20 (Generic) Cultural Differences Between Ukraine and the USA
- Parents often send their children to the store for bread or salt, and it’s normal for children to walk themselves to school from age 6 or 7
- Grandparents typically live nearby their grandchildren
- People from Ukraine are used to fresh food that doesn’t use pesticides
- It’s common for people to grow their own crops throughout the year and come together as a village at harvest time
- Practical survival skills, like canning and preserving food, are considered common knowledge
- McDonald’s tastes completely different in Ukraine, and many Ukrainians are disappointed when they try it for the first time in the U.S.
- Ukrainians are used to hard work and are raised with a strong work ethic
- Classmates stay in the same classes together from first grade to high school
- People don’t rely as heavily on technology to organize meetups, and often go out spontaneously with friends
- It’s less common to meet new friends online or use online dating apps
- Au Pairs from Ukraine are often described as independent, mature for their age, or “street smart”
- The drinking age is 18 & it’s common for parties to go until 4 or 5 in the morning
- Working together as a team is a life value. Competition between teams is considered valuable, but competition within a team is looked down upon.
- Stability and longevity are highly-valued in relationships. If a Ukranian refers to you as a friend, know that you mean a lot to them.
- When a man and a woman go out to dinner or a movie in Ukraine, it’s a societal expectation that the man will pay for the woman, even if they aren’t dating
- Taking unfinished food home from a restaurant is something that’s unique to Americans. You won’t see people in Ukraine (or many other countries) taking their food home in a box.
- Standards for dressing up in Ukraine are much higher than in the USA (for example, women wear heels much more often in Ukraine)
- Women don’t shake hands in Ukraine, and strangers don’t usually smile at one another on the streets (perhaps an aftereffect of Soviet occupation)
- Due to their political history, most people have a strong sense of national identity
- Ukranians are known for their hospitality, and they even have a saying about hosting, “Hoduyte yikh do smerti,” or, “Feed them to death.”
Ukraninan Au Pair Talks About Her Experience in the USA
In this interview, Ukranian Au Pair Mariia talks about cultural differences between Ukraine and the USA, and what she’s found surprising during her first year with her Host Family.
Mariia says she joined the program because she enjoys traveling and working with kids. She’s worked with kids before and says, “we always have fun.” Traveling was also one of Mariia’s dreams, but as a Ukranian, she says it can be challenging to obtain a U.S. visa these days.
Enter the Au Pair program – aka., the perfect opportunity to live and study in the USA, while learning about all the cultural differences between Ukraine and the USA.
“I really appreciate… this program, this chance.”
Mariia calls the U.S. and Ukraine “two different worlds,” citing how America gives Au Pairs the freedom to pursue anything they can imagine. She says this has been a new experience for her, since in Ukraine, there are “restrictions” that prevent people from pursuing a dream or idea at the drop of a hat.
There really are some striking cultural differences between Ukraine and the USA, ranging from little everyday things to different outlooks on life. For Mariia, this experience has been life-changing, and she says it’s given her “the chance to become the best person” she can.
1:49 – Why Mariia wanted to become an Au Pair
“For me, it was a great chance, I guess, to travel… I really like to spend time with kids. Like, playing, teaching, learning… Kids can [teach] adults. They really can think not like adults. It’s really interesting to work with kids. So, yeah, this program was 50% and 50% desire to travel and desire to work with kids.”
“It’s cool. [I’m grateful] for this chance to travel and combine travel and studying and working.”
3:48 – Bonding with Host Family
“I really love them. Love my kids, love my family. So yeah, my family’s the best for me here. Cause… they became my ‘first aid’ here when I [came] in United States…
“My Host Mom & my Host Dad was like, my first aid. I was like, ‘Do you know what?’ and ‘Can I just ask you something?’ ‘Uh, I wanna just know…’ And it was a lot of stupid, silly questions to them, but they’re really patient to answer me and support me with kids.
“[The] kids had a lot of questions for me, like, ‘Where are you from?’ and ‘Why are you here?’ … I don’t know what to say! It was funny and hard at the same time. But still, it’s really great.”
