Some little things about Ukraine that you wouldn’t know from world news, photos, or even my journal entries:
Milk is sold in a plastic bag. So are yogurt, sour cream, and ice cream. You snip the corner and pour. Milk is also sold in a cardboard box. That kind of milk doesn’t expire for at least 6 months.
Things are sold by the kilogram. So at the market when you ask someone how much for potatoes, apples, cheese, etc. they tell you the price for the kilogram. Yesterday I bought 2 kilos of potatoes for $1. I usually buy half a kilo of my favorite cookies for the same price. So they have to put them in a bag, weigh them, and take out/add one cookie at a time until the scale reads 500 grams. They’re really good at grabbing exactly the right amount the first try.
I’ve never met a single person with a checking account. In fact, I think they might not exist. They do have bank accounts, though. Each month, in order to pay their bills, they have to stand in a line (clump) at the post office. So when I want to buy some stamps or send a package, I’m always in line (clump) behind a lot of people paying their bills. We’re really lucky that we don’t do this, we give our bills to the landlord and we assume he deals with it.
When you send a package from the L’viv post office, you cannot wrap it yourself. You should go with the things you want to send and they will do it for you. Once, I went with a padded envelope in which I was sending a canvas L’viv bag and a birthday card. They made me take out each item and weigh them separately, to the hundredth of a gram. Then they re-write the address on a piece of paper and glue stick it to the front of the envelope (over the same address I had already filled out).
In the 21 months I’ve been in Ukraine, I’ve met less than 10 men who don’t smoke. A pack of Ukrainian cigarettes costs $0.25. A pack of American cigarettes (Lucky Strikes, or Marlboro) costs $0.70. The most expensive kinds of cigarettes are those they are marketing to women, the “slim” kinds with flowers on the package. Those cost $1.20. At the same time, the concept of the “non-smoking section” is also rapidly gaining popularity. In our favorite pizza place, the non-smoking section is almost always more crowded than the smoking section.
Self-serve markets are growing in popularity. Those are the kind you’re used to, with aisles and shopping carts and cashiers. Still, the most common type of store here is one room where everything is behind a counter. You have to tell the shop woman what you want, and she goes and gets it for you. This poses a problem for those of us with limited language skills. The other day I wanted pasta, but I don’t know how to say “shells” or “wagon wheels” or “curlicues” in Ukrainian, so I had to settle for boring ol’ macaroni. Oh, and more than half the time the shop woman adds up your order on an abacus.