I was at the hardware store the other day getting a faucet for our bathtub. I actually had a really nice salesperson help me! Like I said in my previous post about smiling and sincerity, the salesperson that I talked to was more focused on helping me get the right thing instead of making jokes and small talk. Because of the unique design of our bathroom, Yulia and I need a faucet that that could be mounted on a horizontal surface instead of on the wall (like 99% of faucets on sale at the store). Turns out there are special extensions that allow you to take any wall mounted faucet and use it on a horizontal surface. This woman even ran around the store with me and helped me get a hose and a cap to hook up the faucet. Nice!
After I got my things and went up to the cash registers, I was second in line behind a guy who was making a huge purchase. He had just handed over $555 in cash to the cashier and, considering the exchange rate, it amounted to roughly 15,000 hryvnias. The cashier obviously didn't want to make any mistakes (for her own sake, I assume, as well as the customers'). As she was counting, an older man walked into our aisle and asked something about the AA batteries that are sold near the resisters.
"Do I have to buy batteries in packs like this?"--meaning in packs of 2 or 4.
"Yes, that's how they're sold."
So the man took some batteries and proceeded to go in front of me and the guy making the big purchase. He went behind the cashier counting 15,000 hryvnias and stood there.
The cashier was not happy with him. "You are making me angry now. Go back to your spot in line and stand there. I'm counting a lot of money, and you're distracting me."
I could understand. The guy in front of me was paying in denominations of 200. I'm sure he wasn't interested in overpaying by 200 hryvnias, and I'm sure the cashier didn't want to be 200 hryvnias short at the end of her shift.
The older man went back to his spot behind me in line and said, "OK, I'm standing," as if the cashier just asked him to do something completely unreasonable.
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This isn't the first time I've seen cashiers at that store have to keep customers in line. Another time I was at the outside register by the lumber yard. A man, who had had too much to drink, walked right past the cashier with a big cart full of insulation.
"What are you doing?? You haven't paid for that yet!"
"I'm waiting for my driver. How else am I supposed to see him??"
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These stories are not isolated incidents. It's common--especially with the older generators--to be standing in line in a tiny shop and have someone go right in front of you as if you weren't there at all.
On more than one occasion I have been waiting in line and have watched someone walk in and go right in front of me. I usually just stare at them, confused. When they proceed to order what they want I speak up--"Um, excuse me, I was here before you."
"Oh! You were waiting in line?? I thought you were just standing there."
Or they'll say, "I thought you were with them," pointing to the person in front of me.
If it's not clear if someone is butting in front of you on purpose or not, that's one thing. But it's such a habit for some people that sometimes it's not clear if they're trying to steal batteries or entire rolls of insulation from the hardware store. In both cases it's beside the point if the person is aware of what they are doing or not. They need to be made aware of what they are doing and why they shouldn't do this.
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I bring this up because of a recent conversation Yulia had with a friend about what to do when you see land near your house burning. It's common in Ukraine for people to set fire to tall grass. For some people it seems like a compulsion. They'll do it several times a year without any consideration of the consequences. Last spring, our neighbor set fire to a pile of grass on a windy day, and the fire spread onto to our property. Yulia and I had to run out to the back of our property to try and put the fire out before it destroyed all the young trees we had planted there. The fire also got within a few feet of a plastic tarp that was covering some straw.
A few days ago, the land near our village was on fire (To give you an idea of how often people burn, it was last set ablaze on a warm day in December). The fire was spreading to an area of land near some high tension power lines and a large, high-pressure natural gas line. Aside from that, large fires like this destroy the plants and animals living there. Honestly, Yulia and I would prefer to see trees, bushes and wildlife there instead of a field of weeds that gets burned whenever it is dry enough to do so.
Yulia called a number to a hotline and, unlike the time she called in December, the fire department actually came and put out the fire! We were thrilled and considered this a step in the right direction. We hope that it spared a few animals their lives and allowed some young trees to keep growing.
Enthralled, Yulia posted the good news on Facebook: "The land near our village was on fire, so I called the fire department and they actually put out the fire! A small victory!" Several people responded positively, and someone even shared a picture of a rabbit den with infant rabbits to show the kind of animals are killed in these fires. Maybe mama can outrun a fire, but what about her babies? What about baby birds, salamander, snakes, and frogs?
Unfortunately, one friend responded negatively. I won't quote the entire conversation here, but her point basically came down to the idea that the locals live this way and that outsiders like the young Ukrainians involved in the Facebook conversation shouldn't be "fighting" and telling older people what to do. She said that Yulia and her friends shouldn't expect people to change the way they do things just because of their beliefs.
Aside from the obvious fact that we weren't telling anybody what to do, we've talked to our neighbors about the burning and many of them are against it. They have similar concerns to Yulia and I. What will the storks eat when they come back in the spring? What about the wildlife that gets killed? What if our barn or house catches fire? What about the garbage that people carelessly throw out in the fields? Why do we all have to breathe in smoke from plastic because a couple people want to burn the grass?
Also, this isn't some kind of historic tradition in this culture. When Yulia lived here in the 80s and 90s, burning land wasn't something that people did. Our neighbors (also known as the locals) also don't remember this ever being customary. It's only started within the past 15 years or so.
Lastly, it's dangerous and illegal to burn land. Because of people burning last July, hundreds of acres of wheat were burned before one farmer in our area had the chance to harvest the grain! Around the same time, a woman's body was found in a field that had been burned. She had set fire to some grass, passed out from smoke inhalation, and was burned in the fire. The fire department's own website even says that burning is illegal. They encourage people to call the hotline that Yulia called when they see these fires.
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Like setting fires, cutting in line for bread and walking out of stores with unpaid merchandise may just be something that older people do. It's in their culture and part of their way of life. Is it right for younger neighbors or cashiers to speak up when they see this behavior? Absolutely.
It's not about culture, and it's not about expecting people to change just because we have different beliefs. When something is destructive or illegal, it doesn't matter if the person is older or not. It also doesn't matter if they understand the consequences of what they're doing. It ruins things for other people, and that is enough reason to say something. The longer Ukrainians stay afraid to speak up, the longer things will stay bad for everyone.