrainians seem to love stamping thing. In the restaurant we ate at last night, all the pages of the menu were stamped and signed. On almost every street you see a “нотаріус” or notary.

11. Ukrainian, or, at least, Kyivans, also love fireworks. They’ve happened at least two or three times at week since I’ve been here. I usually startle, just a little, and for a split second wonder what is exploding.

12. You often have to go underground to cross big streets. The underground passages are usually filled with retail shops. Some are nicer than others. Around Maidan, the underground area sprawls beneath several complex intersections, and I can never get to the corner I want on the first try. I have to surface like a ground hog, reorient myself, and continue closing in my desired destination.

Surprisingly Familiar:

1. Break dancers, live mimes, and other street performers.

2. McDonalds.

3. People on the street in the city’s center handing out various coupons.

4. During my 2004, a restaurant named Domashna Kukhna (home kitchen) charged a nominal price for packets of salt and sugar, napkins, plastic ware, toothpicks, etc. I found this rather annoying and the market seems to have agreed. They no longer do this. (Side note: Domashna Kukhna is both the name of a franchise and the name used by many individually-owned restaurants. There doesn’t seem to be any problem distinguishing, though. Take THAT intellectual property advocates!)

EDIT: 5. Television commercials — for cat food, skin cream, movies, cell phone service, and a whole lot more.