Ad­vice to for­eign tourists: Don’t ex­pect English-lan­guage ser­vice

Kyiv Post - - Front Page - BY OLENA GON­CHAROVA

For­eign­ers com­ing for the Euro 2012 foot­ball cham­pi­onships had bet­ter make room in their suit­cases for a Ukrainian or Rus­sian lan­guage guide­book. They’re go­ing to need it, judg­ing from this Ukrainian’s at­tempt to get around the city with a friend, both of us pre­tend­ing to know only English. We vis­ited the­aters and cine­mas, book- stores and cafes in or­der to find out who could com­mu­ni­cate with us, and ranked the ex­pe­ri­ence. In gen­eral, it was a dis­ap­point­ing one.

Although English is widely taught in schools from early child­hood, the world’s most widely spo­ken lan­guage still hasn’t sunk in enough for many Ukraini­ans to be able to have even an el­e­men­tary con­ver­sa­tion.

So if you can read this, thank a teacher.

Opera House

First we went to Taras Shevchenko Na­tional Opera House, a log­i­cal stop for a for­eign tourist, and bought a ticket. Af­ter 10 min­utes of queu­ing, one man tried to cut in front of us. He made the book­ing clerk ner­vous. The man’s mood bright­ened con­sid­er­ably af­ter he heard us speak­ing English, and he be­gan to smile.

“Hello! Do you speak English? We would like to buy two tick­ets

for Iolanta on April 11,” I asked the clerk.

“On the 11th?” he asked in re­sponse.

Then he turned to the woman stand­ing be­hind him. They started to point at the poster and asked us whether we want a ticket for April 11. We as­sured him that was the case and asked about the prices in the third row.

This time the man pointed at the list where all the prices based on seat­ing are shown. He pointed to the most ex­pen­sive price avail­able – Hr 300.

Score on a 1 to 5 scale (5 the best): com­pre­hen­sion – 2; po­lite­ness – 4; re­sult – 2.

Lesya Ukrainka The­ater

The next stop in our ex­per­i­ment was Lesya Ukrainka Na­tional Aca­demic The­ater of Rus­sian Drama. The venue is liked for its va­ri­ety of clas­sic and mod­ern plays and also fre­quent Rus­sian the­ater tours, where fa­mous Rus­sian ac­tors play. Hav­ing stud­ied the poster we de­cided to in­quire about the price of “Vysh­nevyi Sad” (Cherry Gar­den) by Rus­sian writer An­ton Chekhov. When we asked the cashier, she only said one word to us “No.” Then she pointed to an­other cashier. Luck­ily, an older man from the line helped us. He ex­plained in English where it would be bet­ter to en­joy the play, the price ranges and wrote down in­for­ma­tion that we would need to give to the clerk to buy a ticket in the fu­ture. Fi­nally, he wished us good luck and went away. We ap­proached a young woman at the sec­ond cash desk. “Good morn­ing! Can you help us?” “I don’t know English,” she said in Rus­sian.

“We only want to ask about the prices for this play,” I said, giv­ing her a piece of pa­per with in­for­ma­tion the man had writ­ten.

The woman looked over some­thing on her com­puter, wrote it down and gave the piece of pa­per to us. On it, she scrib­bled: “2 x 25.”

“What does it mean ‘2 x 25’? Is it $50 for two tick­ets?” I asked.

“What do you want?” she said in Rus­sian, los­ing her tem­per.

The price for “Cherry Gar­den” re­mained un­known.

Score: com­pre­hen­sion – 0; po­lite­ness – 2; re­sult – 1.

Movie the­aters

The sit­u­a­tion was al­most the same in cine­mas. Young women at the cash desks in Kyiv cinema and But­ter­fly Deluxe were un­able to help us choose a ticket for a cho­sen screen­ing time.

In search of maps

Chy­tai Gorod In an­other leg of our ex­per­i­ment, we tried to find a map of Kyiv in English. We went to one of the big­gest book­stores in cen­tral Kyiv. Chy­tai Gorod (Read­ing Town), a store on Bo­hdana Kh­mel­nyt­skoho Street, is part of a Rus­sian chain of book­stores. When we en­tered, a shop as­sis­tant greeted us.

“Hello! Could you help us? Do you speak English?” I asked. “A lit­tle,” she said. “Do you have a map of Kyiv in English?”

The woman asked her col­league in Rus­sian whether they have one. They looked over the shop and then gave us a trav­eler’s com­pan­ion, which cost Hr 24. An­other woman was leaf­ing through guide books in front of us, show­ing how good they were, but they didn’t have maps.

“Will you have maps in English in a week or so? Be­fore Euro 2012?” I asked. “Hope,” the shop as­sis­tant said. Score: com­pre­hen­sion – 3; po­lite­ness – 2; re­sult – 2 Syaivo We trod down the street and went along Khreshchat­yk to Kyiv’s old­est book­store Syaivo (Glow), lo­cated on 6 Ve­lyka Va­sylkivska. It re­opened last year af­ter a se­ries of scan­dals. As we asked for a map, the first the shop as­sis­tant shrugged her shoul­ders and asked an­other shop as­sis­tant to help us. The man asked what we wanted, and then pointed to a counter with some maps. He showed them to us one by one, giv­ing the price. We thanked him and said good­bye.

