Ukraine in the membrane
My grandfather was from the Czech-Hungarian border (it switched halfway through his youth due to World War I). He failed to pass much Hungarian on to my mother or uncle, but he did instill in them a veritable encyclopedia of baffling old-world ethnic stereotypes. These generally have to do with small Carpathian towns that specialize in horse- or child-thievery. The one about the Ukrainians, though, is less specific. Basically, a Moldovan might try to put your puppy in a stew, but while you're trying to wash the paprika off poor traumatized Rover, those wily Ukrainians will steal your wallet.
Obviously, I think this is all hogwash (also the sort of thing a Ukrainian might steal, if you don't keep your hogwash barrels sealed nice and tight). But I do feel like I'm acting out some sort of ancient ethnic tension every time I vie with Gloria. We only even know that she's Ukrainian because Natasha, the tall Russian who used to live downstairs with her girlfriend Amy, recognized the language in which Gloria shouts at poor old Walter. Then one day Gloria took it upon herself to shout in English at Natasha. She repeated the charge to me recently: "They are two women who sleep in one big bed, and one is going to have a baby? What kind of people are these I am renting to? These are not good people!" And then Natasha and Amy moved out, but not before trashing their former apartment.
So maybe it's not an ancient ethnic tension. Maybe she's just a bad person. Though I do recall once, as a child, being told at an elderly relative's knee the following old-world adage: "Everyone knows that the old ladies of Kiev like to rent to lesbian couples, then become horrified about the nature of their relationship despite having owned a brownstone in a historically lesbian neighborhood for the last FORTY YEARS."