Saturday, 12 July 2008

Po Ukrainsku

Much as I love Poland, recent events have engendered a certain curiosity about the lands further east. Ukraine is a big country to the east of Poland. In Kiev there is a Great Gate. Also it is the name of a type of frozen chicken with breadcrumbs on the outside and garlic butter on the inside. And you should never talk about the Ukraine because it means 'the end bit' and Ukrainian people will be offended.

That is the extent of my knowledge about Ukraine before last week.

Here are a few new things I have learnt about Ukrainian culture over the past week and a half:

- Speaking Polish loudly and slowly is not the same as speaking Ukrainian, and no-one is going to be impressed (or pretend to understand you).
- Ukrainian pierogi are not as nice as Polish ones (sorry). Interestingly, the cream cheese goes on the outside. It's very confusing. Not to mention sticky.
- Ukrainian national dances are awesome. I was able to get my yearly Slavic wedding dance fix without going east of Geneva. Plus I got to have another go and the Ukrainian man-snatching dance, and managed to stay on the appropriate side of the gender gap this time.
- You can stand a knife up in borscht. Whereas you could probably swim in a bowl of barszcz.
- Ukrainians - and indeed any other non-Polish Slavic people - are Not Interested when you rave about how great Poland is. Although we managed to find common ground over kwas chlebowy (which is probably not spelt like that in Ukrainian).
- It is possible to turn a Swiss traditional brass band concert in the mountains into a Slavic wedding dance...

I realise there are some gaps in my knowledge. Must do something about that...

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Look at this

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Administrative_division_of_the_Polish-Lithuanian_Commonwealth

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wartime_Massacres_of_Poles_in_Volhynia

then you will understand why you should not "talk about Poland" in the Ukraine ;)

Anonymous said...

the 2nd link ends like this:

wiki/Wartime_Massacres_of_Poles_in_Volhynia

Anonymous said...

ps: and even if the Ukrainians understand your Polish, many of them will ignore it ;)

pinolona said...

Ok! sorry. I stand corrected. I was just excited about meeting people from a place I didn't know much about before...

W-wa Jeziorki said...

A few stereotypes to be corrected. 1943-44 is receding in both nations' memories. (My mother hailed from pre-war Wolyn.) Key thing about Ukraine is the east/west split. Think of Wales tipped over on its side; the north, still speaking Welsh, home of Welsh culture and nationalism; the south, anglicised by the mill-owners and coal mining companies in the 19th Century. For the South Wales valleys, read Donbass. For L'viv read Aberystwith. Much smaller, but the analogy is sound. When I was in L'viv in 2006, I raised a toast to Ukraine's rapid joining of the EU, and was the star of the party. I wouldn't dare to this east of Kiev!

In L'viv you can get by speaking Polish with a Russian accent (ie. put the stress all over the shop but rarely on the penultimate syllable). A strange mixture that raises eyebrows but rarely any overt hostility.

W-wa Jeziorki said...

And another thing. Sorry Poland, but Ukrainian music (folk, church) is far superior. I took my son to an Orthodox mass in Przemysl a few years ago, he was so struck by the singing, he wanted to stay for the next mass! Angelic. Not the drab old Babcie singing boring Polish hymns.

pinolona said...

Jeziorki - thanks for the analogy. That helps. sort of.
I'll have to go and visit. I'd like to check out the music too.

Anonymous - the young Ukrainians I met worked for an NGO for peace promotion so I imagine they're pretty tolerant about mentioning Poland...