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Published: February 1st 2010
Getting registered to work legally in Ukraine is an infuriating process. Once dozens of documents are filled in, forms are translated and visas are bought, foreigners have to take a series of blood tests. With all the talk of ZhEK, TOV, SPID and OVIR making me irritable, I wondered if one of the tests would reveal an allergy to acronyms.
My first appointment was at a poliklinika
(clinic) in Lukyanivska. It is a typical Ukrainian public building: brown, sparse and run-down. On the ground floor there is a newspaper stall and a cloakroom, but no reception. I go up to one of the chemists' kiosks and ask a woman in a white coat: "Could you tell me where I need to go for a blood test?"
She replies frumpily: "What type of blood test?"
- I say that I don't know (I do know - it is for AIDS, but it was early in the morning and I couldn't push the Russian phrase for '...for administrative purposes' off the tip of my tongue). The woman, clocking my accent and in no mood to help foreigners in silly hats, shooes me away.
I phone a colleague, who tells me to
go to the laboratory. I go back inside the poliklinika
and ask another lady where I could find it. She replies that they don't have a laboratory.
I ask more people. After twenty minutes I find the right floor, corridor and room, but as soon as the doctor ushers me into her office I become yet more confused. In Russian the verb Razdevat'sya
means both 'to take off your coat' and 'to get undressed'; this causes no confusion most of the time, when the context rules out one of the meanings - but one of the exceptions is stepping from a cold street into a warm room in order to have some blood taken. Unsure of what the doctor wants, I do what all foreigners do when they are too proud to admit to not understanding something: I say "da-da-da!"
in a confident voice and take a guess.
While I take my t-shirt off, the doctor yells at me for being late, then yells at me for putting my coat on the wrong chair. Then, with no needle in sight, she gives me two forms to fill in. I don't have to razdevat'sya
completely until I go across
the corridor to take the test, but by this time I'm so flustered that I forget to put my clothes back on.
This time it isn't my accent that gives my foreignness away, but my not knowing how my patronymic (my father's name) is spelled in Ukrainian (I do know, but it is early in the morning and I have a very specific dyslexia that only causes me to confuse Ukrainian vowels). The look on the doctor's face says: 'he doesn't write in Ukrainian that often - the boy is an idiot'. I pick up my hat and scarf, and, 40 hryvnya
poorer, mildly humiliated and using the collar of my coat to cover my nipples, walk to the next room.
The second doctor is less angry. Surprised that I have arrived already half-naked, she soon ties a blood pressure guage around my arm. This time I give my foreignness away by staring blankly at one of her instructions instead of doing what it was that she asked me to do. The look on her face says: 'he doesn't know the Russian verbs for the movements your hand makes to increase the blood flow to your arm -
the boy is an idiot'. When the needle digs into the vein behind my elbow I don't feel any pain - just relief that I can sit still for a while and not be hopelessly foreign.
- You can read my story about Ukraine's deep winter, "The Linguist's Lot"
, on my journal ( - which you can subscribe to by putting your email address into the box at the bottom of the front page).
I'm also developing a page for people to recommend undiscovered pieces of culture from all over the world, called The Coffee Table
. If you know a musician, artist, writer, etc. from your travels, or if there is someone from your country who deserves some more exposure, feel free to add a link to them there!
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