We are officially famous in Ukraine now. Well, sort of. This picture was taken by our friend, Joe Ragan, while driving through Kremenchug on his way to Kyiv. The caption on the billboard says in Ukrainian something like, Solid Family – Strong Ukraine, which made us laugh even harder. Apparently I did not look like a Cossack or Ukrainian, so they changed my facial hair. We are waiting to see this advertisement in Kyiv and are grateful that we are not advertising for vodka or something else. And no, we had not idea our photo was ripped off for the billboard. Someone said that we could take them to court. Now that is really funny if you know how the courts operate in Ukraine. Enjoy!
I was recently at a friend’s office, and he was telling me about his new, Canon, Wi-Fi printer. I looked at it, and was puzzled for a moment, because I saw an appendage on the side of the printer that certainly did not come with the printer. There were four, colored bottles hanging on the side with four small tubes snaking around the front of the printer. The tubes vanished into the printer.
After a minute, I realized that a Ukrainian rigged up this system to avoid paying for original Canon cartridges or to avoid having to refill the cartridges at a store. I asked my friend, “What do you call that thing in Russian? I need to get me a one of those there contraptions.” He replied, “I do not know, but it works.” This is classic Ukrainian ingenuity. One thing I truly admire about Ukrainians is that they are incredible, resourceful people.
After warning signal went off in my head, the next thing I knew, the man bumped me in the right shoulder which, of course, caused my hands to move away from my pockets. Fortunately, I reacted quickly and thrust my hand back onto my wallet and his hand as he slid by; he had my wallet. I turned, pushed him, and shouted at him in English. Do not ask me what I said. I then exited and went on my way. I am sure he spotted my hand in my pocket but many pick pockets look for foreigners. I am fairly easy to spot because I do not dress like Ukrainian men.
I do not wear sandals with socks, mesh t-shirts, Capri pants, multi-faded jeans with designs on the back pockets, or white pointy shoes. I am working on blending in but a man has to have limits. I can’t get use to men wearing Capri pants. They look cute on my girls, but on men? They must be the “in” thing but I will not miss seeing them when cooler weather prevails. The worse example is “faux” or poor man’s Capris. One day I did a double-take at a pair of Capri pants. The guy had regular jeans on but had rolled them up neatly, making it appear they were the real thing. Please.
Anyways, my blue murse is small and I needed a larger one according to my wife. So I have the blue murse, a backpack, a soft cover briefcase, and now another murse? I guess I now have a sense of the difficulties women face when shopping for shoes—you need one for each occasion. Was I in danger of becoming the Imelda Marcos of murses? We went looking for a black one, which is popular color here, in an attempt to fit in better. You know you are in trouble when you try one on and your wife says, “That one doesn’t look too feminine.” It was awkward saying, “Ingrid, how does this one look?” We found a black murse that could hold all my electronic stuff, most importantly, the tablet. We returned home victoriously and Ingrid asked, “Can I have your blue one?” Now I am wondering if I really needed a larger murse. When she later asked if she could borrow my new, slightly larger, black murse, I responded, “You said it didn’t look feminine!” She retorted, “It doesn’t but I like it.” I asked, “Do you want it?” And I thought I was buying a murse for myself.
Pick-pocketing is real problem here. If you put your wallet, phone, and keys in your pant pockets, you will eventually exit the metro train without them. When I first arrived in Kiev, friends advised me to buy a murse—a man’s purse. Are you kidding me? The truth is that even if you have a murse, you can still get pick pocketed, but the murse reduces the likelihood of such an event. I adamantly refuse to wear a fanny pack. There is absolutely no excuse to wear one. There ought to be law against men wearing fanny packs. I do not care if you are on vacation in Greece and have tons of money. Take your chances and get pick pocketed. At least all you lose is some money.
Anyways, what to do? I went to an outdoors, sporting kind of place to look for a bag. I did not want to risk accidentally buying a women’s purse, which to be consistent would be called wurse. After all, I do not have any experience in this area. One friend told me that some guys carry what appear to be women’s purses, and I have to tell you, there are some feminine looking bags being carried by men, and these men are married. Shopping for a murse is interesting. How do women do it? Do you buy a bag with a handle or shoulder strap? What color? What size? How many compartments? Good zippers? How does it close? How much (who cares)? And , of course, how does it make you feel? I bought a blue, athletic, masculine, small, manly-looking murse from the sports store with both a handle and strap to cover all the fashion bases. Carrying a briefcase or leather business bag by the handle looks manly, but carrying a small bag by the handle, looks, well, different, but many men here prefer that method. I am careful, of course, to wear the strap across my chest as opposed to on the shoulder. It is a bit harder to steal and carrying one on the shoulder is, well, strange, but again, some men prefer that style. I don’t.
