Some things are just lost in translation.
For example, my babushka will likely never understand my love of Nelly, to whom she hears me shaking my tailfeather through my bedroom wall a little too often.
She will probably never comprehend my b’dazzled style or my general refusal to wear pants after May 1–she thinks that my not wearing tights with skirts makes me a Woman Of The Night and at this point I think I am okay with it.
My babushka doesn’t get why No Brush Russia is a thing (5 months of tangled mane and going strong) and tells me that knotted hair is no way for a young woman to find herself a husband. Au contraire, dear grandma, au contraire.
There are a lot of things the two of us have come across in my time here but one we’ve spent a lot of time dancing around is my veganism (and not in the Nelly way). My babushka has been great since I’ve lived with her- she makes soup (and more soup) and really just lots o’ dishes vegan-ized for me, which I appreciate immensely. I’ve tried out some classic Russian stuff and tried not to let my vegan lifestyle hold me back from experiencing the culture of this country. All of that said, vegetarianism remains a острый (sharp, spicy) topic around 4th Sovietskaya Street.
The other day I was making an anatomy model of my body and asking my babushka the names of various bones. After explaining the clavicle (the word is like “key” cuz the bone moves in the shoulder socket like a key in a lock!) she told me that you need several servings of tvorog every day for bone strength. “And you, of course, do not eat any milk products. Just don’t complain to me when your bones break.”
Now, I know better than to launch into a vegan rant with anyone, and especially not with her. I have my reasons for being vegan and I believe in them but I’m not tryna get sass-ma-frassed by a 75-year-old wearing tinted glasses with a high enough prescription to make eyes look terrifying, a shoulder-padded dress last sported on Dynasty and fuzzy leopard print slippers. The reality is that we are women of different generations, different cultures. I came to Russia to learn the language and experience life with a family and I didn’t expect it to be butterflies and rainbows (both of those things were banned when the USSR collapsed anyhow).
I guess that what I’m saying it that even after 5+ months here I’m still mastering the give and take necessary in a relationship which crosses so many unconventional boundaries. Last week was my American friend Sasha’s birthday and my babushka wasted no time in telling me that the inside-joke present I’d put together was weird and un-present-like. “Why don’t you just get her a book?”
I’m still learning a lot of Russian (yesterday my babushka’s great-granddaughter taught me how to say boogers) but my education in Russia is wound in a different, maybe even more complex scheme of how to interact with people. My babushka and I may never see eye to eye on veganism but we had a pretty great moment a few days ago when I explained quinoa to her. Quinoa is not sold in Russia but I brought a package back with me from the States and showed it to the Bab. She tasted it and decided that this kasha (universal term for porridge) looked like the corn kasha I often eat for breakfast. “But more bitter.” I laughed and said I didn’t really like the taste when I’d first tried it but I’d gotten used to it. She laughed and said that the first five times she ate olives she hated them but the sixth she decided they were her favorite food.
Tonight I came home late from a ballet. I texted my babushka on the way home so that she wouldn’t worry or stay up like she usually does when I’m out late and don’t call. I shuffled in wearing my fancy shoes and went into the kitchen for some water. In the dark I noticed a pot on the stove. My babushka had made my breakfast:
We’re getting there.