Monday, February 25, 2013

12 Words You Should Learn Before Coming To Ukraine

Yep, this one's important- the restroom!
Most of us do it- buy textbooks, enroll in classes, drop big bucks on the latest version of Rosetta Stone, all in hopes of learning a smattering of the local language before we arrive. Any one of those resources can teach you "Where's the bank?" or "Nice to meet you", but here are 12* useful Russian words that you probably won't learn from your class, book, or computer program.

 *erm, make that 12-ish words

#1. ручная стирка / автомат

While washing machines are common in Ukraine, there is still a chance you'll end up doing laundry by hand. Be careful to select exactly what you need when buying laundry detergent; ручная стирка = hand wash, автомат = machine wash.

Now, as for figuring out all the washing machine settings in Russian, that's another story :p

#2. к себе / от себя

Don't want to look like an idiot? Better memorize these words fast!
К себе = pull (literally: toward you). От себя = push (literally: from you).

#3. БМВ

That's not a typo, that's what the BMW is called in Russian. If you say BMW instead of бмв, many people will scratch their heads and get confused.

Wondering why you would need to know this word if visiting Ukraine? Just wait- BMWs are everywhere, you'll see! A BMW may also be called a boomer (бумер), as seen in Серега's famous rap song Черный Бумер (Black BMW).

#4. банкомат

And if you'll be anywhere near a BMW, you'll probably need to hit up a банкомат (ATM) at some point. ATMs are commonplace in large cities like Kharkov and Kiev.

#5. слабогазированная / сильногазированная / негазированная

Yikes, I know, they're awfully long words! But unless you want to drink only beer or vodka in Ukraine, you should learn these three adjectives. You'll hear them in restaurants and stores whenever you ask for water.

слабогазированная вода = lightly carbonated water
сильногазированная вода = strongly carbonated water
негазированная вода = non-carbonated water

If these tongue twisters are too much for you, fear not, for there is a shortcut! You can probably get away with just memorizing газ (carbonated) and не газ (non-carbonated)... or at least it works in Coffee Life!

And as you may have heard before, the concept of water is different here compared to how we view drinking water in the US. In America, I turn on the faucet and out comes decent drinking water. I go to a restaurant and the waiter immediately brings a complimentary glass of water (and refills it throughout the meal). In Ukraine you must order drinking water, even at home. Water trucks make daily rounds throughout the city, honking as they pull up in your neighborhood. Residents immediately come outside and line up, empty bottles in hand. These roaming water trucks sell both carbonated and non-carbonated water. It costs around 4 uah to fill up a 7-liter water jug.
Water truck on a very slow afternoon. Apologies for the low pic quality, but I was using a real camera instead of a cell phone and this lady would have freaked the freak out if she'd seen! You other bloggers with cameras know what I mean ; )
Same thing in a restaurant- water is not automatic, let alone free. You'll have to ask for it, and that's why it's important to at least recognize these words.

#6. обмен валют

Обмен валют is the currency exchange. Unless you rely solely on the банкомат, you'll need to visit one of these eventually. I can't speak for other currencies like the euro, but the US dollar is only accepted for real estate transactions (paying rent, buying property), although some Ukrainian companies do pay their employees in dollars.
If only all currency exchanges looked this cool! : )

 #7. ломбард

It's unlikely you'll visit one of these places during a trip to Ukraine (unless you have a Pushkin-esque love of gambling away your possessions), but you'll see the signs everywhere and it'll drive you crazy like it did to me- what is it?? Turns out, ломбард = pawn shop. They are heavily advertised in the metro and often found near the обмен валют.

#8. здесь или с собой? / доставка

More useful words for dining. When someone asks you if you'd like your food здесь или с собой?, they're asking if you'd like your food here or to-go.

здесь = for here
с собой = to-go
"Delivery to all areas of Kharkov"
Доставка, by the way, = delivery. Online ordering and доставка are gaining popularity in Ukraine.

#9. продажа / аренда

Like ломбард, these are words you'll see constantly. In fact, you can probably figure out their meaning on your own.
продажа = for sale
аренда = for rent
I consider such words to be freebies. You're going to see them over and over and over again, so you may as well learn what they mean and how they're pronounced.

#10. ксерокс

This one is for all the English teachers out there. Maybe you work at a fancy school and you can just stroll right in and xerox away to your heart's content, or maybe you're like me and you prowl the city frantically looking for an open ксерокс shop 15 minutes before class is supposed to start.
ксерокс = xerox

 #11. ремонт

Home and building ремонт are an inescapable part of Ukrainian life. For example, take the last 5 days of my life.

Exhibit A: On Sunday I promised my colleagues a delicious meal at the Chinese restaurant. I'd been talking it up for ages: the food's so good! it's so worth the price! the waitresses are so nice! We get there and oops! All the lights are off and there's a hastily-scrawled note taped to the door: ремонт.

