The standards of public toilets in the Ukraine vary a lot. If you are lucky you might find clean and comfortable public toilets in bigger cities like Kiev or Lviv. But even here squat toilets can be seen quite often, also in restaurants or hotels.
Just be prepared that you always have to pay a small fee for using public toilets and that toilet paper is often only provided by the toilet lady. You will then get only a very limited amount of rough papers.
So if your bottom prefers fluffy paper, you should always have your own paper with you.
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Ukrainian currency: Hryvnia
Ukraine is a country of cash, so it is always best to pay cash. The local currency is the "Hryvnia" (abbreviation: UAH) which is divided into 100 Kopecks.
In 2004/05 new banknotes were put into circulation, but the various old ones are still valid and in circulation as well. This causes some confusion as you may have 2 or even more variations of the same banknote in your wallet.
In the last years the Ukrainian Hryvnia has been relatively stable. Nevertheless you might see some signs stating prices in US Dollar or Euro.
I usually prefer to get my money from cash points which can be found at almost every corner in Chernivtsi. I really find it amazing how many banks you find in Ukrainian cities.
You can also exchange your local currency at one of the many exchange booths. As their rates might vary, I recommend to campare a few rates and ask how many Hryvnia you really get for your currency. Just make sure that you don't have to pay a commission and that you count the money at the window in front of the person in charge.
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When travelling to a foreign country I always try to taste their local beers. In the Ukraine the following two beers were among my favourites:
Lvivske Beer is not only known in Lviv, but also all over the country. Rumours even say that it had the reputation of being the best beer in the former Soviet Union. The history of the Lviv based brewery dates back to the 15th century and nowadays it is owned by the Baltic Beverage Holding. At present they produce about 6 beer brands, mainly pilsner style ones.
Chernihivske Beer is brewed by the Chernihiv Desna Brewery in Northern Ukraine. It is one of the best selling beer brands in the Ukraine. Nowadays they belong to the Sun InBev Company and produce 8 different beers, with their light beer being the most popular one.
Other well tasting Ukrainian beers which I tried are Obolon from Kiev and Slavutych from Zaporishzhia.
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Customs and Superstitions - Part 2
Here are some more that my wife mentioned but luckily I did not do.
Breaking a mirror is not considered bad luck in Russia. However, looking at one's reflection in a broken mirror is.
Sitting on cold surfaces is not simply taboo for a woman, but it is extremely hazardous to her health and inhibits her ability to bear children. It is a practice that is rigorously upheld, especially in cold weather and with young children, who will often unknowingly sit on the ground, and who will frequently be lifted up by a supervising adult.
A purse or wallet as a gift requires a little money inside. Given empty it causes bad financial luck.
Cut bread only with a knife. Don’t break it with you hands. Otherwise your life will be broken.
Don’t boast about your future success. It may bring bad luck.
It is considered taboo to step over people's legs or other body parts. It is often said that it will prevent the person from growing. It is better to find a way around the person.
It is bad luck to use physical hand gestures to demonstrate something negative using oneself or someone else as the object. For example, when describing a scar you saw on someone's face you should not gesture on your own face or someone else’s. If one does it without realizing, it can be countered by making a hand motion towards the body part used and then an abrupt motion away as if to pick up the bad energy and throw it away.
If one person accidentally steps on another person's foot, it is common for the person who was stepped on to lightly step on the foot of the person who stepped first. It is said that they thus avoid a future conflict kid thing
Birthday parties should be celebrated on or after one's birthday, not before. So when one's birthday falls during the week, it's best to celebrate the following weekend.
Unmarried people should not sit at the corner of the table. Otherwise they will not marry. This mostly applies to girls, and often only young girls. Sometimes it is said that you will not marry for 7 years, making it alright for young children to sit there.[1
It's good luck to trip on your left foot, this one is mostly for kids
The latecomer must drink a full glass (so-called "penal – shtrafnaya )
Outgoing guest must drink last glass, so-called "na pososhok" Literally it is translated "On a small staff", really means "For lucky way".
As a rule, every portion of spirit is accompanied by a touch of glasses and a toast. Funeral and commemoration are exceptions; there the touch of glasses is forbidden
It is not allowed to pour out by hand holding a bottle from below.
If your ears or cheeks are hot, someone is thinking or talking about you (usually speaking ill
If you have the hiccups, someone is remembering you at this momen
If an eyelash falls out you'll receive a gift. If someone finds an eyelash on someone he or she will sometimes let the person blow it away and make a wish
If a fork or spoon falls on the ground, expect a female guest. If a knife falls, expect a male guest.