The murse does work well and probably discourages most thieves. With this murse, I think preserved my masculinity and made the best of an awkward, but necessary purchase. I went downtown once without my blue murse and nearly lost my wallet. I had my wallet in my front pocket and was exiting the metro train. A man deliberately stepped in front of me even though he saw me coming all the way. “Danger, Will Robinson,” echoed in my head . . . to be continued.
I knew the policeman was desperate, but I called his bluff. He had no interest in writing a ticket because he does not get the money! He looked up at the ceiling of the car to see if an idea from the heavens would suddenly emerge. How do I get money from this American?
The force was not with him because he drew a blank. He looked at me, put away the clipboard, threw up his hands in frustration, and finally came to terms with the fact that not only had he lost this battle, but he had also spent twenty minutes losing. After all, he could have been using that time to pull over other cars driving through his personal toll booth.
He smiled, gave me my documents, and then put out his right hand in a gesture of sportsmanship, which I took, and said to me in English, “Alright. Let’s go.” I responded with laughter and replied, “Yeah, let’s go.” I thought to myself, “A bad day just turned into a good day and I hope I do not see you again.”
I was getting a little frustrated because the officer was not picking up what I was throwing down. I told him clearly in Russian, “Write the ticket, please!” He picked up his clipboard with the form on it and looked at me quizzically, “Did you you say don’t write the ticket?” “No,” I replied slowly, “I said write the ticket.” In Russian the difference between the two commands is one letter. He again repeated, “Did you say don’t write the ticket?” Now he was simply insulting my impeccable language skills. I told him, “I am guilty and it is a bad day today.” He wanted to know why it was a bad day today! I replied, “It is raining and I am a foreigner trying to drive according to the rules and I am now here in your car.”
He asked where I was going and I told him. “How long will you be there?” he inquired. I answered, “About seven days.” Now he put the squeeze on. “You have to pay the ticket within ten days and you will be in Lviv! If you do not pay within ten days, you must pay double.” Actually it is fifteen days but do not ask me how I know that. Anyways, I replied, “No problem. I can pay in Kiev, right?” He would not give up: “Do you know how to pay the ticket? It is not easy.” Aha, he finally spoke some truth! There is nothing easy when it comes to doing paper work in Ukraine. Again, please do not ask me how I know this fact. I told the policeman that I would figure it out. I told him again, “It is a bad day today.”
By this point, the policeman was a little exasperated. He said, “Look, you can pay right here.” I said, “Not today. It is a bad day.” He asked me why I did not want to pay. I said again, “It is a bad day.” He asked me if I was against corruption. Yup and it is a bad day. He still did not give up. He tried one last time: “Have you ever given money to a police officer?” I replied, “The first time, but today is a bad day.” He asked me if I would not pay since it was a holiday. I looked at him and said, “I did not know it was a holiday, and that sounds good to me but you know the real reason.” He nodded and said, “It is a bad day.” Yup. We were almost finished.
I sat down in the police car staring out the window at the cloudy, wet weather, getting mentally prepared for battle by silently reciting all my lines in perfect Russian. The man wants freshly-minted, pristine Ukrainian bills from my closed, leather wallet. Actually, he would take crumpled up hundreds come to think of it. Anyways, he is going to offer me the deal of a lifetime; I can pay right there in the vehicle and get a discount! The officer gives me the bad news. I was doing 87 km (55 mph) in a 60 km (40 mph) zone and that ticket will be at least 500 griven ($50). My eyes watched his nose closely to see if it was growing a few millimeters. Do not ask me how I know, but it costs 255 griven ($25) for this particular, heinous infraction.
You see, the way the officer was talking, you would have thought I had just run over his babushka rather than get caught speeding on an open highway. This was a serious offense! Americans are not allowed to drive fast on our roads! Only Ukrainians with large, black, omnivous vehicles can do that!
Unlike the officer, I decided honesty was the best policy because I hoped that the truth would set me free. I told the officer that I did not see the sign, I was clearly guilty, and he should write me a ticket. Oh, and by the way, your signs are pathetic! Why don’t you clearly mark the speed limits? He agreed with me and understood but he clearly missed the cue that I was not parting with the cash. The cue was simply this: write the stinkin’ ticket.
He was a bit surprised at my request, but recovered from the shock, and then we proceeded to make some small talk. He showed to show me the rules of the road book, written in Ukrainian, and pointed out my offense. He offered, “Maybe you should buy this book to help you since you are a foreigner. You need to understand the rules of the road.” I replied, “Thank you, but I know the rules. I simply missed the sign like the others three cars you pulled over. Write the stinkin’ ticket already! I think that book is cheaper on Amazon. Is there Kindle version?” To summarize the strategy, you first jack up the price of the ticket, offer a 50% discount to the violator to look like a generous police officer, and if that does not work, then you offer a product to help your poor victim.
But we were not done yet. He missed the cue again . . . to be continued.