Copyright ©2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

Now a postcard about pumpkins. This Halloween season, NPR's David Greene is on a reporting trip in the Eastern European nation of Ukraine. And there for centuries, pumpkins have played a curious role: They were a woman's way of saying no.

DAVID GREENE: As in: No, I won't marry you. And if that was a Ukrainian woman's answer to a marriage proposal, she didn't even need to say it. Everyone knew the tradition. All she had to do was hand the poor guy a pumpkin.

The Ukrainian word for pumpkin is harbuz.

Mr. VOLODYMIR YANTSUR (Tour Guide, L'viv): (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: Volodymir Yantsur is a tour guide in L'viv, a city in western Ukraine, and he said this tradition began back in medieval times. It got so bad, many men would only propose at night so they wouldn't be seen with a pumpkin in their hands, if they were rejected.

Why a pumpkin? Well, as vegetables go, pumpkins aren't the prettiest. And maybe that's the message for the boyfriend. Or, Yantsur said, there's this.

Mr. YANTSUR: (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: Some Ukrainian cookbooks, he said, suggest pumpkins are a healthy vegetable. Some even say it's good for a man's virility. Perhaps a woman was trying to tell a man: You might want to think about using some pumpkin.

The tradition has died away over the years, but even today, Ukrainians use harbuz, or pumpkin, in their conversations. If you say no thanks to a business deal, you might say, I just have to hand you a pumpkin on that one. You want to protest the president's visit? Well, just hold up a pumpkin. That means you want him to get lost.

Ms. VOLODYMERA GOLOVACK (Vendor): (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: Thirty-year-old Volodymera Golovack was selling chicken at a market when I asked her if pumpkins still play a part in Ukrainian romance. This is when she brought up this young man who was begging her for a date a couple years ago. He just wouldn't take no for an answer.

Ms. GOLOVACK: (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: Yes, she threatened to serve him a pumpkin. Then, he would understand that he didn't have any chance or hope, she said. It was sort of a joke, she added. But he didn't like it. And he also never called again.

There are Ukrainians who really like pumpkins. I met Maria Soroka, who's 71, sweeping leaves outside a church. And when I showed her a pumpkin, she burst into song.

Ms. MARIA SOROKA: (Singing in foreign language)

GREENE: It's a sweet, old folk tune about a pumpkin, wandering the vegetable garden searching for his relatives. But if you're a single guy in Ukraine and your girlfriend starts singing this, I would take the hint.

Ms. SOROKA: (Singing foreign language)

GREENE: Happy Halloween from L'viv, Ukraine. I'm David Greene, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

KELLY: That's the Halloween edition of MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.