Pride, Polikliniki and Prejudice.

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February 1st 2010
Published: February 1st 2010
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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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1st February 2010

Where's the LIKE button?
TinNiE likes Pride, Polikliniki and Prejudice entry
1st February 2010

Thank you, TinNiE!
1st February 2010

Oh the memories....
Hi Jon :-) Dealing with things medical as an expat in a non-English speaking country - oh, the memories ;-) Thanks for the story - great writing as always.
1st February 2010

i lived in NIZHNIY NOVGOROD for 6 months , and one of my tunisian friends got attacked by the so called "skin head" and the police came to the dorm and blame the guy and didnt operate to catch those who did the attack, all they did is WRITE WRITE WRITE WRITE WRITE what the guy is saying and asking some silly questions!! where they 15 or 20 guys? or 21? it is very difficult to live there since everything is NELZYA! this happened to me : the shower closes at 9 pm and i arrived 1t 8:30 so i still have 30 minutes which is more than enough to have shower , but the BABUSHKA or the old grandma started shouting " NO WAY NO WAY, u cant go inside , 30 minutes is too little too little , o4en malo o4en malo" i wanted to take her lungs out ,but my friend calmed me down ,, 2 days before this incident i spoke the nastiest thing to another babushka who didnt let me in the dormitory because i was few minutes late , and she wanted to keep me outside freezing. russians re very weird and they get crazy as they get old!! they get ugly and crazy! russians can steal anything!many thieves and scammers!
2nd February 2010

Ok, now I understandhow you spring coming soon...or a flight to the sun?!?
2nd February 2010

haha as you can imagine, with my level of Russian language I know exactly what you mean by that "the boy is an idiot" look and the "da, da, da" and taking a guess reaction to not understanding. In fact they're both pretty much daily occurrences
3rd February 2010

Oh I'm sorry Jon. Must have been so embarassing but it did make me smile :) I'm glad that by the time you read this the tests will hopefully all be over. Big hugs

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