When going to a foreign country, we are often worried or even scared to do something culturally embarrassing: some don't feel comfortable with hugs or kisses during meetings, some can't remember the numerous tableware, and others have trouble while tipping in restaurants. Destinations made up a simple guide to introduce readers to the etiquette in Ukraine.
It is no secret that the rules of society and cultural norms are formed throughout history. Ukraine, when it comes to it, is no different — hundreds of years under the reign of different political forces until its final independence brought a compelling fusion of culture, language and mentality. Don't be surprised if you recognize some of the etiquette rules in Ukraine — after all, it became a common knowledge in time. Ukrainian hospitality was characterized by special humanity, common to all Eastern Slavs.
Once Kyiv Prince Volodymyr Monomakh said: "Praise the guest, no matter where he came to you from". This phrase coined in his famous work "Tutorial for children" instantly became a general rule of thumb to live by. When visiting someone, Ukrainians always brought simple gifts, like bread and quart of vodka for the hosts as a token of respect. The custom of "capping" was widespread in the villages: when entering the house, the visitor must drop their hat or other headgear and smile brightly. These simple norms of etiquette in Ukraine for many generations brought up moral virtues like respect, courtesy and benevolence.
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Owners of the house in their turn did everything to please the guest. First of all, there always had to be a piece of fresh bread and a pinch of salt on the table. It was considered indecent to ask the guest about his personal life or the purpose of his visit without feeding him first. In the ancient times, the hostess was bound to wash the guest's feet — curiously, this cultural norm haven't disappeared until the nineteenth century. Some of those stayed, though, in the cultural matrix and are present nowadays too.
It is necessary to point out that some of the modern cultural moments that might be frowned upon or misunderstood in one part of the world are usual and non-surprising to others. For instance, when it comes to communication between the two genders, common rules of etiquette in Ukraine tend to be somewhat old-fashioned.
Firstly, men are expected to give up their seats to women in transport, especially and necessarily if the woman is pregnant or with a child. Then, it is usual that man helps to carry heavy bags, luggage – often girls and women on the railway station are proposed help from the friendly strangers without any hidden subtext of benefit. According to Ukrainian dating etiquette, if a man invites woman on a date, it usually means that he pays. Splitting the bill isn't common and mostly regarded as something that only friends do. Shaking hands with woman as a greeting may cause raised eyebrows — it's mostly considered a male-only gesture, so it's advised to go for kiss on a cheek or keep to the friendly nod. Other rules of social etiquette in Ukraine include helping women to put the coat on and off, lighting cigarettes if they smoke and helping with the chairs.
Elderly people are incredibly respected in Ukraine — it's a tradition that dates back from Kievan Rus, when the old generation was considered the wisest. That's why people on the public transport are expected to give up seats to elderly, help them off and on the vehicle, and sometimes — carry the grocery bags.
Apart from the dating etiquette in Ukraine, the fact that may confuse foreigners is that it's common for locals to invite newly made friends to their homes. It goes without saying that meetings with the old and trusted friends most often happen there, too. Moreover, most celebrations, especially big holidays like New Year, are hosted in apartments and it's common that each guest brings something for the table, while the host provides the main dishes. For instance, bringing in a bottle of wine or champagne is considered a good gesture of gift giving etiquette in Ukraine.
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If someone is invited to a celebration, they are expected to drink along with everyone, even a symbolic amount as a token gesture. It is another confusing point for the foreigners. Abstaining sometimes may be read as disrespectful, especially if the host doesn't know the reason. Toasts are a necessary part of any celebration — Ukrainians actually have various toasts that differ from region to region, passed by generations. Speaking of celebrations and going out, it is necessary to mention another rule of dining etiquette in Ukraine: tipping. As a rule, cafes or restaurants write the estimated amount of tip on the bill. If they don't, locals leave 10-15% of the sum. Leaving without tipping is considered rude, unless the service was poor.
Ukrainian business etiquette
When it comes to business, the first and the most important step is to keep to the well-known rules of politeness: be punctual, tactful and polite. One of the most valued traits of business etiquette in Ukraine is directness — people aren't expected beat around the bush, but they also should know their boundaries not to appear insensitive or blunt. Trustworthiness is another feature of incredible importance. Usually, Ukrainians tend to do business with someone they know well and trust, sometimes even preferring their acquaintance over recommendations. Presenting yourself as a trustworthy person and getting to know each other better are among the common rules of business etiquette in Ukraine, which help to build a network of contacts to further business conduct. Appointments are usually confirmed shortly prior the meeting day by the phone or via e-mail. Smart dress-code and punctuality for those is a necessary part, like in anywhere else in the world. Business meeting etiquette in Ukraine may confuse foreigners with the liberal following the agenda on meetings, as sometimes people present may tend to wander off and talk about other topics. This, however, is changing day by day with the introduction of the Western business culture and its common gestures, such as strict planning, thank-you e-mails and quick responses within 24 hours.
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Negotiations, especially ones that involve government in the matter, can be quite long-drawn and bureaucratic. Nowadays, various laws are being implemented to reduce the red tape in business, but long awaiting for the result or numerous additional obstacles to overcome often appear still.
As any country, Ukraine is full of cultural norms and traditions merged by history and mentality. While it is necessary to keep to the general norms of politeness and tact, the rules of etiquette in Ukraine which are lesser known can be taught by locals and introduced in a safe environment rather than an embarrassing situation.
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