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…
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.
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.
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
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.
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!