March 18, 2015

The Day I Realized I Wasn’t American

(This is not me in the pic) Photo credit: DomiKetu / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

I was in 5th grade when I realized I wasn’t American.  Not that I hadn’t had some awareness of that fact from an early age…I mean, when you’re a 10 year old who can articulate the basic premises of communism, you start to understand that maybe you’re not exactly original to the land of Twinkies and Wonder Bread.  So yes, I’m Romanian and I’ve always known that, but it wasn’t until one memorable day in 5th grade that I really started paying attention to just how un-American I was. 

The morning started off as normal.  We said the Pledge of Allegiance, our teacher took attendance, and we began our ritual  “share” time — the cool 5th grader’s equivalent of show-and-tell.  We heard the usual “I scored a goal in our soccer game”, or “my mom bought me a hamster”.  And then it was my turn.  “I passed my U.S. citizenship interview!”, I declared proudly…to a room full of blank stares.  My teacher offered a tepid congratulations and moved on to the next student.  And it was then that I started to fully internalize how un-American I was.  While other kids were celebrating their Leave It To Beaver milestones, I was boasting about not having to leave the country.

The citizenship incident was somewhat of an awakening to me…in my mind, I was no longer just the girl from Romania, but I was the un-American girl.  And with that realization, I started to become acutely aware of all the other things that made me so different from my very American peers.

Take Food For Example.

Obviously, every culture has its own cuisine, so it’s no surprise that the food I ate was different.  Sardines on toast with a side of raw garlic was totally normal dinner fare.  As were pigs brains (yes, really) and stomach soup (named not for where it goes, but for what it’s made out of).  Still, it wasn’t just the type of food I ate, but the beliefs surrounding it.

Growing up, we owned only one measuring cup, which my mother used not for cooking, but to pour water into her iron.  Imagine my surprise when, while baking brownies at a friend’s house, my friend pulled out several measuring utensils…and we actually used them in the kitchen!  In traditional Romanian culture, food is cooked with instinct (“ca la bunici”…like The Grandparents), not with frivolous things like measuring devices and recipes.  I recently asked my dad how much oil to put in a Romanian cabbage salad.  His response?  “Until you FEEL it!”

Another revelatory moment was the first time I went out eat with a friend, and watched in surprise as she ordered a drink with ice.  What do you mean you get to drink something really cold? Aren’t your parents worried you’ll catch a sore throat?  To this day, if I call my mom with a raspy voice, her first question (or perhaps accusation) is “You drank something cold, didn’t you?”

And Romanians have great angst over the power of the cold.

I still remember going to a sleepover at an American friend’s house.  As we were getting changed into our pajamas, a girl asked me why I was wearing an undershirt (tucked into my underwear, nonetheless).  Well, to keep my back covered so it doesn’t catch a cold.  Obviously.

Did you know individual body parts could catch colds?  Well, Romanian body parts can.  Backs are particularly at risk, so we go to great lengths to keep them covered.  I’m almost 30 years old and my dad will still reprimand me if my shirt lifts up in the back while bending over. 

Other susceptible body parts include stomachs, kidneys, and ears (you’ll rarely see a Romanian baby without a hat).  Oh, and if you’re a girl, take care to never sit on a cold surface unless you want your ovaries to catch a cold.  Your ovaries. 

Romanian culture is full of medically sound beliefs like that.

When any of my American friends got sick, their mothers gave them cold medicine.  Me?  I went to bed with a bag of hot salt on my chest.  Sunburns?  Forget Aloe Vera.  My mother slathered on some yogurt and called it cured.  Oh, and cuts?  Those were the worst.  Sure, Neosporin could have sped up the healing process, but that was for “the Americans“.  My mom preferred the “raw-onion-on-a-cut” approach…as if the pain from the wound itself wasn’t enough.

The thing is, it’s not that we’re anti-medicine.  Heck, I got all of my vaccines 3 different times (one for each country we lived in) and my parents never batted an eye.  It’s just that, this is how “The Grandparents” did it, and they always knew best.

Even now, as an adult married to a very American husband (straight out of Leave it To Beaver) and living in a different state from my parents, my Romanian culture still permeates my mostly Americanized life

When most American parents hear their daughter is pregnant, they start making plans to visit after the baby is born.  My mom, on the other hand, asked when she could move-in.  It’s entirely common for Romanian grandparents to act as live-in caretakers while mom goes back to work.  Personally, however, I think my parents just wanted a turn at being “The Grandparents” so they could pass on that infamous Romanian wisdom to my children.

My mom did not, in fact, end up moving in (though sometimes I wish she could) and I probably won’t be putting any onions in my First Aid kit, but as an adult, I can look back and appreciate my un-American upbringing.  I learned to cook without recipes, I have a solid respect for homeopathy, and let’s be honest, I was basically never cold.  Oh, and my dinner last night?  Sardines on toast with a few cloves of raw garlic.  Needless to say though, neither my American husband nor my hybrid son shared my enthusiasm…or my un-American meal.

 Sardines 2


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Iulia is a former educator turned stay-at-home mama of a spunky toddler and a squishy infant. With a touch of sass and a good dose of self-deprecating humor, she has an ever-expanding repertoire of bloopers, insights, stories, and impassioned opinions to share. Iulia likes to think she has this parenting gig figured out, but her littles remind her daily just how far from the truth that is.

