Sat around a tiny kitchen in Schafer House with three people I had met that day, I felt intimidated. We burnt through all of the typical freshers’ questions with only one left, “where are you from?”. Thirty minutes later the laughter continued, as me and the other two girls bonded over having eastern European mothers, with one girl sitting quietly laughing her head off at the absurdity of what we were saying.
Perhaps one of the most amusing aspects of growing up in an Eastern European family, are the superstitions, along with the ex-USSR propaganda which largely remains as fact. There are so many that there is a whole Wikipedia article on Russian traditions and superstitions, but I will stick to the ones which I grew up with:
1: Never sit at the corner of a table. If you do, you will never get married, which in the eyes of an Eastern European mother is an awful fate.
2: One rule I loved as a child and follow, is that if you gift someone a wallet, there must be money inside, otherwise bad financial luck will follow. When my mother gifted me her vintage wallet and put some roubles inside, which I had yet to know the value of, made me incredibly excited.
3: If someone steps on someone’s foot it is customary for the other person to step on theirs to avoid further conflict.
4: A birthday should never be celebrated before the actual birthday. (I believe that)
5: Putting a glass down after a toast without drinking from it.
6: As for the ex-USSR propaganda, my mother still won’t let me hold heavy things as she believes this will make me infertile, the same goes for sitting on cold surfaces.
Although there are countless amusing, anecdotal things that anyone growing up in an eastern European family can tell you, there are some more harsh ones, which is why mommy issues aren’t uncommon.
For one, body dysmorphia
I’ve always been happy with my body and yet my mother still managed to tell me I have fat ankles. It’s those insecurities that you never know you should have that Eastern European families gift upon you. A very common compliment in Eastern Europe, particularly but not exclusively among women is a commentary on losing weight. I was petrified when I brought a friend home to my mother and my mom told her she looked like she had lost weight. Luckily this friend was from Kazakhstan and didn’t take it like how most westerners would, assuming that it meant they used to be fat.
Then, there’s the emotionless and blunt form of parenting. You soo these western shows where mothers are happy all the time and excited when their kid gets a B, this is not common among eastern European families. Anything short of perfection and you get the guilt trip of what they had to go through during and after the USSR, which I am by no means undermining. Some food shortages were so had that my mother’s friend in recollection described herself as lucky since her dad was severely injured, resulting in them getting slightly more food. The guilt trips did work very well, as I was terrified of performing poorly at school and have now ended up at UCL, however, the stereotype of needing to do maths or become a doctor wasn’t true in my family demonstrated by my sociology degree.
A confession I have to make though is that I am not a true Eastern European, I can’t do ballet to save my life don’t play the piano, and I’m at best average at chess. That’s not to say that my mother didn’t try. I did five years ballet before my mother finally came to see a performance, saw what she was paying for, and let me quit. Perhaps I should have listened to her about ballet and swimming helping my posture as I do now have mild scoliosis; one of the post frustrating things about Eastern European mothers is how they always seem to be right. As for the piano, I somehow weaselled my way out of lessons after a few years, and for chess, some random teacher she took me to one evening was not impressed with me, so I dodged a bullet on that one.
All in all, I love my mother. I love my Eastern European culture. However, growing up in Western countries, I have at times felt ostracised or as if my family didn’t love me as much, simply because they were harsher and more stoic than the weird always energised Americans you see on TV. The biggest benefit however, is always being surrounded by strong powerful women, whether that was my mother, grandmother, or their Eastern Europe friends.
By Magnolia Thain