15 Observations about Ukraine and Ukrainians

(FYI, I am one.)

1. They hate making change. If you offer a 100 or 200 UAH note, retailers will almost always ask if you smaller notes. Often they tell you they can’t make change. Sometimes, I think cabbies are just trying to get more money from me. Recently, a grocer will discounted the price because she couldn’t make change, and when I offered a tram driver a 10 UAH note for four 1 UAH tickets, she told me she couldn’t make change. She asked if we were making the return trip and suggested I buy eight tickets instead. Ridiculous. You’re in business, people.

2. They fear drafts. Even young men tell me, for example, which way I should lie in the train car to avoid a draft from the window. I think there’s a larger health fear in Ukraine. Some Ukrainians believe Chernobyl has weakened their immune systems.

3. They feed guests.

4. They think the worst of themselves. I’ve heard rude bureaucrats, poor customer service, unpredictable business culture, government failures all blamed on inherent flaws in the Ukrainian character. This is false. I’d attribute poor customer service, and business culture on the fact that the market has only been at work for twenty years and remains mutilated, the bureaucrats and government failure on the nature of coercive enterprises.

5. Emotionally tough. They can take disappointments much better than Americans.

6. Practical. This goes hand-in-hand with #5.

7. They know many home remedies for every ailment you’ve ever heard of, and most of the ones you haven’t.

8. Drinking customs. You clink glasses with every drink, not just the first. You don’t take your drink alone. When you see one person holding their glass, quiet down and hold yours. There is a preference toward having three (or six, or nine, or twelve, or fifteen) drinks — honoring the holy trinity, I think.

9. Embarrassed by their bathrooms. This goes back to #4.

10. Know how to cook.

11. Know how to tend gardens, livestock. (Good because it gives Ukrainians a fall back plan during economic crises. Bad because it lowers the division of labor.)

12. Religious. Especially in Western Ukraine.

13. In restaurants, you have to ask for the bill. When it comes, sometimes you’re expected to pay right away.

14. In business and even shopping for expensive items, personal relationships and recommendations carry even greater weight than they do in the U.S.

15. They want to know how they and their country are perceived (hence I started maintaining a list).


– often gawdy in popular expressions of art & decoration

– insufficiently skeptical of television commercials

– too often attribute west’s wealth to benevolent governments and effective welfare programs

– light switches in bad places.