Monday, July 29, 2013

"When in Rome"

It inevitably happens every furlough. I find myself in totally common situations but realize that I have no idea what is the culturally correct thing to do! Over time and mostly without any thought, our family has learned to adopt some Russian cultural norms that cause all sorts of funny situations when we head back to the States. So, are we supposed to bus our own table at Starbucks? What about borrowing another kids' bike on the playground?... Did that mom really just give me the stink-eye for my child asking to take a ride? And how are my kids supposed to dress for birthday parties/church/the weather? We got invited to someone else's home for dinner...What should I bring? Maybe a bag of walnuts and a few apples? Would a salad be more appropriate?

Then there are things like how our family has adopted the custom of wearing "house clothes" at home and then changing into "outside clothes" when we leave home. To most Americans who would observe our family at home, we'd seem like lazy slobs who wear our jammies all day! In reality, there is just so much dust and yucky stuff outside that we prefer to not wear the same clothes indoors most of the time. Besides, pajamas are just way more comfortable, and in a culture where they aren't associated with laziness, why not?!

Here are some other Russian things that we've adopted:

-We love buckwheat, sour cream on everything, and cooking with lots of dill.
-I bathe my newborns using "bath herbs" and have treated various baby skin issues by washing with chamomile tea.
-I feel like my little girls are practically half-naked if I send them out of the house without at least a ponytail or some other hairdo (but my oldest loves having her hair down!).
-I now think it is weird (and kind of gross!) to go into a doctor's office in the US and to not have to wear plastic shoe covers

"Bahili!" These little blue shoe covers are a huge mark of the Russian culture. 
We can't even go into our pre-school without them!

So, my question for you is, what are some cultural norms that you've adopted from your host culture? Also, what are some situations that trip you up culturally when you go back to the US on furlough? Maybe we can help keep each other up on US cultural norms!


  1. Great post, Ashley!!

    The bussing tables thing at restaurants is a big thing for us, too. I can never remember if we're supposed to do it or not when we're in the US. :)

    And whenever we're in the US and are invited to someone's home, we always (awkwardly) ask if we could bring anything because hostess gifts are a big thing in this country. The hosts always feel a little awkward when they tell us we don't need to bring anything...

  2. Ashley!! Your post cracked me up! In Turkey people have "house clothes" and also wear blue plastic "galosh"--we call them-- to go into businesses!!

    We find it hard to wear shoes inside all day in America. Wearing shoes all day hurts my feet now, so I take slippers with me.

    Another thing we've learned in Turkey is to personally greet and say goodbye to everyone in the room at a gathering, one by one. No "see everyone later."

    Hardest thing for me in America: few people seem to have friends over for dinner, most meetings between friends seem to happen in coffee shops or restaurants. So strange to me now.

  3. Here, if you take your shoes off in side it so very very rude! However, we have always always always taken our shoes off when entering a house! I noticed last time we were stateside the whole greeting thing was different...and even when I meet other gringos here it's hard to remember not to kiss them on the cheek.

  4. I loved this post, Ashley! It reminded me of fun memories of living in Russia and Ukraine!

    Here in Costa Rica, we have gotten used to:

    - kissing and hugging everyone as a greeting. This puts me in some awkward situations when I return to the States and greet someone that way without thinking about it!

    - never taking our shoes off when we visit someone (we still always take our shoes off in our house... although I have started to always wear house shoes now). We have a shoe rack by our front door and our Costa Rican friends make fun of us for it.

    - arriving at a meeting, party, or just a visit to another family and greeting each person individually... and then hugging and kissing each of them individually again when we leave

    - being more event-oriented than time-oriented

    - saying good day or hello to everyone we walk by on the street. That gets us some weird looks in the States!

    - making sure my kids are always dressed warm enough when we go out at night (which means socks, pants and a jacket with a hood)... even though we live in the tropics

  5. I love that we can all relate on this and absolutely love reading about the differences in your countries! Who knew that there were so many strong cultural differences revolving around shoes? So funny! Thank you for sharing, friends. I love reading about your lives!