Ukrainian customs and etiquette
Life in a foreign country is always different from life in your own one, and so are the traditions, customs, and rules of social behavior. Every time you are planning on going abroad, it is a good idea to spend a few minutes and get the concept of the differences between your culture and the culture of the country you are going to.
Here you will find some interesting facts about Ukrainian people, their culture and etiquette. It will help you to feel comfortable and stay out of embarrassment while visiting Ukraine, and to be aware of the "appropriate" and "not appropriate" things to do in public.
In order to understand the traditions and culture of Ukrainian people, you should consider the following facts:
Ukrainian customs developed during the long history of the country, and absorbed the experience of many generations of people who lived here.
Traditions and customs are often rather different in different parts of Ukraine. They significantly vary between urban and rural areas, West and East Ukraine.
In general, Ukrainian rules of social behavior do not differ very much from Western standards. Ukrainian and Westerners have similar values, and views on life. You might be surprised by the fact that many Ukraine customs are similar to your own.
Still, every nation is unique and has some national peculiarities in its etiquette, public behavior and lifestyle. You might consider some of them weird or irrational. Remember, that traditions cannot be considered "good" nor "bad". They just belong to a different culture.
Here are some facts about Ukrainians:
Ukrainian people do not smile in the streets very often. Foreigners are often confused and might think that Ukrainians are cold people. Unfortunately, Ukrainian daily life is less predictable and stable than in the Western countries, therefore Ukrainians do not smile so often. However, very soon you will realize that they are warm and friendly, and the ability to form warm informal relationships is the main feature of the Ukrainian national character.
Make sure to always take your shoes off when you come to someone’s apartment or house. If you do not, you will make an impression of a person with bad manners. Ukrainians do not wear shoes inside their house, in order to keep it clean. When you enter a home, leave your shoes at the door. If you are not provided with slippers, it is fine to enter the house without shoes. (This rule does not apply to offices and public places though, only homes and apartments).
Some superstitions are rather popular in Ukraine. For several centuries the Orthodox Church in Ukraine coexisted with ancient Pagan traditions. Therefore some elements of mysticism are still a part of Ukrainian mentality. Most people believe in God, but they do not want to make the devil angry either, just in case. You are certainly familiar with some of the superstitions, such as black cats, broken mirrors, or Friday the 13th. Here are some of the popular Ukrainian superstitions, that will probably be new to you:
If you accept and follow these stereotypes, Ukrainian women will admire you, and you will look good in public. Men usually do the following things for women:
1) Never whistle inside! Ukrainian people believe it will bring bad luck to the hosts of the place you are visiting. It is true for public places as well where whistling is considered to be an absolutely inappropriate behavior.
2) Never shake hands, give keys or anything else in the doorway. It may bring misfortune to your guest.
3) Never leave an empty bottle on the table, but if a bottle is opened, drink up.
4) Try to sit between two people with the same name. It will bring you luck.
5) Don't be alarmed when somebody spits three times over his left shoulder or sits on his luggage before going on a trip.
If you are invited to somebody’s home, it would be nice to bring a small gift. It might be a cake, flowers, or a bottle of good wine, or it might be a gift from your home country. If there are children in the house, do not forget to bring some sweets or small souvenirs for them too.
Ukrainians are used to keeping their emotions inside most of the time, but if they need to express their ideas, they are usually more straightforward than westerners are. They are not afraid to say directly what they think and express their emotions, either positive or negative. Ukrainians usually go straight to the point of the matter.
Ukrainian people adore their country. They can criticize their government a lot, but be careful, never try to do the same. In this case they will defend their country. Try not to make any careless remarks, because you might cause their furious indignation. Ukrainians are proud to be the citizens of the country with a long and rich history and deep cultural roots.
Most Ukrainian women are family oriented people. Very often parents and grandparents live together with the children. Only a century ago most Ukrainians lived in the rural areas, and living altogether was a necessity.
In Ukraine the grandparents often play a very big role in raising children. They say: "Children are our future." They help the parents to bring their children up as decent people.
Ukrainians are known as very hospitable people. They enjoy visiting their relatives and friends, and inviting people to their homes. Ukrainian people always put all the best food on the table and feed the guest, and impress him with a variety of home-prepared dishes.
Be ready to drink some alcohol. The process of drinking is rather specific. When all the glasses are full, somebody proposes a "toast", for example “to health” or “to the meeting”. Very often toasts are longer. Then people clink their glasses and drink. Very likely you will be asked to give a toast at the dinner. You can just say something nice about the hosts and their home.
Ukrainian parties are not really about eating or drinking only, but about communication first of all. Ukrainians spend hours at the table talking about different things.
Ukrainian people do not eat almost any junk food. They like to cook, so Ukrainian dishes are usually delicious, and rich of natural ingredients. Ukrainians usually combine a big number of fresh ingredients, fruits and vegetables, meat, herbs and mushrooms.
Salo (pork fat) is very popular in Ukraine. Salo has many medical properties. Ukrainian people often have it with bread and garlic, and it is delicious.
Ukrainian people have a deep respect towards bread. For many centuries Ukrainians were attached to their land, and bread was regarded as holy food. This attitude to bread can be observed in some rituals and customs.
One of the Ukrainian traditions is welcoming the guests with a loaf of bread and salt on the top. This tradition dates back to many centuries ago, and is quite symbolic in Slavic culture.
Do not demonstrate your feet. You might enjoy putting them on the furniture or stretch them in the aisle in your own house, but never do it in public places in Ukraine, or in somebody else’s house.
In case you smoke, offer your cigarettes to those around you.
In Ukraine it is considered fine to ask some personal questions about your life, earnings, and relationships. Even in case you are not used to such questions, do not be angry or shy. People are just not aware of the fact, that it may be considered impolite in your country.
You might have heard that “Ukraine is 20 years behind the West”. However sometimes it is not so bad "to be behind", for instance, if we talk about relationships between men and women. Of course, you probably will not 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.
You will certainly not find any militant feminism in Ukraine. You will never see a lady-policeman twisting arms of some criminal. In Ukraine the wife usually takes care of the house, doing cleaning and cooking, and her husband is responsible for all the technical jobs.
1) Open the door and let her in or out first.
2) Assist woman entering or exiting a vehicle
or public transportation.
3) Help them put on and take off their coats.
4) Help them carry heavy bags.
5) Pour their drinks and serve their food first. Don't expect her to uncork the bottles!
6) 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.
7) If you invite a woman somewhere, be prepared to pay for everything. If you invite a man, he'll pay for himself.
8) According to Ukraine traditions you should never kiss a woman on her forehead. It is reserved for funerals.