Ukrainians are extremely sociable people, taking a lot of pride in making the most of any social occasion they put on. As a guest, you can be assured of a warm welcome, plenty of good food and long, meaningful conversation.
In the Ukraine, the title of ‘friend’ is not one to be taken lightly. A friend, to a Ukrainian is someone who is considered as part of the family, so to be invited to a social event is quite the honour, especially for a foreigner.
Ukrainians are incredibly hospitable people and enjoy long and meaningful talks whilst consuming vast amounts of food. Be prepared for any ‘quick’ catch-ups to be anything but! In a world that seems to run on status updates, ‘likes’ and tweets, it is a wonderful attribute of the Ukrainian social life that so much time is taken to get to know a person properly.
The dinner party
Ukrainians socialise with a variety of events, from barbecues to buffet parties, but perhaps one of the most favoured social events is the dinner party. This is often an experience that someone unfamiliar with Ukrainian customs needs most preparation for. Ukrainians are no strangers to superstition and there are gestures and actions that one would ordinarily take to be polite that would not go over well at a Ukrainian house, such as giving a gift of an even number of flowers.
Greeting your host
Another example of a Ukrainian superstition would be the greeting when arriving at the host’s home. In the West, a handshake and a hello before you’ve set foot inside the home is perfectly acceptable. In the Ukrainian home, however, a handshake across the threshold is forbidden. It is also a good idea to follow your host’s lead, as a handshake may not even be appropriate.
When greeting a woman on your arrival, it is not customary to kiss her unless you know her very well. If she is a good friend then it is normal to give her three kisses on your arrival and the same on your departure.
If you wish to provide gifts for your host then wine or whiskey is perfectly acceptable. Make note, that as a foreigner, you will be expected to bring something a bit ‘different’ for your host as a gift of Ukrainian wine or liquor will likely be frowned upon. The normal gift for the children of the host is sweets.
Once the greetings and gift-givings are done, you will be presented with a table full of appetisers. You will be expected to help yourself and you do not need to be shy about how much you eat. The more you eat, the happier your hosts will be. In fact, eating until you are uncomfortable is the norm at Ukrainian occasions such as these.
Finally, along with the dessert comes the toasting. In the Ukraine, toasting is an integral part of a dinner party and has strict rules that must be adhered to.
The first toast is given by the host and is usually to health. The second toast, also given by the host, will usually be to the guests, and then the guests will give the third toast.
The Ukrainian social life is a wonderfully active one and must be fully embraced to enjoy it as it should be enjoyed. While much can be picked up as you go, there are some aspects, such as superstitions, that it would be wise to make note of before embarking on any social occasion.