UNAMERICAN

From my very first US trip at the age of 11 and for the next two decades, which were spent predominantly Stateside, I embraced the American way of life – Sweet Air of Freedom, spelling color without a ‘U’, burgers and Bud Light, and so forth.

Yet there were several quintessential Americanisms to which I remained impervious. I will now reveal them at great peril to myself – if I am turned away at JFK next year, we’ll know why. I’ll start my high treason with…

1. PB&J

NO.

NO.

In my book, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a culinary abomination. First of all, the ingredients are pretty gross on their own. The spongy white squares that hold the PB and J cannot possibly be considered ‘bread’ by anyone who’s ever tasted actual bread. Peanut butter belongs in Reese’s Pieces or Butterfinger candies, and nothing else. And grape jelly is an unholy mutation of jam, which should always come from proper berries. Put those things together, and what you get is a mealy, salty, sweet, yet somehow tasteless mush that sticks to every part of your mouth and leaves you nauseated. It is also a staple food of every American child, and a go-to snack for plenty of adults (whom I am ashamed to know). Several of my study-abroad friends in France and Spain wasted their already-meager disposable income on the imported PB and Wonderbread so that they could get a little taste of home – a taste that I, thankfully, never acquired.

2. Flip-flops

Oh dear...

Oh dear…          Image credit: AP

On the city streets. In the classroom. With a business suit. When it’s snowing. In America, flip-flops are ubiquitous. Comfort and ease aren’t be all, end all, people! Outside of the beach, communal showers and nail salons, flip flops are not appropriate footwear. They are unattractive and unsanitary. If I ever became President of the United States of America, my first order of business would be setting up a single-payer universal healthcare system. My second would be banning flip-flops at all public locations aside from the three aforementioned exceptions.

BONUS: Uggs. UGH.

3. Baseball

Go Red Sox!

Go Red Sox!              Image credit: USA Today Sports

I’ll be the first to say that I am not a sports person, nor do I pretend to be one. I follow Formula 1 because of my best friend, try to get excited for Russia at the Olympics, and enjoy an occasional college basketball game during March Madness, especially when there are cute players involved (I named all the guys on Duke’s 2010 team after Harry Potter characters because I couldn’t remember their real names. Kyle Singler was Weasley, Brian Zoubek was Viktor Krum, and Jon Scheyer  was The Boy Who Lived, of course). Other than that, I am okay passing a couple of hours watching a match, in good company. Unless it’s baseball.

Sports have to make sense. Run around till you kick a big ball into a big net? Makes sense. Hit a tiny ball into a tiny hole 500 yards away? Why not. But 5 hours of guys walking, squatting, swinging without hitting, waving, giving each other the finger, giving each other two fingers, spitting, giving each other three fingers upside-down, waving their hands around and then switching places with the other team that starts doing the exact same thing without anything being achieved? Utter nonsense.

Many have tried to explain the rules of the game to me. All have failed. The only person who succeeded, TEMPORARILY, was – ironically – a Ukrainian ex-boyfriend, but I forgot all his lessons about a month after he left for B-school. Really, if you can’t follow a sport without an encyclopedia or an expert by your side, it shouldn’t be played. Also, you guys: it is not World Series if only one country participates in the championship. Please look up the FIFA World Cup for reference.

BONUS: American Football. Same reasons.

PS: GO RED SOX! You can take the girl out of Rhode Island, but, apparently, you can’t take two and a half years in Rhode Island out of the girl.

4. The Godfather

I refused the offer.

I refused the offer. And lived to tell the tale.     Image credit: The Godfather.

Any time I told anyone that I had never watched The Godfather, the person would gasp and then make an impassioned declaration of how it is The Best. Movie. Ever.  Most of the time I politely nodded along, and promised to have a Godfather marathon at the first opportunity – and I really meant it!  Except that Pirates of the Caribbean and Love, Actually always won out when it came to my weekend movie choices. Oops?

Finally, during my last year in the States, I rented the trilogy. I got through the first 45 minutes of the first film. I heard the famous “We’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse” line and saw the severed horse’s head. Then I turned it off. It was so tedious! So boring! So…’I couldn’t care less about the characters’? I know it’s an American Classic, and it’s supposed to be great, and I tried, I REALLY tried, but I just couldn’t. I’m sorry.

5. Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Turkey -- looks more delicious than it tastes.

