1. Your mother never let you out of the house with wet hair. No matter how warm it was outside, wet hair guaranteed you’d catch your death of cold. Same thing goes for wearing thick wool socks when the weather dips below 45 degrees.
2. You get a Christmas tree for New Year’s Eve, but the thing is it’s not really a Christmas tree, it’s a New Year’s Eve tree, and Santa still comes with presents but really his Russian name is “Father Frost” but they look the same and it’s just so hard to explain to your friends. They also don’t understand why you have to spend NYE at home with your family. To abandon your family before the feasting begins to wind down around 3 am would be complete repudiation of your roots.
3. To procure said NYE tree, your father puts on a black turtleneck and every evening from December 26-30 stealthily scans the neighborhood for discarded Christmas trees to haul back into your living room and repurpose for the Jews.
4. You are forever confused about whether you’re Russian, Jewish, neither, or both. In Russia, you weren’t really allowed to be Jewish, but now in America, it is a huge point of pride. Why then, did I grow up eating exclusively traditional Russian food…? Which brings me to No. 5.
5. You grew up eating your grandmother’s borscht, kasha, kotleti, tongue, and head cheese. You don’t think you’ll ever recover from the moment you learned what head cheese was, or that it was called “head cheese.”
6. Subsequently, when you came out as a vegetarian, your family just about group-fainted. Once the initial shock and confusion wore off, babushka (grandmother) continued to offer you chicken. “Eet’s not meat, eet’s cheecken!”
7. You never, ever, ever show up at another person’s house without bearing a gift. Flowers are always a safe bet. Go with flowers.
8. Any mention of a cute boy at school was met with your mother’s interrogation: “Is he Jewish or a goy?” Totally blaming her for not having gotten any in high school.
9. Your grandmother is embarrassingly, unchangeably, and resolutely racist. You’ve learned to stop trying to change her worldview; she’s been through enough and she’s almost 90 freaking years old. It’s a hard one to let go, but have you tried to convince a 90-year old that their worldview is warped and wrong?
10. On the occasions that you do suck it up and go visit your grandmother, she shows her unconditional love for you by asking you why you dress like a boy, why your hair looks the way it does, why you never call (you do), and rhetorically, where the hell you think you’ll be buried with those tattoos. “Certainly not a Jewish cemetery,” she says, and you fear her heart is actually literally breaking. I’m dying to get more tattoos but while grandma’s around, the stakes are too high.
11. You were never allowed to participate in Pajama Day at school because the very concept was appalling and supremely unladylike.
12. For years you tried to explain to your mom that “coach” and “couch” were not interchangeable (also “lamb” and “lamp” was a hard one to crack). And you still write and edit all your dad’s work emails for him because he cannot, for the life of him, grasp the concept behind the word “the”. I don’t blame him; the Russian language does not contain an equivalent.
13. Your grandparents and other older relatives have lived in America for more than two decades and yet somehow get by with “Hello,” “Goodbye,” and “I don’t speak English.”
14. Your parents still answer the phone with a shrill “Alyo???” instead of a gentle, encouraging “Hello.” And you wonder why over the years the home phone rings less and less.
15. Growing up, you were embarrassed to bring friends over to your house because you were afraid your mother would force feed them to death (“Oh, you already ate? Ok, no problem, have some chicken and rice,”) and your father would make them sample all the salami in the house. There was a lot of salami in the house.