Then on my trip over, I realized Europeans eat with the fork in their left hand! I was not even in Ukraine yet, and I had forgotten a basic fact. Also on the airplane people were drinking beer or wine with their meals and Americans are used to water, coffee or soda. I knew I was in for an adventure.
My hotel included breakfast coupons for each morning I was there. The restaurant was on the top floor of a large hotel and I was very excited that first morning, but nervous because I would be alone.
The diner was small but cozy and had an awesome view of Ternopil Lake in Western Ukraine. It was a dream come true and it seemed unreal that 24 hours prior I was eating a sandwich at home, 6000 miles away.
One thing you should know, the Ukrainian people will know you are not from Ukraine. They welcome tourists, so it is important to just have fun with it. I tried to say “Good morning” and the response I received was like the look you get from your dog when they don’t understand. The ears go up and the head tilts. But, when I smiled, they smiled, and at least I tried.
Lucky for me, the breakfast menu also had numbers! Yay! So I acted like I knew what I was doing and I answered “Number two” in their language, and then received the same dog-like reaction, so I pointed. Ok, it was ordered.
As I gazed out the large windows, I dreamed of the same view a thousand years prior. Except for the buildings, it would have probably been exactly the same. Small rolling hills, trees everywhere, and the bluest sky you can imagine. I promise.
The table was decorated with blue and yellow tablecloths (their traditional colors representing the blue sky they are known for and the golden wheat fields), and the napkins were blue and yellow too. Also about the napkins, they are folded diagonally in half and about the size of a slice of bread. Way too small and too elegant for me.
The waitress arrived with bread about the same size and the silverware. No water or coffee. I was looking at the other patrons and trying to pick up any eating tips I could find. They seemed to be doing fine. My eyes kept wandering toward the window.
There were all women in this café and they were all very nice looking. The women in Western Ukraine are very serious, but they are also very near the verge of smiling. They just need a good excuse to smile. The women in the kitchen wore long dresses and had pure white aprons and head coverings. They were moving at the speed of light, but except for occasional talking, the kitchen was very quiet.
My waitress arrived with whatever I ordered and all the blood ran into my feet! I ordered sunny side up eggs and sliced sausage. So now my breakfast included the eggs, four small slices of bread, about 4 small slices of sausage, 2 cherry tomatoes and about 4 tiny slices of cheese. All of this I should eat left-handed? Well, what to make of this? You can imagine how difficult it was to eat up eggs left-handed. I smiled and tried not to look like an ogre while eating. I did my best, but I think it took me a half hour to eat.
Still I am sitting there with no drink. Maybe I should have ordered something, but I was not sure what was included. So after I finished, I ordered a cup of coffee. Again I failed because all I had that first morning was dollars! So the nice receptionist reached into her purse and exchanged my dollars for their money. Then I got my coffee in the tiny espresso cups. This is coffee? Yes, in Ukraine, it is coffee. So, one swallow later, I was finished. It is not customary to leave tips in most restaurants in Ukraine, so I left some Tootsie Rolls. As the week progressed, I realized they became very popular and better than money I would have left.
On the following mornings I became a little more familiar, smiles were more often and I pointed to different numbers. There is a hidden, but ever-present charm in western Ukraine. You cannot help but bring it home with you, and it will last you forever.
Jim (Iowa, USA)
P.S. This is a picture I took right after my first breakfast in Ukraine. Isn’t worth to fly to Ukraine just for these gorgeous sceneries?
A little introduction from Maria
Ukrainian-American family Olya and Jim are very good friends of our Ukrainian-Canadian family. Olya and I are originally from Ukraine. We met our husbands online on this amazing website. After corresponding for while it was time for our guys to visit us in real. My boyfriend, then husband Ron did it sooner, we were getting married in August 2007 and knowing that Jim is going to visit Olya for the first time anyway, we thought: why not to invite him to our wedding? Wedding it is always fun and it would be less stressful for our new friend to visit his girlfriend and a new country for the first time. Ron and I were very happy when Jim answered to us, "Yes, I am coming to your wedding!", and he came! And, do you know, what happened? Olya and Jim got engaged in few days before our wedding! Now, when our friends are married and Jim are very much in love not only with Olya, but with Olya’s country too, he says, the impressions from his first visit of the West of Ukraine always will be very bright in his memory. Although Jim has visited western Ukraine for many times since 2007, in his thoughts he always keeps returning to his first visit to this unique country. He remembers all the details, all the impressions, all the people he met, all the food he ate and all the music he heard. And it is very pleasant to Ron and me that Jim agreed to share his Ukrainian stories on our pages. So you just have read a one of these stories, “My first breakfast in Ukraine”.
Thank you very much for sharing it, Jim!