As opposed to my previous trip, on which I surrounded myself exclusively with Ukrainian, the situation this time round was a little different. I went to Lvov with a fellow native English speaker, who’s for all intents and purposes mono-lingual. This would undoubtedly impact the quantity and quality of interaction, yet at the same time since I’d still be the one going up to people and, what’s more, translating, I thought I could give it a go.
At the beginning of the journey I was a bit disappointed, thinking that Lvov wasn’t the utopia of Ukrainian language and culture that it had been made out to be. When we got to the hostel and I spoke to staff working there, I got answered in Russian. Of course, I was shaken to the very core of my being by this fact. Nevertheless, as time went by, I found that this was an exception to the overwhelming local habits. Everyone, who’s obviously from Lvov, speaks Ukrainian. Others who’ve travelled here from other parts of Ukraine spoke Russian, as I would have expected. What’s more, I regularly had people reassuring me that they could speak Polish, which I found somewhat confusing. When I asked why they that was relevant I was told it’s because I have a Polish accent when I speak Ukrainian! Personally, I find it somewhat hard to believe and I’d put it down to the fact at Poles are the largest group of people to frequent Lviv and that some of them can speak Ukrainian. Therefore, any foreigner speaking Ukrainian is Polish. As a native English speaker I’m used to all kinds of people having a different accent since everyone learns it, but with lesser leant languages people have no exposure to foreign accents.
I was very amused by the fact that I wasn’t the only person here learning Ukrainian. Sitting out one evening on the main square, the people at the next table started speaking to us, overhearing that we’d been speaking English and were delighted to find other English speakers. They were from the Ukrainian diaspora, natives of Canada who’d come over to Ukraine to get in touch with the language of their forebears. I can quite happily say that their Ukrainian was rather good, and I’m impressed to no longer be in the minority.
Another highlight of the trip was visiting the “Jewish” restaurant on staroevreiska. Build on the site of the city’s former synagogue, which was destroyed during the German occupation of the city in 1941, Under The Golden Rose likes to embrace its Jewish heritage. Interestingly, the menu has no prices at all next to the food and drinks on offer. As the waitress helpfully pointed out “Since we are a Jewish restaurant you have to haggle for the price”. I understood two things from thus experience. First of all, it’s clear that my impression and theirs of Jewish people is rather different, and second of all having a business plan passed on a negative racial stereotype, bordering on antisemitism is clearly much more acceptable in some places than others. The highlight was nevertheless the trout which we ordered. Using only the finest natural products, the waitress went to what can only be described as an adjoining piece of wasteland, to get the finest herbs and spices to add to the flavour.
A pleasant way to finish of the final day was in Kriyivka, a bar on the main square. Despite it no being signposted, everyone knows where it is. When you enter the building, you walk down a long, dark corridor, with an soldier in World War Two attire guarding a bookcase, who only lets you in when you reveal the password “Slava Ukrainie, Heroyam slava”. Where does in let you in? The bookcase of course? Behind it there’s a long staircase which opens up into a large, cavernous bar with several rooms and hoards of people! The apparent secretness of the place only seems to enhance its popularity. We were welcomed by a man with an impressive beer belly whose sole role seems to be asking people if they’re Russian or not and regularly firing with an old pistol to scare the newly arrived customers. Of course, everything was in Ukrainian and I was very happy to have the waiter correct my pronunciation so it sounded less Russian, although when. I started chatting to him I don’t think he realised what he’d let himself in for.
It’ll be a while before I had out back West again, so I’ll have to content myself language exchanges, informal lessons and chats over skype until then.
To have a look at my development, a couple of videos of me summarising my trip will be up soon.