5:16 – Cultural Differences Between Ukraine and the USA
“It’s really two different worlds. Like, here, this part of the world, and our part of the world, like in Ukraine/ Europe. First of all, different people, different culture, different food. Different roads. There are no restrictions.”
“When I saw like, movies, and I don’t know, some different films about America, it was like, ‘Oh, this is just movie.’ When I was first here, I was like, ‘Woah! I’m in a movie now!'”
“It’s really cool to live here, not just to be a traveler for one month. When you live here, you understand people. You understand society, you understand different rules. Why this rule should be here, why this guy doing this, not that. You try to understand this political system, this economic system.”
9:29 – Host Parents’ support
“In this program, a big part depends [on] family. In which climate you live, so, this depends how you think. Cause my Host Parents are really patient people and they’re active too. So my Host Dad is biking a lot. So when I first came, they bought me, in first month, they bought me a bike… Here it’s really cultural biking. A lot of bicyclists, so it’s really like a culture.”
“So [the] kids are really nice and really smart guys. It’s really interesting cause my younger one is almost 9. He has a lot of questions, like questions for a 14-year-old or 15-year-old person. ‘Hey, you are just almost 9! Why are you asking this or that?!’
“I think I’m lucky one to live in this family, cause a lot of stuffs we’re doing together, like biking, and a lot of family holidays, a lot of different events. All the time, they ask me about my free time. ‘Are you homesick?’
“‘No, I’m not homesick.’
“‘Ok. So, do you know what to do? Do you know about events, about something happening here?’
“…It’s really nice, cause I feel like people care about me. Not like, not care about kid, like adult. Like, ‘Are you comfortable? Are you hungry? Are you thirsty?'”
13:25 – Long-lost family?
“We’re thinking similar. So, it’s like- and, a lot of habits with kids. Kids, and me, and paretns. We have similar habits, we have similar activities like doing sport. So like, maybe… one day my Host Mom asked me, ‘Maybe you are our relative?’
“I thought, ‘Maybe? We should check this!’ Maybe there’s something we don’t know about each other. Yeah, cause they are Russian speaking. Their parents used to live in one city in Ukraine. It’s different city, not the city where I live, but still.”
18:41 – Surprising things about living in the USA
“It’s a really different culture here. In Ukraine, we have just mostly Ukranian people. And here, different rules, different political situation. I mean, people feel comfortable and free… You know you can do it, so you just do it. In our country, you need to think, you need to ask. Cause it can be impossible. So, if you want to go to work for some organization, you need to have a specialization. Here, if you want to work at some organization, you can graduate some college, and go to work. In our country, if you have only desire, it’s not working… You have like, restrictions, you know? So you don’t feel free.”
24:05 – #1 Tip for Au Pairs (+ watch video to hear Mariia’s Bonus Tip #2!)
“Just don’t be afraid to ask. Ask different questions, what do you think, what do you want to know. You should ask, ask, and ask.”
“First of all, you should ask about everything. About weather conditions, about room. What do you want? You need- first of all- you need to know where you go and why you go there. Why you go to this people, not to that people? You should ask a lot of questions & really know where you go… It shouldn’t be a surprise. Cause I know a lot of stories, that Au Pairs forget to ask, and when they arrived, it was like, a surprise. So, why didn’t you ask before?”
26:10 – #1 Tip for Host Families
“Host Parents should be prepared for [a] new member in their family… I think both sides need to talk, to speak, to share with memories with everything. Cause nobody can just guess your mind.”
Have you experienced cultural differences?
Mariia has some great insights about the cultural differences between Ukraine and the USA. Were you surprised by McDonald’s, too? Was your experience completely different? Let us know in the comments!
Learn more about Ukraine:
Cultural Differences: Ukraine and USA
Cultural differences between USA and Ukraine
A Fresh Perspective on My Two Homes: U.S. and Ukraine
Ukranian culture vs. American culture
Steve’s Travel Blog- Life in Eastern Europe