Ukraine traditions of social behavior don’t differ too much from Western standards. An average Ukrainian perceives the world around him in a way an average Westerner does. They have similar life values. However, every nation is unique and has certain national peculiarities in its lifestyle, public behavior and etiquette. Every country has its own “appropriate” and “not appropriate” things to do in public. Ukraine is not an exception. Rules of etiquette are not the laws. Somebody’s derisive smile is the worst that can happened to you if you don’t follow the rules of local etiquette. It is up to you. But it looks like not a bad idea to spend a few minutes to get the concept of the traditional way Ukraine people behave in public. It will help you to feel comfortable and stay out of embarrassment while visiting Ukraine.
Ukrainian National Character.
Most likely, you will find that many of Ukraine traditions are the same like in your native country. Some of them will look incomprehensible or irrational. They are not “good” or “bad”. They just are different being born by another culture. Let’s try to understand their nature.
It is very typical for Ukrainians to avoid “standing out”. Generally, Ukrainian culture is non-individualistic. We often say: “One is not a soldier in the battlefield”. Parents usually teach their kids: “Be like everybody else. Don’t stick out!”
Ukrainians seem a bit cold and reticent at first glance. Especially in the big cities. Foreigners are usually confused not seeing smiling faces around. It is true. Ukrainian daily life is unpredictable and unstable and it’s probably the reason why they smile so seldom in the streets or on the public transportation where you usually meet them.
Don’t be confused. Very soon you will realize that they are very warm and friendly people. It is common for people to invite you to their home, where they will put on the table their best food and drink, striving to impress guests with a great variety of prepared dishes. (Not from the grocery store!). You will certainly be their the most honored guest that day.
Be prepared to drink vodka or any other strong drink. According to Ukraine traditions process of drinking is pretty specific. When the glasses of all company members are full, somebody will propose a “toast”. They often say: “Hopefully it’s not the last time when we drink, with God’s help”. After the toast people clink their glasses with each other and drink their drinks.
From the first glance toasting looks like “wasting of time”. But one has to remember that Ukrainian parties are not that much about eating or drinking, but about communication first of all. Ukrainians spend hours at the table communicating, eating and drinking. More about Ukraine traditions and drinking can be read at Ukraine Customs page.
Most of the time Ukrainians keep their emotions inside. But if they feel necessity to express their indignation in public, they do not hesitate to say what they think. In general, Ukrainian people are much more spontaneous and straightforward than Westerners. Don’t expect them often to say: “How are you? Nice to meet you”. The way of doing things in Ukraine is to go straight to the point.
Ukrainians don’t have a deep respect towards any law or authorities. They always scold them. It is a special honor to disobey rules. Don’t be surprised if some driver or pedestrians move on the red light or somebody sings songs at 3 a.m. in the street. These are Ukraine traditions.
Ukrainians love their country. They can scold and criticize their government severely, but be careful. Don’t try to do the same. They will defend their country. You can cause their furious indignation by your careless remark. They are proud to be the citizens of the country, which has rich history and deep cultural roots.
Ukraine Traditions: Ukraine Etiquette.
Ukraine traditions of etiquette don’t have anything special to compare to Western etiquette. But unwritten rules of etiquette evolve within culture. They prescribe and restrict the ways in which people interact with each other. An excellent etiquette in one country may be considered as inappropriate in another one. Here is a short guide for rules of etiquette typical for Ukrainian culture.
Visiting somebody’s home.
It is not a bad idea to bring some gift if you are invited to visit someone’s home. You can never go wrong with a cake, flowers (odd number of flowers only!) or a botlle of wine, but a gift that will remind them about your home country would be greatly appreciated by your hosts. If there are kids in the house, bring some small gifts for them (chocolate, fruits or souvenirs).
When eating dinner at someone’s home, casual dress is recommended.
Most of Ukrainians live in a small apartment or house. To keep them clean they don’t wear shoes inside. It is traditional to leave your shoes at the door when you enter a home. Most likely your hosts will provide you some slippers. If they don’t, it’s normal to enter the room without shoes.
It is considered bad luck to shake hands across the threshold of a door. Take your gloves off your, when shaking hands! Sure, it is superstitions, but you are in Ukraine. More about Ukrainian superstitions you can read at Ukraine Customs page.
Ukrainians love to demonstrate their natural and generous hospitality. It’s a big thing for them to feed everyone who comes to their home. Be ready at least to try all food and drink offered you when visiting somebody’s home. In most cases food prepared at home is delicious.
According to Ukraine traditions of hospitality, most likely you will be asked to give a toast at dinner. Be prepared to say something nice about the home and its hosts.
It is not that great idea to demonstrate your feet putting them on the furniture. You might be able to do it in your own house, but not in somebody’s house or in a public place. Don’t force anyone to jump over your legs stretched in the aisle, please.
Offer to share your cigarettes with those around you if you smoke.
It is considered an extremely rude gesture if you demonstrate your thumb between your second and first fingers. They call it “dulia”. For centuries this gesture has been used as a sign of defiance against numerous Ukraine’s invaders. If you really feel you must make this gesture, be sure nobody can see it!
According to Ukraine traditions of hospitality it is quite acceptable to ask very personal questions about your life, earnings, and relationships. Even if you are not used to such types of questions , try not getting angry and do not shy away. People are sincere and just do not know that in your country it might not be considered very polite.
Ukraine Traditions in life of Man & Woman.
Sometimes you can hear: Ukraine is 20 years behind the West. Hm… it might not be a bad thing “to be behind” sometimes. Especially if we talk about relationships between men and women. I won’t take a risk to discuss the problems of social, political, and economic inequality between men and women.
Men and women created with unique, but different natural abilities. Both men and women have their strong and weak sides. Very often we become excessively aggressive trying to adjust ourselves to modern society. Sometimes it is really necessary. But let’s just remember not to put down our nature.
Like practically everywhere in the world, you won’t see very refined manners in Ukraine. But being “20 years behind the West”, Ukrainians still remember that men should be strong and assertive and women should be smart and beautiful.
Following these stereotypes of Ukraine traditions, you will look good in public and women will admire you. It is considered proper for men to do such things for women:
Open the door and let her in or out first.
Assist woman entering or exiting a vehicle
or public transportation.
Help them put on and take off their coats.
Help them carry heavy bags.
Pour their drinks and serve their food first. Don’t expect her to uncork the bottles!
Light their cigarettes (even if it means rubbing two sticks together).
On public transportation, man offers his seat to coming in mothers with children, the old or infirm, and women. Don’t try to make flirt with a lady who is standing by you, while you are sitting! You will fail. If you invite a woman somewhere, be prepared to pay for everything. If you invite a man, he’ll pay for himself. There’s a good chance he’ll pay for you as well without telling you about it.
Ukrainian women consider it unfeminine to shake hands when they meet.
According to Ukraine traditions you should never kiss a woman on her forehead. It is reserved for funerals.
By the way, proper Ukraine traditions are carefully watched by our “Vice Squad”. Our babushkas (old women) spend the most part of their day sitting on the benches by the apartments.
They are active, pushy, know everybody and everything. Don’t argue with them if they say you don’t behave proper, it would be better to disappear.