After you hear an accent for a while, you forget the speaker has it. To me, there is nothing exotic about a Russian accent. I live with it every day.
I married Vladimir in August of 1991. Yeltsin was standing on top of tanks yelling something about a junta while Gorbachev played cards and drank vodka in the Crimea, and I tried to put a wedding together for less than 600 dollars. Amidst questions about how my fiancÃ© felt about the political situation in his home country were dire warnings that a bicultural marriage would be very hard. I nodded my head, assuring them that I did know what I was getting into.
Of course, I didnâ€™t. No one ever does.
Very early on in our marriage, I called my mom and asked her for the recipe for chicken enchiladas. I gathered the ingredients, carefully assembled the enchiladas, and put them in the oven. My excitement grew as the familiar smell filled the apartment. My love of chemistry was paying off, here in the kitchen. So what, if he was trained as a professional cook. I did just fine, as long as he didnâ€™t watch me chop vegetables.
Vladimir came home, sniffed the air, and got a puzzled look on his face.
â€œYouâ€™ll love it. This was one of my favorite things growing up. We ate Mexican all the time, since my dad went on his mission thereâ€¦â€ I said, as I set dinner on the table.
I took a bite and sighed with contentment.
He took a bite and winced. â€œEeech. What IS this?â€
â€œEnchiladas,â€ I said, but knowing the word would mean nothing to him, I added â€œTortillas with chicken and sauce.â€ Maybe he would like it if he knew chicken was in it. Chicken was his favorite. I knew that, anyway.
He apologized and got up to get a couple of hot dogs from the fridge and a can of peas, his typical standby.
I blinked, not sure how to react. I’d worked hard on this first attempt at this dish. I’d looked forward to bringing family favorites like these to my own family table.
This would be just the first â€œculture clashâ€, I thought, and probably the easiest.
â€œOh well, all the more for me,â€ I said as I scraped his almost untouched enchilada onto my plate.
After all, it wasnâ€™t my cooking he complained about, but what I had cooked. He hadnâ€™t grown up to love it as I did. Just like he loved caviar on toast for breakfast, while I thought that caviar tasted like the nasty vitamin A pills my mom always made me take.
The little things were just that: little and insubstantial compared the mountainous problem that I thought would appear as a result of growing up in different countries. I braced myself. But as the years ticked by, and we had our typical struggles, I realized that it wasnâ€™t such a problem.
The biggest marital hurdles had nothing to do with coming from a different country or speaking a different language, but with the differences that anyone would experience having been raised in different families with different values. Except for the fact that I often corrected his English, Vladimir and I could have grown up next to each other.
We all come from different backgrounds. We all approach each other with at least some bit of caution and trepidation, testing the cultural divide to see if it is too much or if we are able and willing to bridge it enough to communicate and keep civilization intact for one more brief moment.