Saturday, February 7, 2009

First Date and Cultural Differences

Since Christmas, desperate retailers have been promoting Valentine’s Day by displaying cheesy decorations, selling heart-shaped boxes of chocolates and red bears, and playing love songs.

I don’t know if it was them or the spirit of love in the air, but I became very sentimental and started reminiscing about the time my husband (fiancé at the time) and I were dating.

Well, to be exact I was the only one who was dating, because Hubby was “courting” (until today I thought it was spelled “cording”). He kept correcting me if I used the word “dating”, but I didn’t argue. Firstly, because I wasn’t really sure what it meant. Secondly, because I was in the vegetable stage of love when it didn’t matter what he said as far as he was with me.

For our first date Hubby took me to an overly-priced Irish restaurant on the boardwalk. “Shennanigans”, or something like that. At that time I knew that he was the man God wanted me to marry, but nevertheless (or that’s why) I felt really uncomfortable.


Firstly, it was out first date.

Secondly, my eating manners were not the best (I ate everything with a fork in the right hand; put my elbows on the table and didn’t know the proper way of using the napkin. I am still like that.)

Thirdly, I was freaked out that I would have to pay for dinner. I knew that it was not uncommon in American culture for the woman to pay for herself, but I would have rather died that spend 40 bucks for one meal. Besides, I didn’t have any money on me (10$ the most). I hadn’t been in the country for very long, so I didn’t have a credit card or debit card. A checkbook was all I had, but it didn’t help, because nobody ever showed me how to use it.

So here we were, in overly-priced Shennanigans, staring at each other and at the pictures I brought.

The waitress kept coming back to take our orders, but we took our time. Hubby was probably trying to be polite and didn’t want to order before the lady. For the reasons above, the lady didn’t want to order anything other than water. Besides, she didn’t know how to pronounce half of the things on the menu and neither did she knew what they meant.

- You need to order, because the kitchen will be closing soon, - the annoyed waitress finally said and forced a smile.

Hubby-to-be glanced at the menu and said something which sounded like “ blah-blah-blah-blah –steak blah. Oh and blah-blah, please.” (Remember, my English was not the best then)

- I’ll have the same, - I said. I figured I could fake my manners by repeating everything my date did.
- How do you want it done?- the waitress asked.
- ???
- Rare, medium or well-done?

Of course I want it to be done well. Why would you ask me that? Who wants a $20 steak to be done poorly.

- Medium, - came out of my mouth. It is always safe to go with medium, but I still wanted it to be done well.

When the waitress finally brought our plates, I experienced one of the biggest shocks in my life.

What the heck is that???? You can feed the Russian Army with this portion!

To be honest, I was offended. Screw the manners, how I am supposed to eat all that? I looked at Hubby-to-be and he seemed peaceful and not offended at all.

Well, for those who don’t know, let me explain. In my culture when somebody prepares a meal for you, you have to finish it. If you don’t, it is disrespectful. I don’t think it applies to restaurants, but just to be sure, I didn’t want to offend my hubby-to-be, or the waitress, or the cook for that matter. But for the love of all creations of earth, it is impossible for a human to eat this Everest mountain of potatoes and the piece of meat which was bigger than my head (my head is pretty big!)!

God is my witness, I tried. I did everything humanly possible to stuff almost half of the meat (big challenge!) and one third of potatoes. I was concentrating so hard on eating it, that I completely forgot to watch which utensils my date was using, so I could use the same ones.

I felt so sick, that I didn’t even care anymore if I would have to pay for it or not. Hardly breathing I said:

- It was very tasty, but I can’t eat any more.

- Would you like a box to take it along? - Hubby-to-be asked.

WHAT???!!??? Another slap in the face. Who does he think I am? A bum??! I am not poor, I don’t need to bring leftovers home. Even if I was poor, I would have never admitted it (It is called Russian pride and it is a very powerful thing).

- Oh no, of course not, -I said as cocky as I could.

He looked surprised and puzzled.

So he DID think I was a bum. Nice.

(You have probably guessed that in Russia or Belarus we don’t take leftovers home. You wouldn’t even think to do it. It is so not cool).

The waitress came with a bill and if I had cash I would have probably offered to pay for my dinner (even though it was against all my beliefs and principles) to prove to him that I was not that poor. My gentleman took care of the bill, but I didn’t feel relief neither was I thankful. He offended me (by asking me about the leftovers) and didn’t even apologize.

It bothered me that the man I loved thought I would take leftovers home. How dare he?

If you are Russian and reading this, you understand what I am talking about. If you are American, you probably have no clue what I felt.

The moral of the story is: if you decide to date a foreigner, learn their customs and traditions. Hubby and I ran into many awkward situations because of not learning about each other’s cultures first.

Only two years later my husband told me that he thought I didn’t like the steak and felt guilty for taking me there.

I am glad we are finally at the stage when we can laugh about it.


Lisa said...



Bethany Streng said...

lol, this is too funny!! its amazing how different cultures are, isn't it?

The Inept Aspirant said...

Wow! I'm surprised you managed to stay together! I'm glad you got everything straightened out.

Debbie said...

That is such a sweet story. I can only imagine how foreign we were to you!

Happy Mama said...

Lisa: Thank you. Hugs to you as well. This is a small world, so maybe we'll have coffee someday,

Beth: Yes, it it. Now I think it is amazing and funny. 5 years ago I thought it was annoying. hehe

The Inept Aspirant: with God all things are possible.:-)

Debbie: Yes, very. You foreigners!:-0

Kim said...

Glad that despite the cultural differences, you worked through them and are now happily married :-)

My hubby grew up in South America so we definitely came from different cultures! I actually took a course at university in the history of that country so I could begin to understand this man I married :-) But it was still pretty rough the first few years. Now we're living in the country where he grew up and I'm gaining an even better understanding of why he is the way he is -- and we've been married almost 30 years!

Darlene said...

Hi friend!
I cannot believe it took me this long to finally comment on this post, because I read it about a month ago!!! I guess I thought I had commented, and I think about this post from time to time because it is hilarious.
Thought I would stop by in hopes that I missed a new, great post from you. You always have something wonderful to say, and always make me laugh!


rita said...

I am so glad I happened upon this post--it is great!
I came back to your blog to find out if anything happened on Women's Day? Did hubby remember?

Happy Mama said...

Rita, hubby got me a great gift a few days before the 8th of March - a professional camera, something I wanted for a long time. I was really happy.
He actually read my blog and on march 7th he said he wanted to go out to buy me a gift, but since I got the camera I gave him a break:-)))