Tip Like an American

USA, Ukraine, expat, expat living, living in the usa

Tipping culture is something I have been trying to figure out ever since I first came to the United States. Granted, I was 16 and living with my host family. My meals were provided but on those rare occasions when I would go out with my friends or by myself I was very nervous about how big should my tip be. That led me to spending a lot - a luxury I couldn't afford since I was only getting $125 a month. This stipend was alright for someone living in a small North Dakota town but maybe not for a kid placed in a town next to Disney World (although the perks were pretty great). Placement aside I was also aware of the stereotype: foreigners don't tip and if they do - they are a very very bad tippers. Sixteen year old me was obviously trying to break common misconceptions... at my own expense. Literally.

I am not 16 any more (oh, let us shed a tear together). The one thing that didn't change is my fear of not tipping enough. And yes, it might be slightly affected by the insecurity of being judged but also by my desire to understand the system and be an asset rather than a nuance. That is why I turned to you my friends, and here are the results of my poll. Thank all of you for taking the time to fill it out.

Back in Ukraine I would follow protocol and tip based on the service provided. That meant that if my check was 47 and my waiter was mediocre - the tip of 3 will be given to him or her. No hurt feelings: tips aren't expected anyway. The tipping culture is slowly changing in Ukraine but only in the bigger cities: every time I go back to my small town and tip a cab driver or a server - people around me say "Don't spoil them! Now they are going to expect that from us and we have to live here." I understand and respect their wishes. Afterall - that is a foreign territory to me now. 

Tipping takes it out of me - I find myself thinking and over-analyzing every service I accept. Do I tip this girl who helped me bag my groceries? Do I have to tip this guy who helped me carry my bags up the stairs even though he is my neighbor? I think I got tipping food industry people down - 20% at a restaurant, a couple bucks on the take out, tip if I want to stay at the coffee shop and work.. but what about all those other areas of life I have to remember? Hairdressers, masseurs, coat checkers, and bus drivers... there is just too much for a one little foreigner to remember. That is why we have to talk America and this one is going to be real short: pay your people better. This land of opportunities shouldn't feel like everyone is nice because I am paying them for their smiles.

Please? Would help me out a lot. Thanks. 

If you and I are out somewhere and you see me omitting the tip - tell me. It comes down to the fact that I just don't know who to tip. But when I do - I try to do it generously. The key is not to convert the amount given into Ukrainian currency - helps my sanity.

Homesick Warrior

wordly, usa, ukraine, expat, expat life, expat woman, alisa kaiser, writter
Committing to an expat life equals to cutting your umbilical cord, the cord that connects you to your country and your nation. It is a simple act that sometimes you don't event think twice about - up until a serious disease hits you. The name of that parasite is homesickness.

The word 'homesickness' sounds somewhat funny to me - I mean come on, missing home? What are you - eight and at a friend's sleepover? Judge me all you want but I don't like it. So I suggest we change the term 'homesickness' to something more melodic and deep. Like blues. I now pronounce homesickness - blues.

The blues is like a foxtrot (where am I going with all these references?) - quick quick slow, quick quick slow (I had a lot of dancer friends growing up). It covers you up like a wave or a cold shower and then lets go and yet is still creeping in the background of all your action. I got hit with the blues hard this past week. Why? I don't know. I was stressed, I was sick, my husband was out of town - pick the one you like. But for a few days in a row I kept thinking about home and (I am aware of the fact that I am not three) I missed my family. Mom, quit crying, the post has just started.

Here is how it feels to be an expat (to me): I was living my great life - I decided to leave - my umbilical cord was cut - I had to insert myself in the new environment - I had to blend in with the locals. All these motions PLUS a sneaky/creepy blues constantly at your feet. That is a lot to take in, don't you think?

Living in another country for me is like getting an ice-creaming on a hot beautiful day with the pretties boy in class - absolutely amazing and I would not have changed it for the world. But every expat that you meet has left so much behind: families, friends, old memories, good jobs, unwalked streets of the cities one has never been to... I look back at the road that I am walking on and I think to myself 'Who is this warrior? Where did this warrior finds courage, desire, and strength to go on?' I fiddle in my pockets, take out a mirror and look at the reflection. A girl with hazel eyes looks back at me and gives me a sad lopsided smile. Hi me. Are you taking good care of yourself?

I know that a life of an expat is the life chosen. The experience is so unique and so purifying  - you can't really complain, can you? Sometimes we pick the battles we are not ready for yet we fight to the best of our abilities. We have it good - let's just be grateful.

This post feels Thanksgivin-y - don't you think? FRESH FLOWERS! There, now it is a spring post.

Oh! And my best friend is a delivery nurse hence the references. I 'feed' from my real life. Just sayin'.

Talk Expat to Me

ukrainian in the us, alisa kaiser, ukraine, usa, expat, expat blog
I get a lot of compliments on being multi lingual and I would lie if I say I didn't like them. The problem is - mastering different languages is not something I am proud of - I take it for granted.

I grew up in Ukraine, where the official language is Ukrainian. Living in the east of the country and being so geographically close to Russia, the only spoken language in my school, home, and all around was Russian. By the time I got to college and things started to get more 'official' - I had to transfer my thoughts and spoken words to Ukrainian. It pains me to say so - but it was a challenge. Ukrainian is one of the most beautiful languages I know. It is so melodic and it makes my heart grow imaginary wings. When I was flying back to Ukraine this past winter, my flight from Frankfurt to Kiev made me sob uncontrollably. You want to know why? Cause when we were close to landing, the announcements were transmitted in German, English, and Ukrainian. I could not hold the tears back when I heard "Пані та Панове! Вітаємо Вас на борту літака...". 
If you send me a message in Ukrainian - I will reply back in Ukrainian. What you wouldn't know is that it takes about 5 minutes for me to form a coherent reply. I am ashamed and paralyzed by the fear of being judged. But it is what it is and I am working on it.
Then there is Russian. As a lit major - you probably can guess the enormous appreciation that I have for the Russian Literature, its lengthy sentences and complicated lives of its sad heroes. But struggles to better myself in Ukrainian just led to my Russian being filled with Ukrainian words and phrases. And while my friends find my talking fun - I am hiding an insecure language child inside.

English came into my life so early on that I don't even remember studying it. It just came easy. I was exposed to native speakers and good teachers. I liked how English made me feel - like I am capable of mastering a language. And even though I am far from mastering anything really - I still like how easy it comes to me. I don't know if it is due to the numerous books I've been and am reading or my compulsive obsession with American TV - all I know is that it feels good.

And German...Let's just move on.

So forgive me when I make mistakes. In all the languages I speak. It might sound too complex but honestly, I sometimes feel like my language core is divided into numerous horcruxes (if you don't know what a 'horcrux' is - what are you doing here???). I guess that's a struggle for every expat - keeping an identity through all the tongues, keeping the 'you' inside alive and well.

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