Culture Clash

(It occurred to me that it is Tuesday, but that this is not a Torah Tuesdays post.  I plead sleep-deprivation and mommy-brain.  Hope you enjoy the following post, regardless of its out-of-order appearance).


A Russian son calls his mother three times a week and she asks him why he’s not calling more.  An American daughter calls her mother three times a week and she asks her why she’s calling so much.

Generally, the idea is to marry someone with a lot in common with you.  This is supposed to cut down on misunderstandings So, as a staunchly Midwestern creatively-minded girl who came to Jewish observance post-college, I should have sought out someone with a similar background.  Who did I marry?  A science-minded doctor who immigrated from the Ukraine, was raised in the south and became observant in high school.

Of course.

So, what happens when two people with divergent backgrounds come together?

Well, for one, I found out that there are other ways to eat a banana.  My husband starts from the bottom (he would say it’s the top).  He uses the stem part as a handle.  Even though I still find it weird, it has a certain practicality to it.  I mean, that stem does look like a little handle.

which end is up?

Also, Russian fairy tales are creepy.  Apparently there is a little lullaby which ends with something along the lines of “and if you sleep too close to the end of the bed a little wolf will come and bite you.”  This is not in the forest, people.  This is in your room.  Besides creepy lullabies, there are stories which end rather dismally.  There’s one about a piece of straw, a boot and something else, and the story ends with everyone dying while frogs are laughing at them.  There are others with titles like “Who lived in the skull?”  and “Tale of the dead princess and the seven knights.”  At least the Brothers Grimm are a little less obvious about their creepiness. (My husband wanted me to mention that he doesn’t actually read any Russian folk tales to our children)

Baba Yaga riding a pig and fighting the infern...
Creepy Baba Yaga

Another difference is in our opinions of whether or not to smile in official, government I.D.s like driver’s licenses, passports, etc.  My husband maintains that you’re not supposed to smile; it obscures your features or something.  I have always smiled in my photo I.D.s.; it just looks better.  I can’t really blame him for his opinion, though.  My mother-in-law did tell me that when they left the Soviet Union, they were told not to smile for their exit visa thing because “no one was supposed to be happy to leave Russia.”  For real.

Besides for providing these cultural enhancements to my life, my husband, through a combination of coming to the U.S. and becoming frum in high school, is unaware of various American traditions.

Like grilled cheese belonging with tomato soup.  Or breakfast food being served for dinner.

Yes, it probably would have been simpler if I had married someone who was my carbon copy, but it would be so dull.  I mean, would my carbon describe certain Sesame Street characters as “the weird-looking fuzzy red thing”  (That’s Elmo, by the way)?

It’s much more entertaining this way.  да, очень

38 thoughts on “Culture Clash

      1. I actually have taught toddlers to open bananas from the bottom, it is easier for them. Just squeeze the tip hard enough and it pop apart, then they can peal it. (I open it from the top myself though)

    1. Good point. I should include a translation! They mean: Yes, much. or, Yes, a lot. They are two of the roughly a dozen words that I’ve picked up. When we’re at my in-laws there’s a lot of Russian-speaking, especially when my husband’s grandparents are over (they really, really don’t speak English), so I’ve learned a teensy bit of Russian.

  1. hey rivki, apparently the brothers grimm stories that are not famous are the ones where everyone ends up dead or eaten.

  2. I worked with someone once who also opened bananas upside down. She’s a born-and-bred American, who became frum in high school. I thought it was funny, but it is actually easier, especially when the tops get mushy and don’t open properly.

    So cute!

  3. LOVE IT (for obvious personal, as well as objective, reasons).
    The cross-cultural marriage is a blog of its own, no? The other day I told my husband that a joke he had heard was ‘so funny, I forgot to laugh’. He cracked up! He’d actually never heard that comment before- I was this close to taking credit for it as my own!
    My clone would DEFINITELY have heard that 400 times already…

    1. I hate to break it to you both, but a regular marriage between a man and woman is a culture clash all its own. True, it’s not as obviously humourous, but males and females definitely speak different languages. John Gray wasn’t far off with putting each on separate planets.

        1. Haha, definitely! You (and Shoshana) have the added bonus of a husband with a different point of reference in all other matters. Sounds like fun!

  4. You answered the question I was going to ask–whether or not you can speak Russian. I think it’s pretty cool that you included it in the end of this post. : )

    I think I’d like to meet your husband (and, of course, you) someday. Eating a banana from the bottom? Amazing. The creepy lullabies and stories? Awesome. Marrying the perfect guy for you–even if he is from a different cultural background? Perfect.

  5. Uh, Rivky, Are you sure the banana thing came from Russia? My yeshiva bochur bros do the same. They do have some russian friends though so hey, who knows.

  6. Hello! I finally made it over and I’m so glad I did. Fascinating post, you had me with the banana, that is just wrong! Although I too can see how it could be right.
    Spooky nursery tales!
    Must go and see what Torah is all about :)

  7. I just now saw this and I am just commenting to say that I, too, learned the banana thing from a Russian!

    1. Haha, yes, there are some interesting ones there. But that’s how it is with things that are familiar. They may be macabre, but I’m used to it. The Russian ones were shocking because they are new to me.

      1. Rockabye baby – don’t worry, baby, when the wind blows, you’ll fall.
        Mary had a little lamb – talks about J.C.
        The monkey chased the weasel – sick perception of society.
        Ring around the rosy – black death.
        Hansel and Gretel eat the witch, not just her house.
        And many others . . .
        I don’t know the Russian ones, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not really a good idea to sing any nursery rhymes. We sing Tana”ch. :) Usually one of the megillot (not Eicha, I can’t stomach it; I can barely stomach Esther).

        1. Yep, macabre and not exactly the values we’re going for. But again, since I was familiar with them, they were already not shocking to me (though I hadn’t heard the opinion that Mary Had a Little Lamb was about JC – fascinating). I think it was just the experience of learning a new culture’s crazy rhymes that was shocking.

          We don’t sing them either. We do popular Jewish songs that we like, which are usually from Tehillim or davening. Though my daughter did learn ring around the rosy, and since she’s only 2, I haven’t told her that it’s really about the plague. I’ll let her enjoy it a little longer.

          1. It’s always interesting to me how most people weigh others’ values so carefully, but don’t give a second thought to the ones that they were raised with themselves. Just goes to show, we’re all brainwashed – the question is only how.
            Like with the banana – who says pink is for girls and blue is for boys? In some cultures it’s the opposite. For that matter, who says guys can’t nurse? There’s a tribe in Africa where the men nurse, not the women.
            Ah, the comfort of having our familiar box of assumptions . . .

  8. How could I forget? Papa’s gonna buy you a mockingbird – don’t worry, even if you break or lose things, Papa will keep buying you bigger and better replacements. And just so that you know, there’s a good chance that you – or we – won’t manage to keep track of any of your posssessions for too long.

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