Depend not on fortune, but on conduct - Publius Syrus

One of the most interesting things about living in a foreign country is getting to see the cultural differences, especially those concerning rude behavior. How people properly conduct themselves in public may at first appear to be guided by common sense, but as soon as you move across the globe you come to realize that things which would never be acceptable in your country are acceptable here, and vice versa.

I still remember the first time I saw someone blow their nose on the ground in public. It was an older gentleman walking with his wife who looked like he was on his way to do some early shopping. Nothing at all was out of the ordinary. Then all of a sudden he put a finger to his nose and shot the snot out of the other nostril onto the sidewalk.

I was shocked. His wife said nothing. She hadn’t even noticed. I looked around me and saw that no one else thought anything of it. Where was the common decency?

In America children would have started laughing, elderly women would have covered their eyes in disgust, and adults would have given the man dirty looks. The man’s wife would have certainly given him a smack on the head. It would have been considered very rude. Here in Ukraine, however, it appears to be perfectly normal.

The technical term for this action in America is called the “snot rocket”. It is almost never done in public and is considered a last resort only in the case that there are no tissues around with which to blow your nose and no public restroom to run to. After this eye opening incident, I began to notice this action taking place all around me. It was as if everyone had been trained since childhood to blow snot rockets out of their noses instead of using a tissue.

Closely related to this snot rocketing, is the common lugie, or spit. It is when a man clears his throat loudly and fires a large wad of mucus out of his mouth. This too is considered rude in America and is usually only done by school children as a bad joke, but here in Ukraine it seems to be common practice for men of all ages. Since coming to Ukraine I have borne witness to hundreds of spits. Old men hobbling down the street, young men walking with their girlfriends, businessmen and laborers; all seem to share the same habit of spitting anywhere and everywhere and no one seems to notice.

I and a fellow teacher always watch our steps when we exit the metro, because outside of every metro door there is an inevitable gauntlet of spit littering the pavement. At first I was disgusted by this seemingly uncivilized conduct, but over time I have come to understand and even appreciate the relaxed Ukrainian mindset concerning behavior. If something is convenient, you do it, and if something is inconvenient, you don’t do it. This not only relates to manners, but to various areas in the lives of Ukrainian citizens, including following traffic laws and tax regulations.

In some cases it may even be logical. I realized that this casual Ukrainian view of snot rockets was probably rooted in old soviet times when tissue paper would have been scarce. Thus the action would indeed have been necessary for people with only a little paper left. And who cares if you spit in the countryside or on a farm? It’s biodegradable. I must confess, I have not yet taken up the habits of snot rocketing or spitting lugies on the street, but I do take comfort in the fact that if I do, I will not be judged by my Ukrainian compatriots.

I have learned not to judge others by my own cultural opinions, which is absolutely necessary when living in a new and foreign culture. For I myself have performed many of my own rude American behaviors, such as putting my feet up on the table and talking and laughing loudly in public restaurants, for which I have been chastised by my Ukrainian hosts. As a result I have learned the necessity of cultural forgiveness for both myself and my native hosts.