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Customs & Traditions in Ukraine

Updated: Nov 9, 2021

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Traditions and customs vary by region in Ukraine. Here is the basic Etiquette in Ukraine.



General Etiquette


  • Ukrainians are honest people and will express their emotions freely no matter if they are positive or negative.

  • Ukrainians are curious people, so they may ask you personal questions like inquires about salaries, political and religious views, etc.

  • It is a bad manner to sit on the floor, or the ground, or on the stairs.

  • It is forbidden to walk and sit on the grass in many public places, especially where flowers grow.

  • It is considered bad manners to talk loudly, to talk waving hands, etc.

  • Ukrainians also have a strong emphasis on respecting the elders, so one is expected to give up seats to elderly people in public transportation.

  • Ukrainians are proud of their country and heritage. While they may often talk negatively about a variety of things in Ukraine, we would advise foreigners not to do the same, keep discussions neutral, and let Ukrainians criticize their country.



Naming

  • Ukrainian names are composed of the First names + Middle name+ Last name.

  • The First name, which is the person’s given name, the Middle name, which is a patronymic, or the father’s first name formed by adding "-vich" or "-ovich" for a male and "-avna", "-ovna", or "ivna" for a female. Example The son of Alexi would have a patronymic of Alexivich while the daughter’s patronymic would be Alexivina.

  • Last name, which is the family or surname.

  • In formal situations, people use all three names.

  • Friends and close colleagues may refer to each other by their first name and patronymic.



Meeting & Greeting:

  • The usual greeting is a warm, firm handshake, maintaining direct eye contact, and repeating your name.

  • When female friends meet, they kiss on the cheek three times, starting with the left and then alternating, or one kiss on the cheek is common for women who know each other.

  • While close male friends may pat each other on the back and hug, but a firm handshake with the right hand is most common.

  • Men sometimes shake women's hands (but in very official relations, business meetings for example). One kiss on the cheek is common for friends, or colleagues (mostly young people). A nod of acknowledgment is the most popular.

  • Men are expected to be friendly towards women and should open doors, offer seats to those that are pregnant, with children, etc.

  • They should also help them with putting their coat on or off, helping them carry heavy bags, pulling out their chairs at restaurants, lighting up their cigarettes, etc.

  • If you invite a woman on a date – you are expected to pay the bill don't let her pay the bill or split the bill together.

  • Women in Ukraine consider it improper for men to shake their hands. When meeting a new female colleague, we recommend either kissing on the cheek or no physical contact at all.

  • It is perfectly normal in Ukraine for men to strike up conversations with women on the streets or anywhere. Men can come up to girls sitting on the benches and simply start conversations and see where it leads. In many countries, men could be perceived as psychos doing this but not in Ukraine.

  • Ukrainians prefer not to stand out. Parents typically teach their kids to be “like everyone else”, individualism, or strong opinions are not encouraged. This can be observed often with the clothing styles which for the most part are very similar in Ukraine, especially on men.

  • Ukrainians are almost always able to spot foreigners just from their clothes, which often display individualism through colors or unique design, whereas Ukrainians prefer gray and dark clothing to fit in with everyone else.


Visiting a home

  • It is common for newly formed friends to invite each other to their house. Because middle-class Ukrainians can seldom afford nights out at restaurants, most celebrations take place at dining room tables in their apartments.

  • It is normal for neighbors to come knocking on doors asking for small items such as milk, butter, or matches if they run out.

  • Neighbor- to- neighbor relationship in Ukraine is something that may resemble family relationships in many other countries.

  • If you are invited by a Ukrainian friend for a celebration at their home, be prepared to drink – even if it is just a symbolic amount.

  • Not drinking at all at celebration events can sometimes be translated as disrespectful or may not be understood by the Ukrainians. If you are not a drinker, we recommend simply saying that you are allergic to alcohol. If you are a drinker, be prepared to drink a lot and make toasts.

