5 rules for Ukrainian etiquette

Ukraine is a country that in spite of its recent wars and economic turmoil is fast recovering its popularity for visitors. But what should you be careful of in terms of your manners while on a trip there?

1. When visiting a Ukrainian home it is typical to bring a small gift such as flowers, chocolates, sweets or wine for the host. That’s standard in other countries but it’s important to remember that if there is a child in the house, it is appropriate to provide him/her with a small gift as well. 

Most importantly, if you bring flowers, make sure the number of flowers is odd (3,5, etc.) – even numbers are for funerals and for the grieving!

Also, be prepared to remove your shoes upon entering a home. To keep apartments clean, most hosts will provide you with a pair of slippers.

Be ready to give toasts at dinner, for guests are often asked to do so. The Ukrainian word for ‘cheers’ is будьмо (‘budmo‘). So inevitably in my experience you will have to give a proper toast like a small speech and not just ‘cheers!’.

And most importantly  be prepared to accept all food and drink offered when visiting friends. Turning down food may be considered rude. If you find you cannot eat it all, keep something on your plate to avoid having it replenished!

2. Never confuse Ukraine with Russia. Ukraine has been independent since 1991 and Ukrainians are likely to be even more sensitive to this since the annexation of Crimea and the start of the war in Donbas. This is made even more confusing by the fact that many Ukrainians speak Russian as their first language. It reminds me of how Irish people are often offended if they are confused with being English. This is definitely one to avoid!

3. Ukrainians have many superstitions. Here are a few examples:
a. Do not whistle; some believe it will “blow your money away.”

b. Do not shake hands across the threshold of a door. It is considered bad luck.

c. Never take the garbage out after sunset – bad spirits will get into the house and/or you will be surrounded by bad rumors.

4. At the entrance of upscale restaurants and theaters, expect that your coat, briefcase, or baggage will be checked.

 This is different to most other European countries, where it is not customary in restaurants. It’s rare to see a coat on the back of a chair in Ukraine!

5. Don’t put your thumb between your first two fingers; this is a very rude gesture. Be careful so that you don’t accidentally offend your Ukrainian friends! 😂

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