Both of my parents are from the USSR. My mom from Moscow, and my dad from Vinnytsia (which is now Ukraine—for now at least). They moved to the U.S. sometime in the ‘70s, and then created me in an icy, ketchup-with-everything small Minnesota town twenty years later. While they assimilated as much as they could, they still had many Soviet holdovers, even years after settling in the States. Trust the government? Psh—they didn’t even trust our neighbors.
For the longest, most seemingly endless time, I hated how different my family was from other families. I hated the pressure they put on my brother and I to not just succeed, but be the best. I was once grounded for three months for bringing home a C+ in algebra, to give you some idea of what conditions were like in my house. Like, this was a very serious requirement my parents had for me. Every single morning, before my dad dropped me off at school, he asked me the rhetorical question, “Are you going to be the best?” And I had to answer, “Yes.” It became a mantra. Was I going to be the best? Yes. Was I going to be the best? Yes. Yes. Yes.
My parents were quirky in other ways besides their unrelentingly high expectations of their children. Anyone with parents from the Eastern European area will recognize many, if not all of these things:
For school pictures, your mom and dad probably told you not to smile like an idiot
Is Russia (and most Eastern European countries), smiling made you look like a fool, like you were hiding a secret, or you were bragging about something. In all of my old family photos, everyone looked like they had just come home from a funeral.
Seven different salads was what you normally ate for dinner (with a pile of mandarins for dessert)
And you ate a lot of mayo. Like, a lot. Mayonnaise was the main ingredient in everything.
Forget Barney, your fictional kid mentor was Cheburashka
If you brought home anything less than an A+, you were considered a disgrace to the family
So don't bother coming home if your report card is less than perfect.
If you proudly brought home all As, you were shamed for gloating
Why should you be proud for doing the obvious? What, are we going to give you presents when you breathe oxygen?
You were either going to be a computer programmer, or a doctor. No ands, buts, or ifs
When I announced I was going to major in English, my parents acted like I announced I was pregnant with Charles Manson's baby.
Whistling inside the house was bad luck and meant you were going to go bankrupt
Russians have a lot of superstitions.
Sitting at the corner of a table meant you would never find a husband (no one puts Baby in the corner!)
Like, really superstitious. And a lot of these superstitions had something to with whether you were going to get married or not.
If you pay full price for anything, you’re a moron who deserves to be poor
Who doesn't look at the clearance rack first? Derelicts.
Russian swear words > American swear words
You’re used to all kinds of insane politically incorrect conversations during dinner
I'm not going to repeat any here, but Eastern Europeans are generally pretty insensitive to just about everything. Like, racism and sexism are non-issues for them since they used to be thrown in jail and shanked for even thinking about opening their own business or siding against the "government." Not that I'm making excuses for anyone, but you just learn to block things out over time.
If you did anything that wasn’t expected, your mom or grandma would tell you they’re having a heart attack
A healthy child is a child that is always eating
Your mom was always stuffing your face with katletki and kasha as though she had predicted an upcoming food shortage.
But if you ever started gaining weight, your parents would let you know immediately
"You're looking a little fat. Have you been exercising?" That actually happened.
If you’re congested, you hold your head over a pot of boiling potatoes. With a towel over your head so the heat can’t escape
This is surprisingly effective.
Or put your feet in a bucket of hot water and spices
Also totally effective.
If you were going through a rough patch, it’s because of the evil spirits or negative energy had latched on to you
I'm not sure where the negative energy comes from, but supposedly its derived from other peoples' ill-will against you.
Speaking of which: Don’t tell anyone how well you’re doing, because people will become jealous and send negative vibes your way and destroy you. AKA, trust no one.
No humble-bragging for you.
If it was anything below 70 degrees outside, you needed to wear a jacket
And a hat. And gloves. And long underwear. And a scarf. You also had to wear special slippers inside the house so your feet wouldn’t get cold and so you wouldn’t catch the flu a die.
“Depression” and “anxiety” are myths that only the weak believe in
Eastern Europeans believe any bodily illness, be it mental, can be cured with keeping busy, working hard, and some good, hot Borsht. Oh, and a bottle of lukewarm vodka.
Giving toasts and telling stories at least four times during family dinners
Honestly, I think just it's an excuse to drink more.
You reused every single plastic container, ever
There's no sense throwing away that cottage cheese tub once it's done. It'll be good for leftovers later.
The proper way to end any night is with some “Chaiok”
Important parties are usually held in some remote European restaurant’s basement where smoking is allowed and techno plays until about 3am
Eastern Europeans know how to get down HARD.
Instead of soda, you had kvass
Which is fermented rye bread. It tastes exactly how it sounds.
Your parents would always downplay your successes to friends. It’s reverse psychology.
Like I said before: If you tell anyone you're doing well, this person will get jealous, and send bad juju your way. Also, your parents probably thought you could be doing better anyway. Four AP classes? You could have taken six. 2100 on the SAT? You could have gotten a 2400. There's always room for improvement.
They probably thought all your American friends were rude and careless
Lord help if your friend if they "helped themselves" to the fridge. "Mi Casa Es Su Casa" is like the anti-thesis to how Eastern Europeans treated quasi-strangers in their house. You best know you're limits, and you ask for things if you want them.
If you bring an American boy/girl home, they will treat them like you brought in a pet deer
If they even accept your SO (and lucky you if that's the case), they will still treat them like a total alien entity, explaining them what every single piece of food is on the table like they're blind. "This is like our version of "meat" here in America," my mom would explain.
You have an insane work ethic, thanks to your parents.
And that's because you were raised by the hardest working people you know. It's not easy moving to an entirely different country and starting over completely—you get that perseverance and tenacity from them.