If you eat from a knife, you'll be "angry like a dog" … you will say mean about someone
If someone is not recognized when seen or heard, he or she will be rich. So if someone calls you on the phone and you don't recognize them you can cheer them up by telling them they'll be rich.
If a cat is washing its face, expect guests soon
If you spill salt, it's bad luck and is said to bring conflict, but no one will throw salt over their left shoulder
If you spill salt, it's bad luck and is said to bring conflict, but no one will throw salt over their left shoulder
If it's raining when you leave a place, it means you'll return, and it is considered a generally good omen
If it rains on someone's wedding, it means they'll be wealthy
If someone sneezes while telling something, it means he or she is telling the truth
If you find a bay leaf in your soup (commonly Borshch) while eating, it means you'll get mail from someone … name of bay leaf sound like a sheet of paper
If you wear clothes (such as an undershirt) inside out, you will get beaten. Your friend should point this out, wait for you to fix the clothes and then punch you symbolically.
Lucky in cards not lucky in love. This, however, is only a pre-marital superstition. The reason for the division is that marriage is a sacrament in the Russian Orthodox Church, and this sacrament, ordained by God, eviscerates the pre-marital superstition. Thus, when a man is bonded by divine sacrament to a single woman whom he loves the cause and effect is reversed: namely, his married love for a single woman, and her love for him, will bring him good fortune in all endeavors including cards.
Customs and Superstitions - Part 1
When it comes to the topic of Slavic superstitions, there is a fine line between what is considered to be a superstition compared to what is actually a tradition or custom. The number of customs and superstitions they have is amazing. In addition, depending on which city, district, and country you are in it can vary. What I’ll do is first describe the ones I ran across while we stayed there for three months and then list some others that my wife heard of growing up. Regardless if it’s a custom or a superstition, breaking one can cause an offense.
For myself, I was in a shop with the wife looking around when I started whistling a tune. The sales lady got very angry and started talking very loudly to my wife. It Seemed like I broke one of their many superstitions.
* You can’t whistle in the house or car, as they believe that you are whistling away your money
In the USA, it just seems natural that when you meet a parent pushing a baby in a stroller that you look at the baby and smile. The first time I did this I got the nastiest look from the mother.
… * Strangers should not look at a new born baby before it is two months old (or six months or one year, it all depends. They are waiting for their soul to arrive and they may take on another’s soul or energy during that time.
Here’s on that actually makes sense. A number of years ago we were scurrying around the house right before we were to leave for vacation. A bit in disarray we were about to leave the house but the wife said that it was a Russian custom that:
*…. Before leaving for a long journey, travelers, and all those who are seeing them off, must sit for a moment in silence before leaving the house.
After calming down for a bit, it allowed me remember to bring the passports…. Ugghh
We left our apartment and were walking down the street when I remembered that we had left the camera behind. They wife then informed me:
“”Returning home for forgotten things is a bad omen. It is better to leave it behind, but if returning is necessary, one should look in the mirror before leaving the house again. Otherwise the journey will be bad”
For someone like me who is always forgetting something this would be a killer.
I can’t remember seeing one house with a screen on the window. One a bird flew into the house and we proceeded to have fun trying to get the thing back out the window. I was then told:
“Birds that land on a windowsill should be chased away. If they tap on the window, or fly into it (open or closed) it is considered a very bad omen (often of death).”
On a road trip with a friend, we suddenly came up to some stopped traffic. Coming the other way down the road was a funeral procession headed by a group walking…. Slowly. No one honked or tried to pass. I was then told:
”A funeral procession brings good luck. But one should never cross its path or it is bad luck”
We took our jugs and filled up at the water truck, on the way back, an old lady was coming towards us with two empty jugs. The wife then told me:
“A woman with empty water buckets coming towards you is considered a bad omen”
If I would have had more energy I would have run the other way, but I risked walking towards her.
At the wife’s reunion toasts were being made and we all touched glasses. I touched the wife’s glass and the lady next to me said:
“Married couples cannot touch glasses in a toast, it will bring bad luck”
We were leaving a restaurant with another couple and it started to rain. Actually it was a cloud burst. With no umbrellas in hand we were getting drenched. It was good to hear from our friends that:
“If it's raining when you leave a place, it means you'll return, and it is considered a generally good omen.”
It made me getting soaked feel so much better.
We were walking around the main park when a bird dive-bombed my wife, that’s when I heard:
“If one or more birds defecate on you, it's good luck”
I’ll pass on the good luck thank you.
