Ukrainian Customs and Etiquette


Most Ukrainian customs are likely comparable with your own. There are only a few items that we feel are worth mentioning.  Needless to say, Ukrainian culture is deep like any other with many etiquette and tradition norms. We encourage you to do your own research and use the information below as just a basic guide. 

General

·         Traditions and customs vary by region in Ukraine. There are two basic parts of Ukraine which is East and West. The West part of the country tends to speak Ukrainian exclusively while the East prefers Russian.  Generally speaking, the West is more ‘Europe integrated’ while the East is more Russian aligned.  This often causes internal disagreements, such as EU integration or participation in NATO.

·         Ukrainians by nature are genuine people and will express their emotion freely no matter if they are positive or negative. For example in United States it is customary for people to smile often, especially those working in customer service. In Ukraine, smiles are only seen when something funny or entertaining is observed. There are no smiles simply for the sake of smiling. Same applies to negative emotions - if someone is in a bad or angry mood, they will not likely be hiding it as they might in other countries.

·         Ukrainians by nature are curious people, especially of foreigners. This is primarily due to the fact that the country has been closed off from the rest of the world for so many years. Even now, typical Ukrainian citizen has a hard time visiting Western Europe or United States due to difficulty in obtaining visa. This causes people to be curious about lives abroad and as a result Ukrainians may ask their foreign friends ‘personal’ questions. These questions could be considered intrusive by many, but they are normal in Ukraine. They may include inquires about salaries, political orientation, religious orientation and similar.

·         Ukrainians typically have low level of respect for authorities or police. This is mainly result of 70+ years under communism, where police and people in government roles had ability to earn great living through bribes or other dishonest means.  To a large degree the situation is similar in present time. Police for the most part are despised and hated while government officials are all considered to be corrupt, whether there is basis for it or not is not relevant.

Social Etiquette

·         Men are expected to be cordial towards women and should open doors, offer seats to those that are pregnant, with children, etc.  They should also help them with putting their coat on or off, helping them carry heavy bags, pull out their chairs at restaurants, light up their cigarettes, etc. When on a date with a Ukrainian women – think courting process and you will have success. Ukraine also instills strong emphasis on respecting the elders, so one is expected to give up seats to elderly people in the metro, especially if they are veterans of World War II.

·         If you invite women on a date – you are expected to pay. The ‘Dutch’ approach to dating in Ukraine is not understood at all. If you ask a woman to pay or to split the bill, you can be assured that you will be going home alone.

·         Women in Ukraine consider it improper for men to shake their hands. When meeting a new female acquaintance, we recommend either kiss on the cheek or no physical contact at all.

·         It is perfectly normal in Ukraine for men to strike up conversations with women on the streets or basically anywhere. Men can come up to girls sitting on the benches and simply start conversations and see where it leads. In many countries men could be perceived as psychos doing this but not in Ukraine. Many marriages and long term relationships that we personally know of were formed just by doing the above!  Girls can be very cold initially but if you are cautiously persistent and charming, they may warm up very quickly and give you their number or even go with you to wherever you invite them.

·         Ukrainians prefer not to stand out.  It is in some ways the opposite of United States which encourages individualism. Parents typically teach their kids to be “like everyone else” and individualism, or strong opinions are not encouraged. This can be observed often with the clothing styles which for the most part are very similar in Ukraine, especially on men. Ukrainians are almost always able to spot foreigners just from their clothes, which often display individualism through colors or unique design, whereas Ukrainians prefer gray and dark clothing to fit in with everyone else. 

·         It is common for newly formed friends to invite each other over their house. Because middle class Ukrainians can seldom afford nights out at restaurants, most celebrations take place at dining room tables in their apartments.

·         It is normal for neighbors to come knocking on doors asking for small items such as milk, butter or matches if they run out. Neighbor to neighbor relationship in Ukraine is something that may resemble family relationships in many other countries.

·         If you are invited over by a Ukrainian friend for a celebration at their home, be prepared to drink – even if it is just a symbolic amount. Vodka is the preferred alcohol while Cognac is a close second but is typically reserved for special occasions as it is more expensive.  Ukrainian way of drinking is to do shots (50mg – 100mg each) throughout the evening while complimenting it with food courses.  Not drinking at all at celebration events can sometimes be interpreted as disrespectful or may not be understood by the Ukrainians. If you are not a drinker, we recommend simply saying that you are allergic to alcohol.   If you are a drinker, be prepared to drink a lot and make toasts.

·         If you are invited over to a Ukrainian home, it is customary to bring a small gift. You can bring a bottle of wine or champagne. If you bring flowers, make sure it is an odd number.

·         At meals, meat is typically a corner store of Ukrainian table. Salo (Ukrainian version of bacon) is one of the most beloved dishes in Ukraine.  If you are vegetarian make sure to stress that you do not eat meat as often it can be interpreted as simply not liking meat versus not eating it at all.

·         Ukrainians are proud of their country and heritage. While they may often talk negatively about variety of things in Ukraine, we would advise foreigners not do the same as it can be taken out of context and interpreted incorrectly. We recommend keeping discussions neutral and letting Ukrainians criticize their country.

·         Ukrainians can often argue a point strongly and not be afraid to argue with relative strangers or make bets with them about being right.  This is a social norm and not to be misunderstood with someone being disrespectful or angry. 

For additional resources on Ukrainian etiquette and traditions we recommend visiting Trip Advisor’s Ukraine Traditions section.

 

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