Exhibit B: At Scrabble this week Maxim pulls out his cell phone and starts showing us pictures of the ремонт going on in his living room; it's been reduced to bricks and rubble for the moment. Meanwhile, our next-door neighbors moved out and the apartment owner has decided to remodel; every morning around 7:30 AM the whirrrr! of the drill or the scrape! scrape! of wallpaper being removed awakens us.

Ремонт doesn't only mean remodelling; it's also used when talking about repairing things: shoes, cell phones, purses, umbrellas, computers. But don't just take my word for it-
Can you find the ломбард sign?

#12. круглосуточно

This word means 24/7, round-the-clock, open 24 hours a day... well, unless they're closed for ремонт or технологический перерыв (technological break), both of which happen on a fairly regular basis in Ukraine :p

Here's a круглосуточно обмен валют-

Alright, that's my list- what's yours? Please share in the comments below!
PS: If you're receiving this via email, click here to be able to hear the accompanying audio files.


  1. This was a really fascinating read! I love hearing about real-life terms you can use for traveling/living abroad, and this post was no different.

    I must admit that the only word that sounded vaguely familiar was "ксерокс," but hey, I teach English so this is a good word for me to add to my vocab!!

    1. Yes, what would us English teachers do without the magic of xerox? :P It's definitely a must-know word!

  2. I'm too lazy to switch to cyrillic, but "skill-kee", or "how much?" was a crucial one for me! A taxi with a meter was a rarity, and as a foreigner unless you decide on a firm amount to get to your destination you'll be ripped off in a big way. Remember to always ask "skill-kee" before you get in the cab! Also useful when bartering, or just buying something that isn't clearly marked in a store.

    1. Ah, it sounds like you got the real experience- Ukrainian! : ) That's so cool, I wish I knew some!

  3. О дааа...Ремонт в Украине - это состояние души! Как сказал один из классиков современности: "Ремонт не возможно закончить, - его можно только прекратить!" ;)
    Зарплату долларом платят на многих работах. Долларом принято расплачиваться не только при покупке недвижимости, но и при ее аренде. Еще доллар популярен при покупке/продаже автомобилей!

    1. Maxim, that's a good saying. By the way, are you sure you're not my neighbor? :p

      You might be interested in this short post from last year, also on the wonders of ремонт-

      And I didn't realize people paid in dollars for cars here. Is that in a private sale, at the dealerships, or both?

    2. Unfortunately, I'm not your neighbor. When I started my repair, I warned the neighbors - the builders will make noise for 3-4 days. Please be patient! And so it was! Only 4 days. At the weekend they did not make noise. The neighbors are happy!
      Avtodillery have representatives from banks to car dealerships. If you have the bucks - the car is sold with an additional discount. When selling a car owners almost always pay in dollars.

    3. Unfortunately, I'm not your neighbor. When I started my repair, I warned the neighbors - the builders will make noise for 3-4 days. Please be patient! And so it was! Only 4 days. At the weekend they did not make noise. The neighbors are happy!
      Avtodillery have representatives from banks to car dealerships. If you have the bucks - the car is sold with an additional discount. When selling a car owners almost always pay in dollars.

    4. Sounds like you're a very considerate neighbor!

      Interesting- I didn't realize you'd get a discount for paying in dollars. That's good to know.

  4. Things have changed so much since I was there in the 90s! All my laundry was done by (my) hand, there were no ATMs, and "boomer" was not used.

    @Maxim Хахаха! Я сказал то же, когда я писал диссертацию :)

    1. lovinglanguage- wow, you have got a mad command of languages!! During all the time that I've been following your blog, I never read the About page until now. Russian and Ukrainian, props to you!

      It would be really interesting to hear how you ended up in Ukraine and what your thoughts on it are : )

  5. I am in awe. This is great!

    1. Happy to hear it! : ) I'm curious- what are the cool/surprising/useful words you've picked up during your time here? Are they Russian words or Ukrainian words? There's more Ukrainian spoken in Kiev than in Kharkov, right?

  6. Mlinci (Blinis) and Dyekuye (thank you)....

    1. Those two words will get you far! Mlinci... yum........

  7. Hi there, I just wanted to share 2 phrases you shouldn't say if you're coming to Russia. So, probably the same goes for Ukraine. Check my post on this topic:
    Good luck!

    1. Hi Ives, thanks for dropping by! You're right- those two phrases can make people misunderstand you and open up a whole can of worms. I had the same thing happen once when this guy asked me if I was German and I replied "Nein"... bad idea, as you can imagine!

  8. This is a very informative article, I love it! I am learning Russian right now and I should learn these words to expand my vocabulary. I lived in Sakhalin Island for a few months last year and I saw quite a lot of these round town, but I never really knew what they meant at the time. Now I have a fascination with the Russian language and I'm becoming quite interested in learning Ukrainian as well. I created a Cyrillic alphabet for my native language Malay in my blog to help me get used to reading and writing in Russian. Do have a look at it if you have time, thanks :)

    1. Privet Ahmad! It's great to meet another student of Russian :) Do you plan to move back to Russia someday?

      Your blog is truly one of a kind and I can tell you've put a lot of hard work into it. You're probably the only guy in the world with a Russian / Malay blog in English, nice work!