Score: com­pre­hen­sion – 4; po­lite­ness – 4; re­sult – 4. Lit­era Our last stop in search for maps was Lit­era book­store, which has been around since 2000. Lo­cated by Taras Shevchenko Univer­sity on 11/61 Lva Tol­stoho St., it’s a three-sto­ried build­ing stacked with sci­ence, fic­tion and non-fic­tion lit­er­a­ture. We walked the floors ask­ing as­sis­tants along the way, but they didn’t un­der­stand English. At last, we ended up at the counter where two women were sit­ting.

“Hello! Could you help us? We can­not find a map of Kyiv in English. Do you have any?”

“I know English very bad,” she said, with­out a glance at us.

A cou­ple of min­utes later, she stood up and went down­stairs in­dif­fer­ently. On her way, she laughed with a col­league about her poor grasp of English. At last she re-emerged with a map for Hr 10. The map was too big and in­con­ve­nient to use.

Score: com­pre­hen­sion – 2; po­lite­ness – 1; re­sult – 1.

To eat or not to eat

Af­ter an ex­haust­ing morn­ing, we went for lunch. We de­cided to visit Varenye ( Jam) Cafe lo­cated on 22 Petli­ury St. (for­mer Kom­interna Street). The waiter greeted us and of­fered the menu. It was in Ukrainian. We asked about an English one, and he im­me­di­ately fetched it. We or­dered a cap­puc­cino and were en­joy­ing the cof­fee a few min­utes later. We asked for the check and got it promptly. The waiter an­swered in Rus­sian, but un­der­stood what we said. When we left, he wished us good luck.

We de­cided to book a ta­ble for din­ner in Azbuka Cafe (Al­pha­bet) that is not only a res­tau­rant, but a li­brary. We ad­dressed the man­ager, but she only smiled and shrugged her shoul­ders when she heard English. She called the waiter loudly: “Taras, help the girls!” Em­bar­rassed as he was, Taras tried to help us the best he could. He showed us around and as­sured that we needn’t book in ad­vance be­cause they will have room for us. We were greeted with awk­ward smiles.

A stroll around cafes

Kyiv has some cafes that branched out from Lviv that are pop­u­lar with the lo­cals but are vir­tu­ally un­known by the ex­pats. One of them is Zolo­tyi Dukat (Golden Dukat), lo­cated on 48 Ve­lyka Va­sylkivska close to the Olympic Sta­dium. The cafe em­ploys Ukraini­anspeak­ing staff only. When we asked the wait­ress a ques­tion in English, she was so stunned that she sud­denly an­swered in Rus­sian: “I have no clue what you are talk­ing about.”

The last hope rested on the Lviv Choco­late Fac­tory, a place where hand-made choco­lates and cakes from Lviv can be sam­pled. It’s lo­cated on 45 Horkoho (Antonovy­cha) St.

“Good af­ter­noon! We want to book a ta­ble for five peo­ple for tonight,” I said. “At 5 o’clock?” the waiter asked. “No. A ta­ble for five peo­ple at 7 p.m.,” I replied.

“Yes, we can re­serve the ta­ble, but we don’t know where you want. By the way, you needn’t re­serve it be­cause we have enough room for all vis­i­tors,” he said.

“But it’s usu­ally too over­crowded in evening and hard to find a place,” I said.

“Just come and we’ll help you,” he said.


Here are our es­sen­tial tips for for­eign­ers:

Get a good English-ukrainian or English-rus­sian phrase­book – you’ll need it.

Take a note­book to write fig­ures and prices. It makes com­mu­ni­ca­tion with non-english speak­ers much eas­ier.

Don’t hope for a free map down­town. Get one from Bo­ryspil In­ter­na­tional Air­port or at the ho­tel. Al­ter­na­tively, pull a Kyiv Post map out to take with you.

It will pay to learn some com­monly used phrases in Ukrainian or Rus­sian.

Why life is thus

“Ukrainian peo­ple have lived in iso­la­tion for a long time. That’s why they have such dif­fi­cul­ties in com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Even when your for­eign lan­guage is per­fect, if you don’t use it, you for­get it,” says Olena Vyno­gradova, pro­fes­sor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions and lin­guis­tic ge­og­ra­phy at Taras Shevchenko Na­tional Univer­sity.

Kyiv Post staff writer Olena Gon­charova can be reached at gon­[email protected] com

Kyiv Post staff writer Olena Goncharova went around the city, pre­tend­ing to know only English. (Kostyan­tyn Ch­er­nichkin)

Kyiv Post staff writer De­nis Rafal­sky checks out a phar­macy that claims its em­ploy­ees speak English. (Ganna Bernyk)

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