Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Ukraine Cracks Open

*The following story is from Jill Winegar, who taught in Kyiv, Ukraine during the Fall 2009 semester. Thanks Jill!*

Don’t smile too much. It’s how they know you’re an American. Right. Little did I know how true this statement would prove to be once I moved to Kyiv, Ukraine.

The people there don’t smile for any reason at strangers on the street all day long, like we do here in America. Sure they’re probably happy inside, but prefer to keep to themselves. This became painfully apparent after one-too-many awkward smiles at a Ukrainian only to be returned with a stony or even scary stare. How dare you smile at me?

After the first month in Ukraine, I became accustomed to keeping my smiling self to, well, myself. I’d become quite good with the Ukrainian “death stare” as my group affectionately called it. This stare means you mean business and you’re not to be trifled with.

So, I’m riding on the bus home from school. Thunk thunk thunk. Odd. I look around to see all the windows thunking closed. Either someone had turned on the sprinklers, well there is no such thing as sprinklers in Ukraine or there certainly was a torrential rainstorm brewing outside our little trolley-bus.

Perfect. Today, the one day my host mamma-Julia didn’t follow me out the door with my umbrella, is the day I actually would get to put it to use!

I hop off the bus, clearing the river that used to be the rain gutter with a few other people. I’m starting to jog home… when I remember that that’s really not socially acceptable. I briskly set off walking. It’s a warm rain and I start to smile… when I remember that that’s not socially acceptable either. But then the unthinkable strikes. A formidable Ukrainian man with his trench coat and briefcase awards me with the biggest, truest smile I’ve ever seen. I nearly trip as I pass him. Further down the block I actually share a laugh and smile with the next person passing. Every person I passed on the way home was simply grinning ear-to-ear at being caught in the rain.

Getting to my apartment I almost turned around to walk around more, now that I was already soaked, just to enjoy the Ukrainian people cracking open. Who knew a spontaneous, warm rainstorm would bring out the cheeriness of the Ukraine?


Jeska said...

I love this!! When I was in Ukraine, there was a giant rain storm and I wasn't allowed to go outside (superstitious people, they are). But inside, it even made everyone in my host family super giddy!

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