Culture shock in Ukraine
After about five years of residing in Ukraine, I noticed quite a few interesting facts about the Ukrainian culture which I’ll share below. Number 4 and 5 might come off as a surprise 😱
1. It’s not called ‘The Ukraine’
In the past during the Soviet Union, Ukraine was referred to as ‘The Ukraine’. However after the independence or break out from the Soviet Union, the country is now referred to as ‘Ukraine’
While ‘The Ukraine’ may sound better, Ukrainian don’t say that. It’s a borderline insult to the ears of a Ukrainian, because, it’s disrespectful to their independence!
The country has been through a lot. During the war and Nazi period, millions of lives (about 6 million) lost their lives to finally gain their independence, and to be called ‘The Ukraine’ would rub them the wrong way.
2. Ukrainians don’t smile at strangers
Whether you have had a first-hand experience or have heard rumours, it’s true! Ukrainians and Russians don’t smile at strangers. With Ukrainians, you smiling at them as a form of greeting (like the Americans) might raise a sign of suspicion instead. In their minds, they’ll be wondering what’s so funny?
All Russians know the saying: “The laugh without reason – is the sign of stupidity” (“Smeh bez prichiny – priznak durachiny”). read more here
If a random Ukrainian smiles at you it’s either really genuine and a sign of welcome or that of pity!
3. Remember to take your hats off
Remember to take your hats off while indoors especially if you’re male! Putting your hats on indoors is a sign of disrespect!
I remember one of my colleagues in Uni who always wore his hat indoors and the teacher would always ask him to take it off.
However, to him, he didn’t see anything wrong wearing one. For whatever reason, it’s unacceptable to wear your hats indoor in Ukraine.
4. Christmas Day is celebrated on January 7th
Quite an unbelievable one right! But the reason is that most orthodox churches follow the old Julian calendar.
A friend of mine once jokingly said ‘maybe their Jesus was born later’. Quite laughable.
5. Wedding rings are worn on the right hand
Ukrainians don’t wear their rings on the right hand unlike most parts of the world and it’s only transferred to the left hand when the spouse dies as a sign that he is a widower or she is a widow.
Although in recent times, most Ukrainians started adapting to wearing it on their left hands when they relocate to western countries.
6. It’s forbidden to give flowers in even numbers
Yes, it is forbidden to give flowers in even numbers as it’s considered bad luck! You can only give flowers in even numbers during funerals .
So for celebrations like birthdays, convocations, weddings etc your flowers should be in odd numbers!
7. You can’t refuse a dish
If you are being invited into a Ukrainian or Russian home refusing a meal is considered rude.
8. While driving, Ukrainians don’t use their seatbelt
I actually kept noticing this as a trend here in Ukraine and had to inquire why and was told it was quite normal. Seatbelts are used only when travelling intercity.
And unlike Nigeria where car honking is considered normal. It is quite rare here and you only honk on very rare cases.
9. Hand Gestures like thumbs up 👍🏻 Is considered Offensive
In Ukraine, making hand gestures like a thumbs up which is usually referred to as ‘well done’ by Americans is considered offensive.
This came surprisingly for me as a shock. I found out about this while taking an online course on Sociology.
10. Ukrainians don’t whistle
Ukrainians believe that whistling indoors can blow your money away.
You know the way we (Africans) hum to a song in the street? Yeah, they don’t do that. And they also don’t shake hands over a threshold cause it’s considered bad luck!
11. OMG! Ukrainians make a toast to everything
I couldn’t believe watching a movie and in a scene, family friends were making a toast to the success of the marriage of their kids even before the kids knew each other. They literally would make a toast to everything just like the Yorubas in Nigeria greet for almost anything.
When it’s raining, for instance, you hear things like (eku ojo) almost like congratulations for raining successfully.
These are just 11 things out of many considered a belief/superstitious that might come off as a shock to you living here in Ukraine.
Are you familiar with any of this? Which one of them is quite new to you? What are the other things that you know that I didn’t make mention of?
P.S Stumbling on the 20min rule literally changed my life, I’m currently on my second read in a row this July and I’m pretty impressed. see here