The Meter Man, Part III

MeterWhy did I need to duck? Yuri was finishing up and thought it might be a good idea to make sure everything was done right. After all, you do not want gas leaks; and things can happen. He asked for some soap and proceeded to lather the sponge and then covered the top and bottom of the meter with the suds. Well, he put so much soap on the meter you would not be able to tell even if there was a small gas leak. He turned around and asked me if I thought it was alright. What was I to say to the meter man, the one who does this for a living? Use less soap man or get a gas detector?

I guess the look on my face proved to Yuri that I was not completely convinced that the soap trick would detect any gas leaks due to the amount of suds he applied to the meter. The next thing I knew, Yuri lit a match and held it under the meter. I backed up and ducked. He moved that match around and when he finished, he looked at me and said, “Все нормально.” It is fine. Apparently so since he still had his eyebrows. I was thrilled to have such a meter man who was so confident in his work that he would put his eyebrows at risk.

He stepped down and was pleased with his handiwork. I thought we were all good, but then he said that he forgot the lead wire. What? He took out his thin wire and went back to the old, new meter and wrapped the wire around the bolts on the top of the meter and attached a green fastener. I asked him,”What are you doing?” He replied, “I am making sure no one can change the meter or take it.” I inquired, “Yuri, who is going to steal my meter? Who is going to change it? Do you think I would do something like that?” He shrugged, “No, not you, but you never know with the Ukrainian mentality.” I felt so much better knowing that no one was going to mess with my meter!

I told Yuri that I needed to write down the numbers from the old meter and the new meter to calculate the gas usage for next month. He said that he wrote them down on the document that I had to sign. I asked him why the new meter was not set to zero, but he was confused. Why? He told me that the numbers are right here on the paper and you take the old meter number and add them to the new meter number for the total. It is basic math.

Thanks. I got it. Yuri left and I am quite sure I made his day and he is still talking about the crazy American who asked too many questions.


The Meter Man, Part II

MeterI invited the meter man into the apartment and he just stood there. I repeated, “Come in.” He told me that he was from the gas company. Once he figured out that we were not going to have to play charades to communicate, he relaxed a bit. He asked, “Where are you from? Are you from England?” Then he told me about his friends in the United States. You see, 99.99% Ukrainians have a friend, family, distant relative or a friend of a friend in either Canada or the United States. He asked me if I spoke any Ukrainian and I told him that Russian would be much better since, of course, I have a wide-ranging vocabulary when it comes to all things gas related. He said that was fine but he kept slipping back into Ukrainian. Who can blame him? He was happy that I knew how to say, “This is crazy” in Ukrainian, a phrase I used several times in the course of our conversation.

He informed me that he was here to check the meter. No problem. I led him to the kitchen and showed him the meter in the cabinet. He asked for a stepping stool to reach it and everything seemed to be fine. He then took another meter out of his work bag and put it on the counter. I asked him, “Is there a problem with the meter?” He replied, “No.” “Uh, then what is that old meter for then?” He told me he was going to change the meter. За чем? What for Yuri? We will call the meter man Yuri since that is his real name. He looked at me and said with a serious face, “You live in Ukraine, right? You are used to the Ukrainian mentality, right?” “Uh, yes I am.” I continued, “Yuri, you mean to tell me that there are some people who change the gas meter in order to steal gas?” “Но да! Of course!” I pretended to be stunned at the revelation. I then asked Yuri if he thought I was stealing gas. He was confident that I was not.

I continued, “Yuri, if the meter works and I have paid, then why are you switching the meters?” He answered, “Because that is what we do. It helps against corruption.” “But Yuri, I like my meter because it does work!” With my luck, I figured the old, new meter would probably have an issue. The “new” meter looked like he removed it from the previous customer’s place. It must be like musical chairs for meters. But hey, if it prevents stealing and corruption, then by all means. I was glad that finagling the meters provided job security for Yuri. Secretly I hoped the “new” meter maybe had been altered by the previous customer to save a little money. After all, did Yuri really check the “new” meter to see if it counted gas usage properly?

Yuri was curious as to how this all works in America. He heard that they had electronic scanners to read the meters. I told him that the company recorded the gas usage with scanners or even digitally and then sent me the bill and told me how much I had to pay. If I did not pay, then they turned off the gas. Yuri has heard about this from friends and really liked that idea. I told him that it is a pretty good method to prevent people from stealing or misreporting their meter readings.

Yuri exchanged the meters and tightened everything up, and then I ducked for cover.

To be continued . . .

The Meter Man, Part I

Gas Meter

The man from the gas company showed up the other day to check the gas meter which is located in our kitchen inside a regular cabinet. You see, in Ukraine, you, the consumer, honestly record the meter readings each month and multiply by some rate, and then you pay whatever amount you calculated. This might be a cost efficient system in a country where corruption is not a significant problem and the people are not so resourceful and clever.