Thanksgiving staples: turkey and yams. Though according to Sleepy Hollow, the first Thanksgiving was all about venison and pheasant. Now, if those traditions had stuck…  Image credit: Wallpaper Spots

Now I’ve done it.

It’s the most American of holidays. It’s not defined by religion or gender or professional affiliation or disposable income and gift-giving ability. It revolves around the two most important and universal components of civilization — family and food. And yet, it leaves me completely cold.

For one, I do not feel any kind of emotional connection to it. I cry at Budweiser commercials but not at people holding hands and saying thanks.  Many immigrants to the US consider Thanksgiving to be their official holiday, a sort of “thank you” to the land that embraced them when their home country didn’t, but my family never actually immigrated to the US and we all, periodically, went back to Russia, therefore not developing any spiritual kinship with the modern-day Mayflower folk.

Secondly, I just do not care for turkey, yams or pumpkin pie. Now, honey-baked ham and pecan pie for Christmas? Bring it on!

Are there any local traditions which you just cannot embrace?

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60 thoughts on “UNAMERICAN

    • What is church furniture? Maybe you should ask about this at your next language exchange thingamajig!
      Btw, I always think of Germany as a protestant country. Maybe bc of Martin Luther? Anyway, I recently read a report about problems with access to [esp. emergency] reproductive services in Germany bc many hospitals are run by Catholic churches, and was positively shocked at that!

  1. Cricket is my baseball. I’m still struggling to get my head around ice-hockey. Peanut butter and jelly – wrong on so many levels. The Godfather – I’m sure I have seen it but… and Thanksgiving is not a thing in Europe 😉
    But how dare you knock flip flops! Yes, I know all about the unhygienic nature of them etc, etc, but they’re just so damn comfy! Have you turned proper Russian and are wearing stilettos all the time now??

    • Hockey is simple – you hit a small round black thing with a stick till it flies into a net. And give each other bloody noses in the meantime.

      I have tried to wear heels more this year actually, and dress up more overall, but no, I wont be running around on ice in stilettos any time soon – that’s just suicide!

  2. Oh, and in Latvia, they like flowers A LOT, they like tramping about in nature, they like jumping over fires, they think swinging can stop you getting mosquito bites, they think tea is the cure for everything…

  3. I have never felt more American than while reading this entry, bahahaha. Which is very fitting for Thanksgiving, so thank you!

    When I first came to Abu Dhabi, like a typical American, I wore my flip flops everywhere. The mall, dinners, bars, etc. And my boyfriend and his Arab friends tore the shit out of me for it. They’re like “Seriously? You dress so nicely and then you ruin it with those stupid slippers?” And I would just shrug and eat a peanut butter sandwich.

    For my first two years, it was IMPOSSIBLE to find Reese’s peanut butter cups here. And I was flipping my shit. Arabs just do not find any desire for anything with crushed and smoothed peanuts in it, for reasons I have yet to understand. Thankfully, I’ve found them plenty of times this year, as the stores have realized they will sell out of them because the ex-pats (me) will buy them in bulk. Daily. Because they are crack.

    Also, Jon Scheyer went to my high school and dated this extremely short girl in my grade. It was very comical. (I think he was a freshman/sophomore when we were seniors, which was also comical to me.) Everytime someone mentions Duke basketball, I have to throw out how many degrees I am from him. We passed each other in the hallways often, yo! We’re practically related. (Also, did you know he was Jewish? Our entire starting team was Jewish or half-Jewish, a fact that we enjoyed talking about often.)

    Great entry overall, and I am very thankful for it. I will eat turkey today in your honor. Amen.

    • I specifically timed this post as a Thanksgiving gift to all my American friends 🙂

      Ok, now I am gonna turn into a giddy fan girl: I had SUCH a crush on Scheyer during the 2009-2010 season! Like, OMG SQUEE-level! One of my best friends in NYC (hi, Steve!) is a Duke alum, so he and I would be at a bar together every time there was a game. And I would drool over JS. He is soooo cute! *fans herself*

      The year I started working at RT, I went to the States right around my birthday, and as it’s customary to throw a b-day party for your colleagues, I decided to surprise them with full spread from the US (4 kinds of American cheeses, sliced roast beef, hard salami and pepperoni, 4 bottles of Cali wine, Ritz crackers, etc). But the biggest hits were actually Reese’s mini-cups and mini-Butterfingers! I didnt expect the Russians to embrace PB with such gusto!

