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.