Though I originally hail from the West Coast USA, I spent the majority of my 2016 in Ukraine. Ukrainian traditions, society, and overall way of life is about as different as you can get from the States. And while many Ukrainian people would love to head to America (and trust me there are also plenty who would NOT), I found myself somewhat of a new home this year.

I simply loved everything about Ukrainian traditions. This wonderful country taught me some great life lessons, and I’d like to share them today.

с новым годом!

5 Lessons from Ukrainian Traditions & More

1. Ukrainian Culture Is Hardened

Not the stereotypical image you see of Soviet men; i.e. drinking vodka at 1pm, head butting each other, and insane driving. I mean this as a direct comparison to the American culture.

These days in America, if you swat a fly you’re bound to offend somebody.

There’s none of that in Ukraine. Life’s a bit tougher. People have been kicked and recovered, then kicked down again. Nobody is going to get offended by what you say (except maybe on the topic of whether to learn Ukrainian or learn Russian).

What I learned: It’s admirable to see the grit and courage that is so lacking in the West. I learned that there is still a sense of genuine toughness out there in the world, which is always going to be needed. The strongest survive.

2. Food Can Be Simple, Yet Delicious

In the States, we’re overrun with food choices—most of which are stuffed with chemicals and other garbage to make them tasty and addicting. Ukrainian food is excellent. As I headed back to Eastern Europe this year (Poland for a month was my first stop before heading on to Ukraine), I was reminded of how different the food tastes at first.

It’s very bland. But after a week or so, my taste buds adapted.

I think the food in Ukraine is the best in all of Eastern Europe, because there are some truly unique dishes. On top of it, you’ve got an excellent flow of international cuisine—make sure to check out the post about the best restaurants in Kiev.

What I learned: You don’t need all the fancy-pants stuff to make a good meal. Ukrainian food is incredibly good, and at the same time it’s relatively simple. Lots of meat, potatoes, veggies. Cooked right, they’re delicious. They don’t need all the garbage that goes into American food.

3. There Are Amazing Girls in the World, Still

I met a good one this year, and couldn’t be happier. The American dating scene wears men out these days. It’s just an exhausting experience. At the end of that shallow experience is a shallow relationship mostly built on a fuel of booze and hormones.

Ukrainian girls are very different.

The entire dating culture is so different than you’ll find in the West. Ukrainian traditions mandate a courtship process. Men are still men—making decisions, and being strong. Girls still cook and are as sweet as the pies they bake. There’s genuine trust and bonding when you date Ukrainian women.

Ukrainian traditions in the dating world are still very much in tact, though under threat. Hopefully they survive.

What I learned: That maybe, just maybe, there is still hope for my future children.

4. Language Skills Are Important (duh)

Sort of a Captain Obvious point, but most other countries around Eastern Europe speak English at a much higher level than Ukraine. Going back to Ukraine is a good reminder that language skills are important. Many local Ukrainians speak 4, 5, 6 languages. It’s impressive.

In the States, we really only push Spanish, French, and German as our language offerings in schools. Sure, more pop up as you reach college level but I think those are truly the big three. And out of them, Spanish is the only useful one. French and German are both only utilized in developed countries, where everybody speaks English perfectly—even though the French hate you for doing so.

Oh, how I wish I’d had the opportunity to study Russian when I was 14. Now I find myself trying to learn Russian online, with no real end in sight. Meanwhile, my Spanish skills go to waste, only good for countries I have no interest in returning to. Because they’re not Ukraine.

What I learned: My future children may want to expat abroad, and if he or she has spent time studying a “worthless” language for a country that speaks fluent English, it will have been a complete waste. Also, think business. Knowing how to speak German probably won’t make a huge difference on whether or not you close that deal. Speaking a Soviet language just might. The question: is Russian hard to learn?

5. There’s Genuine Love

Now, before I get started I do need to disclose something: I come from California. And I went to college and lived in Southern California.

You know, Southern California…Hollywood. Bright lights. Paparazzi. The capital of the entertainment world.

Also the capital of the world of FAKE people. Every acts completely interested in everyone’s life even though it’s obvious they couldn’t give less of a damn. Not the case in Ukraine. Most people coming from America would whine that Ukrainians are “cold”.

Not the case at all, but they just don’t pretend to want to hear a stranger’s life story at the checkout counter of the grocery store.

If you read Understanding Ukraine you’ll get a grasp of what I mean by this.

What I learned: Just because you are told you have to care about something doesn’t mean you’re genuine. In fact, it means you’re more fake than ever. I learned that I appreciate the genuine warmth that comes after you peel back the layer in Ukraine versus the false persona you’re presented on the outside in America.

Most of all, I learned you should never judge a book by it’s cover.

Happy New Year to all of Ukraine.

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