  4. And Happy Thanksgiving to you, my favorite Vodka Soaked Tomato (which, coincidentally, is about the only way I make it through Thanksgiving.) I am willing to sign off on the majority your list. My dislike of flip-flops is fairly well broadcasted, Thanksgiving is only the day before I set up for Christmas and baseball is the lesser sport I must endure reading about until gridiron starts.

    I cannot agree on pb&j. I full-hearted agree you can have better quality of each ingredient but I’ll slum it if necessary. I will eat peanut butter by the spoonful and I put it on anything – don’t challenge me on that one, it was how my parents got me to eat liver as a child. My preferred sandwich is peanut butter on toast with honey and banana but grape jelly and Wonder bread will do in a pinch. I am not ashamed, as a matter fact – I may just go make it for breakfast.

    Happy set up for Christmas Eve, my darling!

    • YAY Christmas set-up! Or for us it’s more of a New Year’s set up (a post on that to follow) and Moscow is in full trees & lights glory already. I must say, the way Americans feel about PB&J is the way Russians feel about liver and mayo & sour cream on everything: a mandatory food group for us, grossness for everyone else.

      • We celebrate Christmas with the kids’ godfather (sorry for the flashbacks) each year in the style of another country. 3 years ago we did Russia and after researching, we celebrated Russian New Years instead so I look forward to your post. I might actually know something this time.

  5. NO. PB&J and Thanksgiving are a non-negotiable part of the American experience. Now I know why you REALLY don’t have a US passport.

  6. Hi Anna,

    Found my way here via Mike Major and Linda/Expat. Love this post. As a Canadian spending approx. 40% of my time in the US now, I had to laugh at some of these. Bread… oh bread. Why is all the bread here sweet? There is a distinct sweet flavour to all their white bread. And God help you if you’re looking for a good bagel anywhere outside of NYC. (I’m in Las Vegas).

    I would add to my list of UnAmerican’isms:

    1. Camping out one or two nights in front of Wal-Mart in advance of Black Friday shopping. WHY? For the love of God, why? What could you possibly need on sale at Wal-Mart THAT badly?
    2. The disgusting pile of nastiness that used to be a sweet potato. What do they do to it on Thanksgiving? It appears they add lots and lots of sugar (and some add marshmallows??). Why?
    3. Same goes for what they do to corn and spinach for Thanksgiving. They call it ‘creamed’. All I see is something that looks like it was regurgitated and put on a plate. Blech.
    4. Wearing running shoes/trainers anywhere and everywhere, and even when they have ‘nicer’ clothes on. Running shoes are for the gym. Or for running out doors.
    5. Motorized scooter thingy’s. Okay, if you’re unable to walk, then, by all means. However, the masses of people I see motoring around in those things are just lazy. Yo buddy, you are fat because you refuse to move your ass. The worst was when I saw a woman riding a scooter in a mall, wearing those shaping/toning shoes. You know the ones that have a curved up toe and heel. They’re supposed to help you get in shape by walking around in them. The irony of her wearing them, while sitting on her ass, riding a scooter nearly made me pee my pants.

    Rant over. 🙂
    Nancy

    • Welcome to H&A, Nancy!
      I like your list very much. Black Friday mayhem is indeed insane. It’s the kind of American Consumerism that gives Americans a bad name worldwide. Though I must say, my mom set up my entire first post-college apartment with all the appliances she got on BF for like $100…

      And man, oh man are you right about the food. That’s my problem with Thanksgiving dinners – it’s not just the turkey. Gravy is gross. Sweet potatoes w/marshmallows? WTF? I like spicy sweet potato fries, but that’s about it. Dont even talk to me about those casserole thingies (also – the green bean one), I might not sleep tonight. The only remotely palatable dish is the stuffing, but there’s usually celery in it and I haaaaate celery. Ugh. I need to go eat something tasty now.

      • Ha! I totally forgot about the green bean casserole thing. So fucking gross.

        My husband and I arrived back Vegas on Tuesday, so we are here for Thanksgiving, and because he is a total sap, he insisted we do a TG dinner here at the condo.

        A trip to Wholefoods yesterday resulted in him bringing home a Turducken. Have you heard of this thing?? It’s a chicken, stuffed in a duck, stuffed in a turkey. FML. In fairness, he only bought a turducken breast (still massive) but at least it’s not the whole bird (erm, 3 birds). Thank God for small mercies.

