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.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Yesterday I made a salad that I would have loved to share with Mina Taylor. As I thought about this colorful red cabbage (in Russian, ‘blue’ cabbage) salad, I reminisced about living in the Taylor’s missionary quarters, occasionally cooking for them, sharing recipes with Mina and the other aspects of life that come from living with people and the ‘sharpening one another’ that takes place. I miss that these days, living alone in a quiet apartment.

When I said goodbye last December, I knew that, despite all the things I was looking forward to returning to in Kyiv, I was going to miss many aspects of California. My last post mentions them and, truly, I miss all those things and more. Most of all I miss people: the ones I saw every day, the ones I would only see occasionally and the ones who are so far away that I haven't seen them in far too long.

Some days and weeks my life here in Kyiv is full, other weeks are quiet and slow. I am enjoying it all and especially the transition from winter to spring right now. The snow has melted, the temperature is generally above freezing and the days are sunny. While spring officially arrived on March 1 here in Ukraine, it finally feels like it really is around the corner.

You never know what kind of musings a new salad recipe might prompt.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Advent & Anticipation

All through December I've been asking people "What are you looking forward to this Christmas season?" Almost every time the answer has centered around something that happens on Christmas Day. The center of my question was about the season as a whole but many answers reflected our mentality of Christmas as a one-day event. We spend the entire month of December (or some of you, longer) preparing for this one day that comes and quickly goes. And we tire ourselves out with this approach.

The aspect of the Christmas season that I enjoy most is the preparation that is Advent: reading through parts of Scripture that foretell Christ's birth and the anticipation that Israel felt waiting for the Savior. I was struck this year by the waiting and preparation that Mary did. She was told by angel before she became pregnant what would be ahead of her. She had nine months to wait and prepare. What would our lives look like if we spent 9 months preparing for the birth of Christ? How would our Christmas celebrations look different?

I've spent the last month preparing not only for Christmas, but also for my return to my other home in Kyiv. It would be easy to be frantic, but I've tried to slow my thoughts down and enjoy what is going on around me even when I'm tired out by all the parties and meals out. December 28 is coming up all too soon and my time here will be, for a while, at an end. And I am anticipating with great pleasure landing on the tarmac at Borispil and being home again. In anticipation of this, I've made a list of some of the things I'm looking forward to:
  • long, long conversations around the table while drinking many cups of tea.
  • walking everywhere.
  • meeting Lev Oldenburg and Elizabeth Yakim.
  • hearing Ukrainian every day.
  • interruptions that throw my schedule off and make me stop and listen to others.
  • buying food and other items in small quantities.
  • Ukrainian chocolate, especially anything that is made by Roshen.
  • caroling on January 7.
  • eating open face sandwiches and Olivier salad.
  • four seasons.
At the same time, there are some things that I am going to miss:
  • living with the Taylors.
  • Granada Heights Friends Church and being connected with people from ages 3 to 90.
  • feeling like an equal even when I am around those with higher 'status' than I.
  • being able to speak my mind freely and without reproach.
  • eating Asian food regularly but especially Korean food.
  • having breakfast with my brother from time to time.
  • going to the bookstore and finding more books to buy than I have time to read or money to spend.
  • the independence that one has in driving a car.
  • Bible study with other women, led and taught by wise women.
  • the beauty of the gardens at the Huntington Library.
As I go through the Advent season and think of these things that I look forward to and the things and people that I leave behind, I think about what Jesus gave up when he left heaven to walk on earth. People sometimes look at me and wonder how I can give up all my rights and comforts and position here in California and go to a foreign land, but when I look at how much Jesus gave up to walk among us to show us who God is, I think that my 'sacrifice' is minimal compared to his.

As you anticipate all the good things that come this weekend, may you also remember the anticipation and fulfillment that encompasses our lives as we celebrate Jesus' birth.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Salad for Susanna

You probably already know that I enjoy cooking. I enjoy being creative and the challenge of figuring out recipes on my own. I enjoy the time to think while I'm in the kitchen. I enjoy making guests happy. And I really enjoy eating! Some of my favorite hours in life have been sharing with friends around a table.

Someone asked me last week what my specialty is. I thought for a moment and the only answer I could come up with is making something up out of whatever is in the frig at the moment. I often deviate from recipes and make substitutions. This salad has been one of my favorites since I moved to Ukraine, but it was not until a friend brought the recipe over to make for a New Year's Eve celebration that I have been able to make it on my own. Since then I haven't felt the need to alter it at all.

This recipe is for my friend Susanna who has lived in Ukraine for the last two years. She is leaving Kyiv in a week and I will miss the times around the table drinking tea, discussing life as an expat and thinking about how to live well.

