Look, I’m not saying that exploring the rifts between immigrant parents and their US-born or -acclimated children is not a worthwhile enterprise. I enjoyed The Joy Luck Club as much as the next white Midwestern girl looking to revel in the universality of teenage alienation. But I am saying that taking an uncritical US-centric stance and investigating other cultural traditions as deviant is boring and narrow-minded, and I don’t really understand why the New York Times is publishing it. Russian friends often complain that the American media is awash in negative stereotypes and exaggerated portrayals of Russia as a post-apocalyptic dystopia. They’re not wrong (the friends or, really, the portrayals, sometimes), but I usually expect better from the Times.
Why do Russians hate ice? I don’t know – why do Americans like it so much? We’re not exactly in the majority on that one. This question is Hackneyed Russia Tropes 101. It’s so cold there, you’d think they wouldn’t be scared of it! Yuk yuk… yawn.
But actually, it’s not even that the question itself or the underlying cultural disconnect is uninteresting – my Russia-going friends and I have swapped stories of getting upbraided for sitting on cold things many a time (use the barrier method, folks – a plastic grocery bag is enough to protect your popa from the cold and your character from the criticism of babushki), and they spring from a similar impulse. I like to imagine we weren’t being jerks about it, because I think these anecdotes are as much about delight in the bewilderment of difference and laughter at the expense of American stubbornness as they are potshots at Russian cultural norms. This piece comes off mostly as just the last of these.