A wave of England fans has washed over Kiev today for the Euro 2012 quarter-final against Italy. Since this is likely to be their first trip to Ukraine, here are my 20 survival tips:
1. Carry cash. Ukraine is like many FSU countries where cash is the main way to pay. Buying a house with a suitcase full of dough is perfectly normal (Jimmy Carr would be right at home here). It’s also handy to have a few hundred hryvnia for bribing.
2. Check your bills before paying. Some cheeky restaurants will add on a few items thinking, “Ha ha! These stupid English people can’t read Russian, they’ll never know the difference!”. If Cyrillic is gobbledygook to you and they have overcharged, then ask the waiter to explain each item.
3. Haggle with taxi drivers. Never pay more than 50uah for a single trip. 40uah gets you from one end of Kiev to another.
4. Be assertive but not offensive if you get into a disagreement. You never know who you’re dealing with.
5. Carry a photocopy of your passport. Don’t show your real one to anyone. That chatty girl, who spoke perfect English and asked to see your travel stamps, will be off sipping cocktails in Soho and shopping in Harvey Nicks under your name.
6. Don’t drink the tap water unless you want an extra boob or third eye.
7. Don’t be alarmed if your gas doesn’t work a few hours after lunch, it’s “the time of day”.
8. Always wear your seatbelt even if the driver says, “you no need”. They may take offence to you buckling up but better be safe than sorry. You’ll soon be dodging pedestrians on pavements, speeding up hard shoulders, down potholed hills, and passing at least one crash (if you survive the ride). Ukrainian drivers are crazy!
9. Be careful but not paranoid. People are generally very friendly and chatty and will go out of their way to help you. Just don’t ruffle up the mafia.
10. Don’t expect help from police without ‘paying them’ or offering a good bottle of brandy and Cuban cigars as a ‘gift’. Cracking jokes and a nice smile may work. If you have a serious problem go to your embassy.
11. Never judge a Ukrainian city by its exterior. Shabby soviet building or dingy looking bars can be the most happening and interesting places. Ukraine is full of surprises! Explore alleyways, underground bars, and unremarkable buildings. You never know what you might find.
12. And don’t judge Ukrainian girls by their high heels! They dress up and down, married and single. A mini skirt does not = easy meat. Any groping sleazebags will get mobbed by this lot (if not angry boyfriends):
13. Dance like a teen again. It’s all about 90’s pop here: Ace of Base, Backstreet Boys, Eiffel 65 – “Blue”, Los del Rio – “Macarena”, Ricky Martin etc.…. all Ukrainian favourites. Never-ending techno and cheesy Russian pop are also big hits.
14. Go drinking with Ukrainians, they’ll show you hidden watering holes most tourists miss. But don’t take them on in drinking games, you’ll loose hands down and end up bedridden.
15. Stack up on Ukrainian vodka – it’s the best! The overpriced stomach-churning drain cleaner we get back in England doesn’t compare.
16. Vegetarians stay away. This is carnivore country. You may find a cabbage or carrot to nibble on if you’re lucky.
17. Bring a first aid kit. Ukrainian medicine cabinets consist of one thing: vodka.
18. If seriously injured, start praying. Ukrainian hospitals haven’t changed since soviet times.
19. Bring a ladder or parachute. There are no fire doors, fire alarms, fire escapes, or multiple signs reminding you to wash your hands, mind your head, wipe your bottom, and be careful of the doormat! At least you won’t die of insanity here (but you might go up in flames).
20. Smile! You’re NOT on camera! Big Brother Britain is miles away.