Korean* Carrot Salad

1 kilogram grated/shredded carrots
4 tablespoons oil
4 tablespoons vinegar
4 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 head of garlic, minced

Mix all the ingredients together. Let sit for one hour before serving.

*I am not entirely sure why this Ukrainian salad is considered Korean. I never had anything similar to it during my two years in Korea. However, Korea is a large country and there are many regional dishes, so I could have just missed it. If any of my Ukrainian or Korean friends have an explanation, I'd love to hear it.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

New Words

I wanted to make a list of 'new' words that have appeared in the last few years, but it seems to be much shorter than I thought. These are the ones I have noticed recently:
  • sliders. I still am not 100% sure of what that means (a bite-sized hamburger?). Plus there is the Spanish version, tortas, (is this the same as a slider?) which I see advertised at convenience stores.
  • hoodies. I know this has been around for a while now, but it was not being used when I left in 2002. I still have a hard time saying it.
  • blackberry. I know it's a phone. I think it's probably the cool phone that predated the iPhone, but I'm only guessing about that.
  • texting. I get it, but I have to work at remembering to say it. We use the term SMS in Ukraine (as does the rest of Europe), which is what I'm more accustomed to saying.
Of course there are more technology words, but that's to be expected. I'm there are plenty more that I've left off, and there are the words that have shifted meanings, but this is enough food for thought for now.

Are there any words that you can think of that are 'new'?

Friday, July 16, 2010


Some well-informed people have asked me if I am experiencing 'culture shock' (or, more aptly, reverse culture shock). I laugh a little and say no. I've lived abroad and gone back and forth between cultures enough that I'm generally comfortable with the transition. I don't always enjoy the process, but I know what to expect and how to get through uncomfortable moments. I let myself linger in certain stores a little longer the first few times so that I become familiar with what's there and what's changed. I expect to be on the outside of conversations that have to do with television shows (but that's always been true). I ask questions about state politics so that I'm more informed when it comes time to vote in November. I try to buy healthy foods so that I don't become 'shocked' by weight gain. I usually get lost the first time I go to a place even if I've been there and still have a copy of the Thomas Guide in my car (do they even make those anymore?).

I expect these things and know that just about the time I'm quite comfortable with life in southern California, it'll be time to leave.

But what I didn't expect this time is how incompetent I've felt. I haven't known which cleaning products to buy or which stores to find good deals at. Some of my recipes are written with metric measurements and I don't know the equivalent in cups. I haven't known what to say when someone asks if I want to join their club/card/whatever because when I say, well, I live in Eastern Europe, because that can start a really complex conversation with a stranger. (Hmm, maybe that is a good thing, though.) Even driving a new car has given me cause to hesitate at times.

As I reflect, I realize that this is similar to what a missionary experiences when they first enter a new culture—minus the language barrier. I have now been in southern California for three months, and I finally feel fairly competent again. There are still things I do well in my own culture: I can still whip up great salads and dressings without much thought, I have a daily swimming routine, and I've gotten to know my neighbors.

So whether it is called reverse culture shock or something else, it is pleasant to feel settled and competent again.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Comings and Goings

Sometimes people ask what I miss about home or what I'm looking forward to when I return to California. On a superficial level, I miss avocados, Mexican food, meeting in coffee shops and the availability of inexpensive, quality goods. I also have a list of the things I miss when I leave Ukraine: mineral water, extensive public transportation, purchasing food that is more locally grown and only a 10 minute walk from my apartment and other amazing food in general, to name a few.

But on a deeper level, I miss people and relationships more than anything else. Besides weddings, birthdays and graduations, I miss birthday parties and watching my friends' children grow up. I miss the people who challenge me and spur me on to be Christlike. But the same is true when I leave Ukraine. Two friends are giving birth in the next month. I will miss the opportunities to help them out. I will miss seeing the joy on their faces as I watch them and their husbands revel in having a new child in their lives. Also, two friends are getting married this summer. I will miss out on their extreme mountain-top wedding. I will miss sitting around the table and sharing our lives with one another.

Last night several youth came over for the evening. We ate a lot of sweets, drank tea and just enjoyed talking. Another girl is leaving to study abroad soon, so we talked about that. They made me a memory book full of photos from this last year. I joked about crying but will probably only do so once I'm gone.

Having two homes is good but leaving is always hard. But arriving is always great.

To those I leave behind, I will miss you and look forward to seeing you again in 7 months and all the time we will spend together again around the table drinking tea.

To those I am coming home to, I look forward to the time we will spend together. It will also be hard to say goodbye to you at the end of the year.

До встречи!