Culture shock.

In the famous debate over nature vs. nurture, we’re asked to question whether our genes or our life experiences determine our unique individual behavioral and physical traits. Growing up, surrounded by a family and extended network of Russian-Jewish immigrants, here’s what I have avoided nurturing:

1) a desire for vodka or cognac before the sun sets.
2) urges to highlight my hair, tan my skin, or wear lipstick with a metallic luster.
3) getting married at 19, despite several of my grandmother’s failed matchmaking attempts.
4) a knack for sporting see-through clothing
5) incorporating Yiddish into everyday jargon

Here are some unavoidable characteristics my Russian-Jewish nature so lovingly imposed upon me:

1) boobs
2) curly hair
3) a desire for bagels and lox
4) self-deprecating sarcasm
5) boobs

…to name a few.

Last night in Cleveland my grandparents and great aunt and uncle came over for a typical dinner filled with caviar, liquor, and pumpernickel bread. However, throughout the entire meal all I could think in my head was: they are giving me such great material for my next post. But where would I even begin?

Here is a quick run-through of events that tend to happen each time my family gets together.

After setting the table, as I always set the table; my brother, Jordan and I make sure we’re sitting next to each other. (It should be noted that he and I sit next to each other at each Russian event so we can discuss in full-confidence what is going on around us, because none of our friends care or would ever understand.) So we’re sitting next to each other, people start grabbing at food, pouring themselves shots of wine, cognac, vodka…pick your poison!

Then my grandmother’s boyfriend starts speaking to Jordan and I…some joke he thinks we care to listen to. After he’s done telling us the joke or “wise” anecdote, a disappointed look spreads across his face, as he clearly has not gotten the reaction out of us that he would have liked. In Russian he then goes, “Ah, they don’t understand Russian. Why don’t they understand the Russian language? They should know it!” Meanwhile, the man who lives in America, cannot utter a single word in English. At this point, since Jordan and myself can both speak and understand Russian, we just shoot sarcastic remarks about the man in front of his face. I guess the old school discipline failed on us.

My aunt, who was six when her family came to the U.S., lives in California now. It’s true she survived the drama that comes along with having a family that lived through Communism, but the fact of the matter is that she escaped. All I have to say in regards to her and last night’s dinner is this: my grandparents are very worried about her food preparation methods. “Grilling?!” (As if it were synonymous to pulling out scraps from the garbage.) “And no soup? How are the children supposed to grow without some ‘soup-cheek?'” I suppose only time will tell.

Finally, after about ten toasts in a thirty-minute span and my mother asking everyone whether they have tried and/or enjoyed each individual food item on the table, it’s time for my grandpa and my grandmother’s boyfriend to go play dominoes. The game of dominoes, I’ve come to realize, is the old man’s X-Box. To me it looks like just about the most boring thing anyone would dare to inflict upon themselves, but who am I to judge?

This has been just a small sampling of what a night at the Alter residence might be like. Far from the usual, I must say, it has always kept me entertained.


(Yes, styrofoam is the norm for such an occasion.)



Filed under Cleveland, Family

5 responses to “Culture shock.

  1. Rimma

    This looks exactly like tables at my family gatherings. This pretty much describes my life as well. I also get the obligatory story about some childhood event that reminds the grandparents of the conversation we are having. lovely.

  2. Sergio


    Your blogs never cease to amuse me and make me laugh out loud with your stories, and commentary. You have such a good sense of humor. I can’t wait for the semester. Keep it up!



  3. Johnny

    This is a very David Sedaris inspired post. 😉

  4. Julie

    My Dear Jessica!!! keep up the good work. I love reading your blog. It makes me laugh and definitely improves my mood.

  5. jongo

    Jess – only recently did I discover your blog and I think you’re a very talented writer and storyteller. I was truly impressed. I really got a good picture of your family as I read it, and I’m gonna go read them all now. Right after a quick game of dominoes!

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