        On the positive side: our sides will be boiled fingerling potatoes, brussel sprouts, green beans (in their natural state), baked sweet potato and stuffing. Nothing resembling a casserole will be involved. And most certainly no pumpkin pie.

        🙂

          • It’s real and sitting on my kitchen counter as I type. I’m not getting near it. Mr. Enthusiasm says it’s ready to go in the oven. Oh joy.
            I’ll be sure to report back. Come to think of it, I should be photo-documenting this freak show for my own blog. 🙂

          • No kidding.

            Did I mention I’ve had a stomach thing going on since my flight Tuesday? As in, it feels like Satan impregnated me, and his spawn is clawing away inside me. While rotting.

            Soooo…needless to say, I am unlikely to partake of the turducken today.

  7. Well, I can agree with you on the last three items on your list, but not with PB&J or flip-flops. I had PB&J sandwiches every single day at secondary school (I had to make my own packed lunch…) And I’m not even American! And the J stood for jam!

    Flip-flops are awesome and should be mandatory from May-September 😉

    • I just… I cant. I dont understand. Even most Americans have been like, fine, you can hate on Thanksgiving but dont you dare insult the unholy trinity that is PB&J! Is there a secret that you guys line it with crack or something, and I just didnt get the memo?

  8. Seriously – what is with the freakin’ flip-flops? They’re not actual… footwear really are they? Just nasty gross feet exposing… nastiness. The PB&J… well… kinda, sorta with you there, hate that crappy Wonderbread – but put it on some freshly baked, proper grainy bread… and then… yum. Baseball – TOTALLY with you – but how dare you insult NFL football! But I totally forgive you that because of your proper stand on ice hockey and FIFA football. So happy the World Cup is coming up in 2014. The Godfather – is brilliant – the Godfather II even more so, the Godfather III a travesty that never should have been made. But, they’re not for everyone – so no worries there. Pirates of the Caribbean is a way more fun movie to watch for sure. Turkey Day – yup, I hear you. I like some of it a lot – some of it not so much – but really it’s just become a mad shopping frenzy holiday now in the U.S. at any rate – so whatever meaning it once had is looooooong gone. — Your and Nancy’s discussion about TURDucken was priceless BTW 🙂

    • Careful with insulting flip-flops – apparently there’s quite a rabid flip-flop constituency among my blog buds! Are they just as ubiquitous in Canada? Bc in the US, the cold and the snow dont stop ppl from walking around all bundled up – and practically barefoot.

      So. Canada does NFL football? How come I hadn’t heard of any Canadian football teams? 😉 Btw, I still say ‘soccer’ in Russia and people look at me like I’m a traitor. I might not like NFL, but the F in my mind firmly stands for that abomination.

      What do Canadians serve for Thanksgiving? Turkey as well? That’s what I’m inferring from your Turkey Day reference. Come on, tell me about some good Canadian food!

      • Ha-ha! Yeah, I started scrolling through some more of the comments after I posted and saw the rabid flip-flop defenders were legion and went… oops! But feet… bad… need to be kept under wraps in my humble opinion.:) — Sadly, yup, no Canadian NFL teams – yet – we have this really crappy Canadian Football League filled with the guys who couldn’t get into the NFL… or Arena Football… the quality of the games is just soooo lousy. — We really pretty much do the same meal — but we add poutine! No not really, but in case you don’t know poutine – which is crazy popular in the primarily French province Quebec — its Fries and Cheese Curds bathed in Gravy. Yum!… I mean… ack!

        • Okay Mike, now we’re gonna fight. 🙂 Flip flops are FINE – but only IF you have nice feet (female). Men, unless they are real-life surfers AND live in Cali or Hawaii, should never wear flip flops. Women who don’t partake in regular pedicures should also not wear any open toed shoes. Or open back, for that matter. Some women’s feet have that nasty-ass callouses stuff at the heel. GET A FUCKING PEDICURE. Also, wearing open-toed shoes without having painted toenails is basically equivalent to going out naked. You just don’t do it.
          That’s all.

  9. Hi Anna, this post is hilarious and thanks for coming to my blog by the way!
    OK, so I’m a British girl and I live in Berlin and I absolutely love it here but firstly, Berliners have ketchup AND mayonaise on their chips. That is so wrong. You shouldn’t have either of them. You should have salt n’ vinegar and at the very worst a little bit of gravy. On the side!
    Secondly, everyone is just so casual….about clothes. I’m generally invited to some event or party or other, and I would be the only person dressed up, because everybody else is wearing jeans!

