Monday, February 7, 2011

Are Ukrainians Incapable of Establishing Good Rules?

Anyone who's spent a significant amount of time in Ukraine is at some point struck by the mind-boggling quantity of rules governing one's behavior in public places and in all official dealings.

When you get on the bus you see a long list of rules in Ukrainian legalese taped to one of the windows with the title "Excerpt from the Terms and Conditions of Use of Means of Public Transportation" or something like it. The document continues: "Article 1. General Provisions." When you get on the subway you see another long list of rules on the window outlining passengers' duties and responsibilities. If you look for them, you'll see these lists of rules that nobody ever reads in virtually any public or commercial facility.

Also on the bus, you'll often see prominent signs saying, "Driver is obligated to give passengers a ticket stub after payment" or "Passengers, please demand a ticket stub from the driver following payment!" And yet very few drivers pass out ticket stubs, and in all my years riding buses I have never seen a passenger demand a ticket stub from a bus driver.

On occasion I actually read the rules, only to find that I have already inadvertently broken half of them! To illustrate, the other day I visited a geology museum. When I came back later and happened to see the list of rules next to the door, I saw that during my previous visit I had broken four of them. I had 1) failed to leave my outer clothing at the cloakroom downstairs, 2) failed to sign in at the register which is mandatory for all visitors, 3) carried in a backpack that was too large by museum standards, and 4) touched a couple of the exhibits, which is against the rules.

If the rules were important, I thought, why had no one made an effort to bring them to visitors' attention? Particularly the rule about not touching exhibits. All it takes is posting a sign above the open exhibits that says, "Please do not touch." Of course, given that this is Ukraine, the sign would probably say, "Touching exhibits is categorically forbidden!" But even this is lacking. That means it is up to the museum staff to personally monitor visitors. Then these staff are constantly in a bad mood because people keep breaking the rules, and the staff has to spend their time monitoring them instead of doing something more productive and interesting. And yet all it would take is to put a bit of thought into the rules, put up some more visible signs and get rid of the unnecessary rules, and everything would be okay.

The same is true in the Kiev subway (metro). I have 1) dared to sit down on the steps, 2) brought objects longer or larger than are permitted on trains, and 3) ran down the steps of the moving escalator. As it turns out, all these things are against the rules, but you see people do it all the time. And those elderly and poor people who take carts on the metro? That's also "strictly forbidden."

Have you noticed how many people work in the subway system? You have the woman behind the class box watching people pass through the turnstyles, who frequently comes out and shouts at people who aren't using them correctly or has to let people through whose social security or student status allows them to use the metro for free or at a discount. Then you have the young policeman standing nearby who makes sure everyone is on good behavior and occasionally nabs the most obviously drunk passengers. If the metro station has a long escalator, there's another worker in a booth at the bottom watching passengers on the escalator to make sure nothing goes wrong. It's actually nice to have such a human presence in the subway as opposed to, say, the completely mechanized Paris subway where half the passengers just jump over the turnstyles to avoid paying. What I find funny is that the Kiev subway workers let so many rules slide. They let through old people with carts, people carrying skis, teenagers with bikes, and turn a blind eye to people running down the escalator steps and disobedient youths who sit down on the steps. It's as if subway workers have an internal set of rules to enforce that differs quite radically from the official list.

To answer the question contained in the title of this post, I think we must answer two more specific questions: 1) Why do Ukrainians make so many rules? and 2) Why do they make rules that nobody follows?

Before I give my answers to these questions in a full-length article, I'm interested in hearing readers' opinions.


  1. I have no idea but two things came to my mind while reading your blog post A) Rules are made to be broken and B)why does it take so many letters in Russian to say "submit"? I guess the world may never know...

