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Correspondent 37

Back from Holiday: A Pause Mid-thought at Summer’s End

Normally, returning to Ukraine after trips to Canada I feel relieved to be back here: no overarching family moralizing, cheaper cost of living, the big fish in a little pond syndrome. The sense of relief I felt this time, though, only came from not having to drive or go anywhere for the first time in weeks. My girlfriend and I packed so much into 14 days and saw so many things that I wonder what I ever did to amuse myself when I lived there. And despite my warnings about obese people, processed foods, oversized vehicles and monolingual people, she loved it – and I fell in love with the place all over again. It was all quite unexpected.

Now living here for six years and loving castles and fortresses as I do, it still took me nearly six years to finally see Kamyanets-Podilskiy. My recent trip there, as to Canada for my girlfriend, did not disappoint. My problem has often been in seeing things in black and white, good or bad, fun or boring; I rarely take the time to see whether something is different than what I first assume it is. My initial view of Ukraine was framed by a rather negative Canadian government consultant who described the country as full of gangsters and scam artists looking to do nothing more than to rob every foreigner who comes here. I lived as a virtual shut-in for my first two years in the country largely because of the effect that had on me.

But you know, it really doesn’t take a lot to enjoy life in Ukraine: an open mind, a sense of adventure and a positive attitude. But that’s the same everywhere. Living here has opened my eyes to many things, including how beautiful and fun it has been since I started to form my own opinion about Ukraine. The people here are resourceful and capable of becoming dear friends because they’ve survived countless hardships and know the meaning of life. They know what it takes to have fun. Thankfully, it’s contagious.

Visa news for foreigners
As of July 26, 2007, foreigners from countries for whom visa restrictions were lifted by the Ukrainian government in mid-2005 have been changed. While it is still possible to enter and exit the country without a visa, foreigners may now spend no more than 90 days out of every 180 in Ukraine without having a valid visa for work or immigration purposes. While it is possible to extend this period without leaving the country, the smart move would be for those working here as consultants but without a visa to get the relevant visa and leave the entry/exit hassles behind.

Consumer reports
In the West, taking goods back to the store where they were bought is a pretty simple affair, whether it’s a clothing item (save socks and underwear) or food, such as meat or dairy. In the latter case, if it’s spoiled, doesn’t taste right or just isn’t satisfactory, the common practice is to bring in the unused portion with the receipt and either get a new container or portion or get a full refund. Things are a bit trickier here, but mostly due to vendor intransigence.

In the bigger supermarkets, the western standard applies – have that receipt handy – but in smaller ‘mom and pop’ shops, this isn’t always the case as I recently found out. Now, while I’ve had luck in the past in returning spoiled dairy products (most cashiers didn’t understand why I didn’t just throw it away and buy a new container of milk/kefir/sour cream, but they gave me my money back or allowed me to exchange the goods), a recent experience was a little trickier.

I bought kefir from a corner shop that I frequent for snacks and even lunch. The kefir has this horrible metallic/chemical taste to it so I took it back, with the receipt and asked to either exchange it or get my money back. Instead, I got an earful about how low-fat kefir simply tastes that way and what am I doing here asking for my money back? But I persisted, telling this woman I know good kefir from bad. While she kept yelling, the kind cashier with whom I make small talk every day offered to give me my money back. I said thanks and instead took a fresh container.

In such situations, I say keep at it – it helps change people’s minds. Many Ukrainians just aren’t used to getting things their way. It’s not as if I should feel entitled to this privilege as a foreigner; I feel entitled, like any Ukrainian, as a consumer. The EU and the US call this a market economy, after all.


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