Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Cultural Faux Pas #531

I don't really keep a list of the cultural faux pas I make. I try to correct them, and then I tend to forget about them. Of course there are the ones I make that even my friends don't point out to me, but I'm oblivious of those, so I can't write about them. But there is one that I make on occasion and then completely forget about until the next time:

Handing money across a threshold.

I think the cultural rule is more about shaking hands across a threshold, but it seems to apply to money also. I can count the number of times I remember doing this and had a strange reaction from the person I was making a transaction with. Once or twice I handed my former landlord the rent money while I was standing inside the apartment and he was in the hall. He actually commented on it at the time. Another time I paid the sushi deliver guy (sushi delivery in Kyiv is a story for another time) while I stood in the hall and he was on the other side of the hall door.

Yesterday I paid the monthly fee of 35 hriyvnya ($4.40) to my favorite dijourniy (think concierge without the service; they are the keepers of the entrance to the building.) and handed the money over the threshold. He didn't flinch. What he did do was put his foot in the door when he handed me back my change. And that's when I realized what I had done.

I felt like I had spat at him or something equally as rude. I know it's a superstition that has no consequences. He knows I'm a foreigner and he doesn't seem to judge me. Still, I felt awful. I don't plan on believing any superstitions soon, but I want to be culturally adept here in Ukraine and respectful of the beliefs and practices of those around me even when they don't make a lot of sense to me. Sometimes that's easier said than done.

P.S. In my quick fact checking which revealed the hand-shaking vs handing money across a threshold, I came across a faux pas that I was about to commit in the next few days. Guess I better re-think the gift I was planning on giving a friend.