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.
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