Again, the two things in the title are not connected.
Sorry there won’t be any pictures for this first part but if you can focus anyway and read the post instead I’m sure you’ll find it entertaining enough. It was the highlight of my trip so far.
That night in the village we went to a slightly larger village, Kaminka Buzka, to celebrate Ulyana’s sister (that’s what she called her in Ukrainian so I felt really ripped off to find out she is just her cousin. That’s just how they say it in Ukrainian and it’s only when you ask for a little more information that they will clarify that they are a dvoyurodna sestra, which is a cousin) This celebration took place in a hip little club. We got there and the table was set with all sorts of little appetizers. The one that made the biggest impression on me was a little buterbrod (open-faced sandwich) with kovbaska(bologna) and cheese and tomato and herbs. You know how it’s hip in the culinary field in America right now to experiment with infusing things with hickory smoke or tea or tobacco. Well these buterbrody where definitely infused with tobacco, but I don’t think it was the cook trying to be a progressive cook. I think it was just a cook that was too lazy to go outside for his cigarette break.
At the table was a group of young Ukrainians, some cousins and others friends. The table was set with bottles of all different types of drinks: soda, water, red wine, white wine, vodka and so on. And what surprised me most was that at one point the waitress came over to the table and asked for the entrance fee of 20 hrivna per person. The birthday girl got a bunch of money out of her wallet and gave it to the waitress. I realized she was paying for her whole birthday party herself, which probably ended up being about 200$ for her which is a month’s salary for the average Ukrainian. I guess that’s normal here. To throw yourself a giant party.
Everyone went around the table taking turns making toasts to the birthday girl. They took themselves really seriously and you could tell that they were really nervous when they were giving their toasts. I even did my own toast in Ukrainian. Everyone was very impressed and said that I didn’t even make any mistakes!!!
Everyone was just infatuated with hearing about America and hearing me speak Ukrainian. They asked me if I knew what a moskal is (this comes from ‘Moscow’ and is a derrogatory term for Russians) and I said of course and I recited a little rhyme that my friend Roma taught me, ‘Moskalyaku na hilyaku’, which means that a Moskal belongs on a noose. Oh my gosh, they roared with laughter. They were so proud of me, it was hilarious. It was so much fun to joke with them. That is one of my greatest joys in learning a new language is getting to use your surprising knowledge of the language or lack thereof to make people laugh. At one point an awesome hip hop song came on and I told Andriy that to this kind of music you have to rukhatysya popkoyu, ‘move your little bum’which they all thought was hilarious. And then we went to the dance floor and I tried to show him how to ‘shake you booty’. They loved it.
I was probably the first foreigner that any of them have ever met and perhaps the first time that they’ve heard a native speak English live. At one point I just casually mentioned the city Los Angeles and they were delighted to hear me say it in English. They proceeded to make me go through all the states and cities in America that I could think of and when I couldn’t remember any more they had me say Los Angeles over and over again.
Sitting next to me at the table was a guy Andriy. He was quite the character. He was hounding me with questions all night. First it started with (as do most conversations when people find out that I’m an American) zarplaty , or wages. How much do people get paid in America? How much does a car cost in America? How much do groceries cost? See the predicament of the Ukrainians right now is inflation. Prices of groceries have gone way up but their salaries have remained the same. The average salary here is about $200 dollars a month and groceries cost just a little less than in America.
Of course I always try to explain to them that health insurance costs an arm and a leg and in America you just have all kinds of bills. That’s always the shock for the refugees that I have helped in the past is grasping that you have to pay for electricity and water and gas and phone and car insurance EVERY MONTH.
So anyway, don’t be offended when Russian/Ukrainians ask you how much money you make and how much you spend on things. That’s not considered a private matter in their culture and they are super fascinated with how people live abroad because they just can not wrap their brains around how we live in America.
Understand, that there were about 11 people at the table and each person HAD to give a toast. So that means eleven shots of vodka for those that were drinking (surprisingly, they didn’t drink nearly as much as I’ve seen Russians do. And I actually also heard that alcoholism is less of a problem in Western Ukraine than it is in Eastern Ukraine). The girls did shots of wine. I had, of course, only had carbonated water because I’m a proud party-pooping Mormon!
So towards the end of the night Andriy was pretty tipsy. The more he drank the more ridiculous his questions got. Andriy enjoyed hearing about my opinions about Ukrainian men especially after he heard that I had a Ukrainian boyfriend at one time. Interestingly, the drunker he got the more he spoke Russian. Because as I mentioned in an earlier post, speaking proper Ukrainian, and not a mix of Russian or other dialects, takes conscious effort for most.
