Saturday night out in Kiev was…surprising.
As you already well know, Peder and I have thus far been extremely impressed with the general friendliness of the Ukrainians – particularly those we’ve met here in Kiev. Sure, there have been the annoying run-ins with the police, and the stone faces in Odesa; but I think both of those are somewhat unique situations. Setting them aside, nearly everyone we’ve met (especially while going out at night) has been friendly and amicable.
It was therefore a pretty big shock when, for the first time, we were nearly attacked – just for talking to a group of girls. “They must’ve been someone’s girlfriends,” you’re probably thinking. Nope. Just a group of girls who some Ukrainian guys spontaneously decided they wanted all to themselves. They simply didn’t like the idea of two foreigners getting in their way, and that was apparently enough.
Wait, actually, let me start from the beginning.
We left our hostel and headed for the docks around 10pm, plenty of time to catch one of the evening’s many party boats. The way it works is you hop in line, and when enough people have arrived to fill the next boat, everyone gets on, pays the cover (cheap!), and off you go.
It wasn’t long before we’d made friends with the people both in front of and behind us in line, so even before things got moving it was looking like we had a fun cruise ahead of us.
Upon boarding and getting settled, one of the first guys we met was a Ukrainian, quite a big guy who spoke nearly perfect English; I can’t remember exactly where, but he said he’d spent some time living in the US which is how he learned to speak so well. I think it may’ve been New York, so I’ll call him the New Yorker. In any case, he seemed friendly enough.
His buddy, a 6’5″+ monster who reminded Peder of Jaws from James Bond’s Moonraker, wasn’t quite so smiley – though perhaps that’s little surprise considering he couldn’t understand anything we were saying. We chatted with New Yorker for awhile, then split off naturally to socialize with others.
Maybe a half hour or so later we ended up at a table with a group of 4 or 5 girls. They too were friendly and quite fluent in English, so we sat together for a bit before I excused myself and headed downstairs to the bathroom. Minutes later, Peder came running up in a frenzy:
“Dude, those two guys want to fight! The big guy just walked up to the table and literally lifted me up by the collar of my shirt!”
At that point, I was both fairly buzzed and irreversibly genki. I’d been enjoying the cruise so much – including the company of the New Yorker – that I couldn’t imagine something like that could’ve happened. I played it down, insisting that he must’ve somehow misread the situation; those guys just seemed far too nice to do something like that. So although Peder was convinced we should stay away, I headed back to the table and once again greeted the girls and New Yorker (who had now pulled up a chair of his own). Just as before, everyone was smiley and friendly.
For a little while.
A few minutes later, Jaws came over and out of nowhere started lifting me out of my chair. By my shirt. Just as Peder had described. I gave the New Yorker a look like “Huh??” and he immediately told his friend to stop. He then went on to explain that they wanted to talk to these girls, so we should probably get lost.
“Oh, are these your girlfriends?? I’m sorry, I didn’t know” I said. “I’ll leave you to it.”
“No, they aren’t. We just want to talk to them now, so I think you’d better leave.”
“Huh? But I was just chatting with you.”
“I know. We’re done, though. We want to talk to the girls, so get out of here. Now.”
It was such a bipolar change that I almost thought he was joking.
“Are you serious? Do you want us to leave?” I asked the girls.
“No, of course not!” they all replied.
“Leave now,” interrupted the New Yorker.
I was genuinely taken aback. This was a group Peder and I had been talking to since long before New Yorker and Jaws had arrived, yet they just show up and tell us to get lost? I know that at this point I probably should’ve just walked away, but keep in mind that I’d just spent a good half an hour socializing with the guy and he’d been nothing but friendly…so I figured I had enough rapport to at least say something.
“Okay, we’ll leave them to you,” I conceded. “But I have to be honest that I am a little disappointed, because I thought we were all getting along well – I was even gonna invite you guys to come out clubbing with us after the cruise ends. Shame that our very first Kiev Party Boat had to end on a note like this. I can’t say it leaves the best of impressions.”
He grabbed me by the throat, lifted me off my seat, and wound up to take a swing. “What was that?” he said with a fire in his eyes.
Peder calmed him down, apologized, and we walked away.
The rest of the cruise we spent sitting with another group we’d met earlier in the evening, though we barely spoke with anyone because we were so blown away. It didn’t take long for the table of girls to reject Jaws and the New Yorker, and from then on every time they wandered by our table they were quick to shoot us an evil look. Let me tell you, such unwarranted rudeness really goes a long way to ruin your party mood, no matter how much fun you may’ve been having before.
Luckily, that was our last encounter with the two. Although Peder was sure they’d be waiting to fight, once the boat docked they were nowhere to be seen.
Quite a sour experience, but oh well. “That’s just how Ukraine is” said one of the guys we sat with until the cruise finally came to an end. I can’t say I really agree…but maybe this is what Natalia meant when she warned us of unprovoked fights sometimes experienced by foreigners.