    • OH my god. Salt and vinegar and gravy on chips? NOOOO >.< Sorry, I totally get the appeal of ketchup AND mayo (plus, mayo just makes everything better!). I am surprised about the clothes thing though – I generally think of all Europeans as dressy, esp. compared to Americans. Where in the UK are you from?

      PS – Welcome to the blog! I also loooooved your post on the Boring Berlin (comments were closed). In Germany I have only been to Munich and loved it, but Berlin seems too modern and international for my tastes – I prefer my Eurotrips cliche-postcard-quaint (yup, a real open-minded gal here). I was, however, surprised to hear how green it is, that's always a big plus for me.

      • You’ve just got to try shaking chips up. Vinegar gives it that special uumpf! I’m from Manchester you see and in “The North”, we even add mushy peas and HP brown sauce too!
        It’s true that Europeans are classy dressers but you’re talking about our Italians and French cousins darling…..Munich is very beautiful but Berlin has a certain edge and is somewhat suburban, but do come back to Berlin if you can, it really is a mixed bag of history and culture – old and new.

        P.S. My post: http://thebritishberliner.wordpress.com/2013/10/21/germany-is-boring-2/
        is back on, so you can now comment. Thanks for letting me know 🙂

          • You’re quite right. They’re excellent at a certain North European urban look and Berlin, in particular has a niche in the boutique line of distinctness and originality. That’s what makes British, German and Scandinavian fashion stand out – we’re different.

  10. The flip-flops!! I seriously cannot believe all the flip-flops in that photo you posted. Ridiculous.

    My family is from the U.K. and we quite like Thanksgiving, just because it’s such a low-pressure excuse to eat lots of delicious food and not go to work or school. But we’ve never eaten a lot of the typical American dishes that people mentioned above, like green bean casserole (we had it once and never again) or the sweet potatoes with marshmallow thing (WTF??).

    • So, a bunch of Brits (or Brit-adjacent folk – I know UK encompasses Wales, N.Ireland and Scotland) celebrate the exodus of people from Britain. Makes perfect sense 😛

      What do you guys usually serve? Say ‘Yorkshire Pudding’! I think that is the best thing EVER.

      • Hahaha yup, I’d never thought of it that way!

        We definitely have Yorkshire puddings, those are incredible. Plus turkey, stuffing, roast potatoes and vegetables, that kind of stuff. It’s really not so different from a Sunday roast dinner….just BIG!

        • I never thought of that either. Anna, you’re a genius! Seriously, Yorkshire pud makes my mouth water. I’m organising a dinner party next weekend in which I lay out a British traditional Xmas meal – turkey with all the trimmings and paper hats!

          • Yup, Brits celebrating Thanksgiving is like Egyptians celebrating Passover! Though I guess the former has morphed in significance.

  11. As a native German who has lived in the US for more years than I care to count, I agree with you totally on all counts, except The Godfather! I just saw it recently for the first time (after all, it IS a classic), and against all expectations, actually liked it. I was expecting explicit blood and gore (which I tend to avoid) and got a lot more character development and highlights of Sardinian (mafia) culture that influenced the American expression. Hey, it was a cross-cultural film, that counts for something….Since then, I’ve come across so many Godfather references in the newspapers (that I never noticed or picked up on before) and realized just how much the characters have become part of American culture.
    PB&J – disgusting for a variety of reasons. A. White bread (if rats are given a choice between whole wheat and white bread they always choose whole wheat because there are no nutrients left in white bread). I was so disgusted with white bread when I moved to the US that I learned how to bake my own bread. No matter what you say about Germans, they make the best breads….
    B. peanut butter: it sticks to the roof of my mouth, yuck. The only good use for peanut butter is a West African sweet potato stew with a peanut butter base, if you ask me. Forget Reese’s – peanut butter mixed with chocolate is an abomination. I’ll allow nuts, berries, even liquor in my chocolate but no pb.
    2. Baseball AND football – forget it. I can barely look at soccer (my father and brothers more than made up for my disinterest). But, hey, at least I know the name Pele…
    3. flipflops (and add short shorts to that) – a no-no except for the showers at my gym (don’t care to pick up athlete’s foot fungus.
    5. I post Native American protest messages on my Facebook page during Thanksgiving (seriously). I do enjoy a home-made sweet potato or pumpkin pie, though…
    So, that’s it. The NAS will surely pick up on my response and add this to my already existing Un-American Alien Resident file…..

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