He said that a lot of tourists come to Ukraine because their prostitiutes are some of the cheapest in the world (which I don’t know if this is something to necessarily boast about) and then proceeded to ask me about the price of prostitutes in America. I answered zvidky ya znayu? “How should I know”. I don’t know how much prostitutes cost in America. When I said this he continued to probe, saying, you know, how much for an hour. Alright, so I’ve watched my share of movies to know that at certain truckstops you can get certain favors at a pretty reasonable price(10$), so I told him that. He nodded his head and sat back in his seat pensively, saying interesno, interesno (which is Russian instead of the Ukrainian tsikavo). “Interesting, interesting”
The last thing that captured Andriy’s curiousity is how American men dress. I (made the mistake of) pointing out to him a guy in the club who was wearing plaid shorts and a tee shirt with a long-sleeve white t-shirt underneath as well as stylish tennis shoes without socks and saying that he looked like an American. Andriy then became so interested to know who else looks like and American. He asked if he himself could pass as an American. I explained that it all depends on the shoes. He had the pointy square toed shoes that you so often see on Russian/Ukrainian men and I told him, unfortunately he would not pass as an American. He was so devastated by this. He then made me walk around the club and show him people who could pass as Americans. Most of whom were wearing tennis shoes, a t-shirt and shorts or jeans. So I hope he figured out the recipe for an American outfit.
Andriy got more melancholy as the night when on, saying to himself, treba v Ameriku, ‘need to go to America’ and treba vchyty anhlisku, ‘gotta learn English’. It kind of broke my heart.
As much as Andriy was hounding me with questions it was AWESOME practice!!! My Ukrainian skills increased three-fold just in those few hours.
P.S. If any of my readers DO happen to know the actual prices of prostitutes in America you can leave a comment (I’m assuming you’ll want to do it anonymously) and I can get back to Andriy about it.
On Sunday we drove back from the village early in the morning so that I could get back in time for church. My church, by the way, is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints. My brother in law served a mission in Ukraine, Ukrainian (and not Russian) speaking and spent a lot of his time here in Lviv. So, my brother in law hooked me up with one of the Ukrainian members of the ward here in Lviv and we walked to church together.
There were only about 25 people in church. It was sweet. I didn’t understand every word but I understood the essence. After the first meeting everyone came up to me and wanted to meet me. Thanks to Andriy the night before in the diskoteka, I was on a roll. I was an interacting machine! Not a single word of Russian was uttered. (Often when I don’t understand a word in Ukrainian they will tell me the Russian equivalent) In fact for 3 days straight I had been speaking about 95% Ukrainian, 4% Russian and 1% English. I was even thinking in Ukrainian (these numbers are approximate).
In Sunday school, while reading the bible I found it interesting that the teacher was correcting peoples’ pronunciation. I mean, these are just old, literary Ukrainian words that average people are not familiar with so the teacher was helping them as they would speak. The teacher also made me read several verses. I normally would have been terrified to do so but because everybody was reading incorrectly I wasn’t so intimidated. Then the teacher made me give the closing prayer. In Moscow I went to an English-speaking international ward, so I never really gained religious vocabulary. So I tried to do it in Russian but it came out such a mess. I was stuttering and speaking half Russian half Ukrainian. I don’t even think God the Almighty understood me.
After church some of the sister missionaries asked me to help them communicate with one of their investigators there, who only speaks Russian. I mean, she understands Ukrainian, but will only speak Russian. So I sat down and started trying to speak with her. It took me forever to get into the groove. But then I settled in and was speaking freely in Russian. The sisters were so grateful to me, because they felt like they just couldn’t communicate with her in Ukrainian.
But man, just those 15 minutes of straight Russian screwed up my Ukrainian for the rest of the day. I could not believe it!!! How is that possible!!!!???? I could not, for the life of me, say a single Ukrainian sentence without saying something in Russian. I was just a wreck. Ulyana’s mother was right, Russian is a parasite!!! (I mean, only in the sense that it messes with you when you’re speaking Ukrainian and it’s hard to get rid of, please don’t take offense dear Russophiles!)
After church I met up with Ulyana near the Opera house and we went to a restaurant called Puzata Khata. It’s a cafeteria style restaurant that serves traditional Ukrainian food. There is a chain of these restaurants all throughout Ukraine.
After that we went to an open air park called Shevchenkeskiy Hai. You walk around the hillside and all throughout there are little homes and churches and mills in the style of how they were for the peasants 100 years ago. It was really beautiful. I wish I would have brought my good camera because these pictures are kind of crappy. But I didn’t know that we were going there. I was super tired and poor Ulyana was in heels and we were pretty much hiking, so we weren’t able to enjoy it thoroughly. I’ll have to go back.