I’ve been looking back at my Google Translate app as I try to clean up and organize my phone. I haven’t used it since we were in Ukraine, so it still has all, or at least most, of the entries from when we were over there. Here are some of the things I had to enter on my phone, wait for the translation and then show the person I was talking to, hoping they’d understand. The “Ukrainian” the recipient saw appears next to it. Many times, the person had no idea what I was talking about. It’s an interesting way to look at our time there.
Yes (так) – I just started saying, “Da,” as even though I think that’s Russian, they understood it. When I tried to pronounce it “tack,” I got blank stares.
No (ні) – Just like with yes, I went with “Nyet,” as I knew they’d understand the Russian word. Shaking my head also did the job. “Hi” accomplished nothing.
Large coffee with milk, please (Велика кава з молоком, будь ласка) – I’m pretty sure I could live to 1,000 years old and never be able to pronounce that. After a few days, I found a coffee stand with an English speaker working there. It was a lot farther than the vendors closer to our apartment, but it was worth it just to be able to spit out a basic order.
Double cheeseburger meal with Coca Cola (подвійний чизбургер з кока-колою, будь ласка) – McDonald’s was not only wildly popular there, but it was actually good. The meat tasted like meat and the buns were fresh. It also cost about 4 cents for a meal. Thanks to Pulp Fiction, I knew they wouldn’t have a quarter-pounder, which is why I went with the double cheeseburger. Thanks, TV!
Fish sandwich meal with Coca Cola (рибний сендвіч з Кока-Колою) – What was frustrating at McDonald’s, though – aside from the fact that these translations didn’t earn me a knowing nod – was that trying to point at the picture of the thing you wanted didn’t work. By the time the worker turned around, another food picture was shown. I wound up having to pull up photos of the McFish and everything else to show them. That worked out OK.
Food is take-away (їжа – винос) – I was worried that they’d misunderstand this and think I was trying to rob the restaurant. I started pointing at the door and making the walking sign with my fingers, hoping they’d understand. One time, I even stood up and pretended to walk with a make-believe satchel of food under my arm. Yeesh. I was helpless.
Take away order beer while I wait (забрати пиво, поки я чекаю) – Some of the places where we had take-out took a while, so I decided to order a beer while I waited. I had nothing better to do than waste Ukrainian restaurant workers’ time. It took about 345 attempts at this, but I finally figured out some sign language that got it done. As soon as I saw a backwards number on the translation, I knew not to even try.
Do you have parmesan cheese? (у вас є пармезоновий сир?) – My wife adores parmesan cheese, and I always hesitated to ask for anything “extra” with our food. I was just happy to get the food, and learning how to idiotically order a beer while I waited seemed like enough of an accomplishment. Ultimately, I tried this one out and it seemed to work, thankfully.
Is there meat in this? (чи є тут м'ясо?) – Finding food and ordering it in Kyiv is difficult for a goofball American who speaks absolutely zero Ukrainian. Finding food for a vegetarian in Kyiv? To this day, I have no idea if my lovely wife ever had a meal without meat in it, or if she never had meat. I do know that everyone I showed this one to looked at me like I had nine heads.
May we have a cup and some towels in room 212? (Чи можемо ми в часі і рушниках в кімнаті 212?) – We didn’t know this until we got there, but the hospital didn’t give us any living supplies, such as linens. We had to handle that ourselves. I wound up using some things from our AirBnB apartment, running them back and forth to launder them.
Is he going to be OK? (Чи він буде ОК?) – This one wasn’t funny at all. I typed this to find out how bad a situation Mickey was in after he aspirated. Thankfully, they understood this one and nodded a yes to me immediately.
Are you familiar with the Mexican restaurant near here? It has a big flag out front. (Ви знайомі з мексиканським рестораном біля тут? Вона має великий прапор з фронту.) – We kept driving by a building near the hospital with a Mexican flag out front. Me: “Honey, I think that’s a Mexican restaurant.” Tiffany: “How do you know?” Me: “I know the Mexican flag.” Tiffany: “Well, find out.” Long story somewhat shorter, it turns out that this was not a Mexican restaurant. It was their embassy. See? I was a total idiot in Ukraine.
How do we pay the bill? (Як ми платимо рахунок?) – Everyone caught this one right away. No one ever had any problem understanding when we were trying to offer payment for something.
After we got home and had some time to read more about all of this with some perspective, we learned that because Ukrainian is not a Romance language, a lot of our words and phrases don’t have a direct translation. That’s why I kept getting bizarre or even bemused looks from people when I’d wave them down and show them my phone screen. That’s also why I stopped doing that on the street altogether after a few days. I didn’t want to insult someone’s mother and have no idea what I just said.
Language barriers are not easy to overcome.