When I bought items at the store, I thought it was strange when the clerk put my change on the counter instead of my open hand. Which brings up:
“If you need to give money to someone, for example in a shop, never try to place it in their hand. Money should be placed on the counter and then picked up by the recipient.”
On another trip up town we walked past the dumpster where an old lady was going through it searching for thing to sell the recyclers. Amazing they have a superstition for that one also:
“.. if the first person you see in the morning is a woman carrying rubbish out to the bin, then you will have bad luck that day”
There are probably more that I forgot about. It was to the point that no matter what I did I was worried about offending someone. Luckily staring at women in short skirts seems to be ok.
Try a Poinchiki
Every student of the Soviet Union knew this cheap and tasty dish. “Ponchiki”, I was told, are lighter and fluffier version of doughnuts, and Soviet students ate them with coffee (or at least what they considered coffee). Ponchiki’s reminded me of the home-made donuts we made using canned biscuits and frying them in the pan. Good but not all that light and fluffy (anything deep fried is good). A serving of “Ponchiki” is ready in about 1 minute from freshly prepared dough, and normally are not made in advance. They are served hot with either powdered sugar or condensed milk on top. They are made in front of you and the machine is interesting to watch, like the Krispy Kreme Doughnuts machine that people found entertaining when they first came out.
The one place we found that still had a Ponchiki machine didn’t open up to 11am. I thought it would at least be open early in the morning so that people would have them with a cup of coffee. I guess that’s an American concepts.
Learning to drink Vodka
Back at home I’m not a drunk, but the liver has been known to breakdown a Margarita or two. In my first few days in the Ukraine I had a few beers, but no hard liquor. After that, we were invited to the parents of a friend of my wife’s for a visit. We had a few snacks and then the father brought out some home-made vodka made from ribena berries. I could swear the bottle had a “skull and crossbones” on it, but the memory is kind of foggy. Not wanting to be rude, I just smiled as he poured me a shot. He made a toast and downed his while I took a small sip. He looked at me as if I had stomped on the national flag. I was told that a man doesn’t sip vodka, they chug it. If you do not drink a toast to the bottom, you are considered to be excusing yourself from the toast and it is extremely rude.
He refilled the glass, gave another toast and we downed our vodka. My lips thought it was ok…. The tongue was ok with it…. But the throat was not happy and decided to shut down in protest. Unfortunately it didn’t discriminate between more vodka and more air. While the old man smiled I danced around the room trying feebly to suck some air down. My life flashed in front of my eyes…. It sucked the first time and the rerun wasn’t any better. Slowly the throat relaxed and went back to normal.
It was at this point that my host poured more of his elixir into my glass. It seems like toasting is never done just once. The number of toasts depends on the host, the situation, and the level of inebriation that is desired. In this case, the magical number was three. I was told what each toast was for, but the brain cells that contained this information was killed after the last toast.
As I raised my glass for the second toast, my host told me that in order not to have the throat close up again the secret was hold your breathe throughout the process. My brain was trying to validate this theory but there wasn’t enough time, the vodka was approaching the lips. That’s when I had an epiphany and came up with the “chipmunk” method of drinking vodka. I would store the vodka in my cheeks and SLOWLY release it past the throat. This was a win-win situation. My host felt pleased that he had helped out the poor Americanski, the throat was pleased that it wasn’t being poisoned, and I was please I didn’t have to do my dance of death again.
It was only a few days later that we were invited to a visit a Dacha and again vodka was poured into my glass. This time the number of toasts would be determined by the number of shots in a vodka bottle. I tried out my “chipmunk” method the first two times with great success. By the third toast, the brain was in a happy place and not making great decisions and decided to forgo the slow release and just chug it. To my delight the throat let it pass without complaining. This feat was duplicated over the next few hours time after time with the same success.
After three months in the Ukraine I became a vodka chugging expert
Please remember, that the...
Please remember, that the average salary in Ukraine is about 50$ a month. Don't marvel the low prices in the front of Ukrain people, because it may be very expensive for them, and it just not polite.
Of course, you can use the above fact, and saving few dollars by bargin with the people there, but I advice you the oposite way: Just don't.
For you it's 1 $, for them it's much more.
Last tip: Tip the people that help you as much as you can. Almost all of them desrve it.
Don't abuse the people because they get 50$ salary. It is not their fault.
Extra 10-20$ for someone who was with you for 3-4 days, are fair.
The Ukrain people are very kind, hospitable and willing to help.
It may be that they will refuse to take the extra at first, but you should insist.
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