  2. Дело в том, что обычные люди и большинство правил существуют как бы в параллельных реальностях. Многие из них являются просто слегка обновленными копиями, существовавших во времена СССР. Я помню, как в школе нас заставляли переписывать «Правила поведения ученика советской школы» или что-то в этом роде. Подсмотрела в Гугле, батюшки, да они и сейчас существуют . Думаю, если сравнить их с теми из моего детства, различий найдем не много.
    Во времена Советского Союза мы жили в полностью зарегулированном обществе и наличие правил во всех областях, было только отражением политической системы. Современные правила, это просто атавизм, который не был создан в теперешних условиях для реальных нужд. Мы же (граждане) в свою очередь имеем стойкий иммунитет к такого рода излишествам эпистолярного жанра. «Пусть себе пишут. Если бы там было что-то действительно важное, это было бы написано большими буквами или стоял бы человек, который не давал бы это делать». А длиннющий текст с множеством разделов - это не работающий механизм, это для проформы, «отмазка» на случай, если я, бегая по эскалатору, все-таки сломаю себе шею. Вроде как «сам дурак».
    А про музеи и про «не трогать экспонаты» это вам просто повезло. У вас не было советского детства. По крайне мере мне и в голову не придет трогать экспонаты - «чур, меня». Когда нас в четвертом классе привезли в Киев на экскурсию в музей Ленина, одной «служительнице культа» померещилось, что я дотронулась до какого-то экспоната. Вы знаете, мне на несколько минут показалось, что меня тут же на месте и расстреляют. Успокоиться и перестать плакать мне удалось только через несколько часов (и это не преувеличение). Так вот, после того случая, мне уже ничего, никогда, негде писать было не нужно. Ну их к чертям с их экспонатами.
    Как по мне, пусть пишут, что угодно, но не соблюдают собственные правила так рьяно. Кстати, этим летом в Одессе, я была свидетельницей того, как посетительницу не пускали в музей из-за того, что она отказывалась снять дамскую сумочку с плеча и носить ее на вытянутой руке ближе к полу. Музей был художественный и я думаю, что для полотен ее сумочка не представляла бы опасности. Но, видимо, где-то глубоко в каких-то местных правилах (1932 года создания) был прописан такой пунктик.
    А после этого мы случайно попали в музей Довженка. Маленький сельский музей, размещенный в старой хате, необычная оформленная экспозиция, много очень старых предметов. И до сих пор помним экскурсовода, приятную молодую женщину и ее слова «Конечно, можете трогать – это же музей».
    Так что «побольше правил, хороших и разных», но поменьше бы людей, готовых бездумно их соблюдать.
    Р.S. Я ответила на русском, потому что на английском могу только читать. Если вы сочтете нужным перевести для Ваших англоязычных читателей, буду только рада.

  3. Абзацы пропали!!!

  4. Павел ТрампFebruary 11, 2011 at 5:21 PM

    Вся строгость наших законов компенсируется необязательностью их исполнения.

  5. Comment sent by eagledove9:

    "I have 1) dared to sit down on the steps, 2) brought objects longer
    or larger than are permitted on trains, and 3) ran down the steps of
    the moving escalator."

    hahahahahahahahahah! That got me laughing.

    Do not ride cart down moving escalator while carrying objects longer
    or larger than are permitted on trains.

    Why do they make rules that nobody follows? Maybe the rules were
    handed down to them by a higher authority who doesn't see the
    day-to-day operations enough to understand what things, realistically,
    are or aren't okay to do.

    Maybe in former Soviet countries, people see rules as something that
    nobody ever respects, because if you followed the rules, and did
    exactly what the authorities wanted you to do, you would die of
    starvation. The system wouldn't work unless people broke the rules,
    because the rules were unrealistic, and so everyone got in the habit
    of viewing all rules as breakable, unrealistic, and irrelevant to
    their daily lives. (This interpretation comes from reading Ayn Rand
    years ago - it's the idea that 'the belief system is contradictory, so
    you can't act it out in reality.' I actually don't know what Soviet
    countries are like, myself.)

    Sometimes people use a rule as an excuse to arrest someone if that
    person was doing something else, something unexpected and
    unpredictable, and they had no rule which covered that unforeseen
    activity, but they 'know' that this person shouldn't be doing that,
    and so they might use one of the little-used rules that gets ignored
    most of the time. There are a million unpredictable ways that someone
    can cause disruption. They might not have a rule forbidding the
    particular type of disruption that the person caused, but they are
    able to catch the person for running down the escalator or something.

    Why do they make so many rules? I can imagine subway employees who
    feel that it is their job to make a long list of rules - that is what
    they get paid to do. They have to come up with something.

    There are millions of little-known laws in the government of the
    United States, and somebody got paid to take the time to write them.
    Many of those laws are no longer used. In fact you can find web pages
    where they talk about funny laws that are no longer enforced, but
    every once in a while, when they want to catch someone for some other
    crime, they will accuse them of breaking the little-known ignored law
    that hasn't been used in years.

    To get rid of laws and rules, you have to create an agency whose
    mission it is to remove rules that are no longer needed, to
    deconstruct the system. Rules do not disappear by themselves. They
    have to be deliberately removed by someone.

    People tend to add more rules without taking any away. People do not
    want to be in conflict with the previous authorities who wrote the
    rules - how dare they erase that person's rule!

    That would also put them at risk of being responsible if anything goes
    wrong - now that they've gotten rid of the 'don't carry your skis on
    the subway' rule, somebody gets their eye poked out by a ski, and the
    person who gets blamed is the person who erased the 'no skis' rule.
    Avoiding blame - I've read that avoiding blame is a theme in former
    Soviet countries - if you were blamed for something then the
    consequences could be severe. (That is true in the USA too though.)

    The culture of respect varies greatly from place to place, family to
    family, job to job, person to person. People can be taught to assume
    that nobody will ever take them seriously. Or, they can be taught to
    take everything seriously no matter how small it may seem. Apparently
    the culture there has been taught that the rules don't matter for some
    reason, but I don't know why.

    I don't know how to connect these things to the Ukrainian spirit in particular.

    I'm curious to see what your interpretation is.