I was only two and a half years old when my family emigrated from Russia, and I have absolutely no recollection of the land of my birth. But as any child raised in an immigrant family knows, you may leave the country, but you don’t necessarily escape the culture or psyche of the ‘motherland.’
Over the years, I’ve been asked a lot of different questions about being an immigrant. Certain questions are fairly easy and simple to answer, such as the generic “Why did your family come to America?” question. Answer: Because my family wanted to fulfill the American Dream and escape the oppressive rule of a communist government. Others are a little more complicated: “Wait, so are you Jewish or are you Russian?” (Don’t even get me started on that one…)
If you’re looking for answers to the complicated questions, you’re in the wrong place. But if you’re simply hoping for some insight into some of the wacky behaviors and logic sometimes displayed by Russian immigrants, stay on the page.
RussianGirlProblems and RussianGuyProblems are two websites where users submit funny examples of cultural “problems” faced by young Russian-Americans (most of them apply to either gender). Until I found these sites, I had no idea how culturally connected I was to other people of my generation and background. But since I’ve found the site, I haven’t been able to stop laughing—and I’ve shared it with all my relatives and friends.
So to help explain certain nuances of being a Russian-American, I’m going to take my favorite examples from the sites and “translate” with a little explanation of my own.
"There is no right time to eat anything cold. You either are sick, were just sick, or will get sick."
This is probably my all-time favorite “problem” on the site. You would think that people from a country where winter lasted from October to May would be less fearful of the cold. But no! If there’s one thing you should know about Russian people, especially grandparents, it is that they are always convinced you are going to get a cold. (If you are sitting within an inch of a window or air conditioner, you may as well put on your winter coat, even if it’s June.) So eating ice cream, even in the splintering heat, is always cause for concern about your health.
"I love how my parents say it's their house, but when it comes time to clean it magically becomes my house too."
As immigrants, our families came to this country with very little and had to work tremendously to climb the socio-economic ladder. In their eyes, nothing can be claimed as your own until you pay for it yourself. But if you don’t clean up after yourself the way that you’re expected to, you’re going to hear, “Ti schto dumeyash shto eto gostinitsa?” (Translation: What, you think this is a hotel?) What the Russian parent is trying to imply is that you better clean up after yourself, because there’s no maid to clean up after you.
"Even though you’re a Russian Jew, your parents insist on getting a Christmas tree....for New Year’s."
This is one of those things that I find tends to confuse Americans, and with good reason, so let me explain. For people from Russia, New Year’s is essentially a secular version of Christmas, where people exchange gifts, decorate a tree, and often spend it with family. (I spent New Year’s with my family until I was 20.) What is considered a Christmas tree to Americans is just a winter tree to people from Russia, especially Jewish people. In general, having a tree isn’t indicative of celebrating Christmas for people from Russia.
"You are exhausted after a long day of work…but once you open that door to your parents’ house, it's like someone turned on the Panic Mode button because your mom will think "shtoto sluchilas" (“something has happened”) instead of just coping with the fact that you are simply tired."
This is so true. Whenever my father calls me at work and I answer quietly because the office walls are thin, he thinks something is wrong. If you aren’t upbeat, Russian parents will always think you’re upset, or worse, sick. Then, when you become a little rude out of frustration at having to repeat, “No, nothing is wrong,” you are told not to take their bad day out on them. After all, they’ll say, we’re all tired.