Of course, this system is particularly convenient for the consumer when an increase in the rates are announced ahead of time, which actually happened last month; the price for gas tripled. Well, Ukrainians are extremely resourceful and clever people, and if you are calculating the gas usage, then maybe you used a lot of gas the previous month, calculated at the lower rate, and the following month, you used hardly any at all! In other words, you added to the actual meter numbers and paid ahead on your gas at the lower rate to save money. Let me be clear, I did not do this because first of all, it is dishonest, and second, I did not think of it because, well, I am not Ukrainian.

Anyways, I know, you may be thinking, “Does the gas company send someone to check the meter just in case sometime might be tempted to fudge the numbers a bit?” Yes, the company does, and at our old place, the electric company at least was rather faithful in sending someone to our place. The interesting thing was that she just showed up at random times, and if you were not home, she just kept trying. Persistence and dedication to the job must be have been developed in the USSR.

Usually the electric meters in apartment buildings are in the hallway, but in our case the landlord commandeered the hallway and incorporated the hallway into the apartment as a foyer, thus the electric meters for our entire floor were in our foyer. This addition to the apartment is a classic Ukrainian example of resourcefulness, and is justified because no one else was using that part of the hallway, there was no one there to prevent the expansion, and it only caused a minor inconvenience to the electric company representative. Eventually the representative came when we were home in the evening and checked all the meters. Interestingly, at our friend’s place, if they were not home when the meter person showed up, she left a note to call her with the meter reading, but I digress.

Well, after nine months in our new place, the man from the gas company arrived at the door by appointment. Well kind of. They call you the afternoon before, and if you are fortunate, and they give you a time range for arrival. For example, he will be there between 10:00 to 14:00 tomorrow which means nothing, but it gives you hope someone might stop by within a week. Our representative arrived at 15:00, which is on time in Ukraine.

To be continued . . .

We Live in Ukraine!


Silpo Store

I went into our local grocery store the other day and something changed. I really do not like change in Kyiv because it messes up my carefully crafted routine and creates unnecessary stress. The change? The nice, pleasantly plump babushka was no longer helping paying customers with the vegetable & fruit scale. Must be cutbacks or new efficiency measures or she got fired. I seriously doubt the latter because she was skilled but I will miss her and still do. Customer service is not highly valued here, but she did provide high value to me, the foreigner. She made my life easier.

Who knows what management decided, but you are now all on your own when it comes to weighing your purchase and printing your price sticker. This is not really a big deal, although I really do miss that babushka working the scale. The way she quickly weighed and printed without saying a word was stupendous. Anyways, the only challenge is that the vegetables and fruits are in Ukrainian and unfortunately, this store does not use the number system.

I found this out the day the the pleasantly plump babushka was gone. I bought some firm, organic, fine red onions, which are actually sort of purple in color, and headed to the scale only to find myself alone, flying solo. I looked in vain for the faithful, dedicated babushka, but deep down feared the worst. She was forever gone. I emerged from my temporary depression and approached the scale, and being a cross-cultural dude, I figured that I had this, but deep down I felt that the Russian word for onion and Ukrainian word for onion were not the same. It was that feeling of, well, actually nothing. This is simply the way it is.

I returned to the red onion bin to find the Ukrainian word for red onion. Usually the names are there so you can properly type the name into the scale, but on this occasion, no. That would be way too easy for me. I returned to the scale and typed in the Russian word for onion and it was a major fail. Right at that moment, a clerk appeared next to me to rearrange some tomatoes. In Russian, I asked her, “What is the word for red onion is in Ukrainian?” She replied in Ukrainian with a word and I said in Russian, “That is Ukrainian, yes?” I pointed to the scale. That was a big mistake. She told me in Ukrainian that we live in Ukraine so of course we speak and use Ukrainian. I smiled (that is what Americans do) and said in Russian, “Of course we do. Could you please repeat that word for me?”

She did and then wanted to see if I could spell. It obviously was not her job to really help the idiot customer weigh and print. I pressed the wrong key and she said it again. After the third try, I made some headway and the clerk approved. Later, it finally dawned on me that the Ukrainian word for onion is almost identical the the German word for onion.

I went to get some lemons and waited in line at the scale and looked over the shoulder of the man in front of me. He was typing in the Russian word for his vegetable. Rookie mistake. I told him, “Ukrainian. You need the letter ‘TS’.” After a few seconds, I realized I was dealing with one of those idiot customers who only knows Russian. Where is that pleasantly plump babushka? With the line growing longer, he turned and looked painfully at me and said, “Do you speak English?” Yes I do, and it is your lucky day. I just happen to know the Ukrainian word for onion. Step back and watch this.


We are officially famous now.

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!

Original Photot

Original Photo


Billboard in Kremenchuk

Resourceful or What?

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.


What flavor would you like on your ice cream?

Murse, Purse or Worse? Part II

BFIXS_dAfter 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.