  • If you are invited over to a Ukrainian home, it is customary to bring a small gift. You can bring a bottle of wine or champagne. If you bring flowers, make sure it is an odd number.

  • At meals, meat is typically a corner store of Ukrainian tables. Salo (the Ukrainian version of bacon) is one of the most beloved dishes in Ukraine. If you are vegetarian make sure to stress that you do not eat meat as often it can be interpreted as simply not liking meat versus not eating it at all.



Giving gifts

  • Ukrainians exchange gifts with family and close friends on birthdays and Christmas.

  • Name days’ (birth date of the saint after whom a person was named) are also celebrated rather than birthdays by some.

  • Gifts need not be expensive. It is the act of giving the gift that is important since it symbolizes friendship.

  • If you are invited to a Ukrainian’s home for a meal it is polite to bring something; cake, flowers, or a bottle of imported liquor.

  • Flowers should only be given in odd numbers and avoid yellow flowers.

  • Gifts are generally not opened when received.


Dining & Food

  • Table manners are Continental, i.e. hold the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating.

  • Do not begin eating until the host invites you to start.

  • Always keep your hands visible when eating. Keep your wrists resting on the edge of the table.

  • The oldest or most honored guest is served first.

  • Try everything. Refusing a dish is considered very rude.

  • You will often be urged to take second helpings.

  • Toasting is part of the culture and generally occurs whenever three or more people share a meal.

  • Ukrainians are suspicious of people who do not drink. Having said that, it is better to offer a medical condition as an excuse rather than starting to drink and failing to keep pace with your Ukrainian counterparts.

  • The host gives the first toast, usually to the guest of honor, who may return the toast later in the meal.

  • Most toasts are given with vodka. You need not finish the glass, but you must take a sip.

  • Do not clink your glass with others during a toast if you are not drinking an alcoholic beverage.

  • Glasses are filled no more than two-thirds full.

  • Never refill your glass.

  • Do not pour wine backhanded.

  • An open bottle must be finished. Empty bottles are not left on the table. They are immediately removed.




Communication style

  • Ukrainians can be direct, but no rarely means no, and they will usually assume that your “no" doesn’t mean no as well. For example, if they say no when you offer them food, they expect to be offered it again and again, and vice versa.

  • Many Ukrainians will avoid talking about specific topics, especially if it’s a difficult or uncomfortable topic. They may try not to tell you things if they’re afraid they will upset you – even things you think you should know.

  • Ukrainians tend to stand pretty close to one another during conversations, a bit less than arm’s length is common.

  • There is not that much touching during conversations, especially a first meeting. Friends and family tend to touch more.

  • Direct eye contact is the norm and expected. However, it is considered rude to blatantly stare at someone, and noticeably avoiding direct eye contact may cause a kind of suspicion.

  • Flicking your neck with your finger can mean you want a drink or someone is drunk.

  • It's best to point with your whole hand rather than a single finger.

  • Putting your thumb in between your middle and index finger while making a fist is an obscene gesture.





Other consideration

  • Women are not supposed to invite men in their house, not even a friend, or to be at a bar or café (especially drinking) alone. Instead of drinking shots of vodka at a party, women often drink shots of (homemade) wine instead, but it’s not required.

  • Men tend to ask women out and can be very forward. It’s unusual for men and women to be just friends, relations between the two can be quite formal.

  • Modern Ukrainian women work as much as men and often try to manage all the housekeeping. The expected role of women in everyday life is cooking, arranging tables, cleaning after guests (for example, if there's a home party or a picnic). And they gladly do it. But asking or forcing can be roughly rejected.

  • If a woman is a guest she would offer her help to clean after a meal, but usually, this is politely refused.



Readers Also Read:

Quick Brief About Ukraine

Facts About Ukraine Famous Food you should try in Ukraine

Famous Places to visit in Ukraine


Customs, Traditions & Etiquette in Ukraine


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