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    Reply Beth March 18, 2015 at 10:41 am

    I enjoyed reading this. I am American but lived overseas for so long that part of what I do, eat or say don’t feel American. Now I am laughing at my daughter’s British accent that she is picking up.

    • Reply Bestofbaby March 19, 2015 at 11:07 pm

      Oh how fun! I love accents. Unfortunately, despite English being my 3rd language, I can’t even fake a good accent :/

    Reply Claire G March 18, 2015 at 11:42 am

    I feel ya! Although my heritage was British and Irish by blood, and South African by birth, so our cultures are more similar to American than Romania. I was naturalized in 2006, but my roots are solidly UK with some SA smatterings. I have gotten several sideways looks from my husband and friends at what foot stuffs I ask family members to bring back to me from their visits home! 🙂

    • Reply Bestofbaby March 19, 2015 at 11:05 pm

      I didn’t know you were South African!! How cool! We actually almost ended up in South Africa instead of America, but got our residency rights from the U.S. first 🙂

    Reply Jennifer A March 18, 2015 at 2:34 pm

    I thoroughly enjoyed this! I’m very American, so I can’t really relate, but I loved hearing about all the different traditions. So funny!

    • Reply Bestofbaby March 19, 2015 at 11:04 pm

      Thanks Jennifer! I’m glad you thought it was funny 🙂

    Reply Andrea Mitchael March 18, 2015 at 4:25 pm

    This is so great 😀 I chuckled to myself at your good humor and stories! It is so fun to bring unique aspects to life — I love that! I’ve started adding chopped garlic cloves into my salads and have really enjoyed it! Who knew? Garlic has TONS of benefits!
    Stay warm 🙂
    Andrea Mitchael recently posted…Announcing … EMBER CHARLOTTE + Giveaway || Tuesday TalkMy Profile

    • Reply Bestofbaby March 19, 2015 at 11:02 pm

      I love love love garlic! I eat raw garlic almost every single day…thankfully my hubby has an almost non-existent sense of smell 🙂 Hope you’re doing well friend 🙂

    Reply Cathy March 18, 2015 at 8:47 pm

    I love this , a window into your world! I would love for you to share this over at my new link party Making Memories Mondays going on now!

    • Reply Bestofbaby March 19, 2015 at 11:01 pm

      Cathy, I’ve bookmarked it for my Monday linkups 🙂

    Reply Theresa F March 19, 2015 at 12:00 pm

    One of my dearest friends grew up in Romania under the Ceausescu regime and moved to Canada in 2000. I love her stories though I would not have wanted to have to grow up under Communism(although she says much filth and garbage was kept out of the country until after Communism fell.

    She has the strongest work ethic of anyone I have ever met and takes nothing for granted. Her cooking and baking skills put all her lifelong Canadian friends to shame and she is resourceful to boot. Not all bad came from growing up experiencing breadlines and poverty. It made her, and clearly you, stronger more appreciative people.

    Oh and my mom always said not to sit on cold cement or you might get hemorrhoids. What??!!! Lol.

    • Reply Bestofbaby March 19, 2015 at 4:22 pm

      Thank you for sharing that about your friend…and I appreciate the sweet words! Also, hemorrhoids?! HAHAHA I’ve never heard that one but I love it!!

    Reply Katie March 19, 2015 at 2:09 pm

    this was hysterical 🙂 Enjoyed it 🙂

    • Reply Bestofbaby March 19, 2015 at 4:20 pm

      I’m glad I could make you laugh! 🙂

    Reply Christina Morley March 21, 2015 at 1:00 pm

    I can relate. I’m an American not feeling very American, having lived in 3 different countries, USA included. Especially the growing up years that shapes one’s identity. I’ve been to Romania twice. I remember eating sweetened cabbage with poppy seeds. When I was a teenager, I drew a picture from a photo I took in Romania of a girl holding a baby sibling – the baby had a hat that tied under her/his chin. 🙂 I was there soon after communism fell on my first visit and the flag that the Romanians were flying had a big hole cut out from the middle of it. I found your post on Missional Women’s blog hop. Tina – American mom raising 4 kids in South Africa
    P.S. I was officially an alien in South Africa. I never liked being referred to as an alien. 🙂
    Christina Morley recently posted…Baking Buttermilk Biscuits and a Blog HopMy Profile

    • Reply Bestofbaby March 23, 2015 at 11:56 pm

      I wouldn’t like being called an alien either 🙂 And yes, we eat a lot of cabbage in Romania! I actually had some yesterday with dinner 🙂

    Reply Vicki March 24, 2015 at 8:18 pm

    I absolutely loved reading this! As a completely American girl myself, I find it so interesting to learn about other cultures. Thank you for sharing! 🙂

    • Reply Bestofbaby March 24, 2015 at 10:41 pm

      Vicki I’m glad you enjoyed this! And I love reading about other cultures too 🙂

    Reply S.L. Payne March 25, 2015 at 11:00 pm

    This is hilarious! It is so funny that we don’t think much about our culture until we become immersed in another. I spent the summer working in another country while in school and when I came back I was always freezing because of how cold we keep our air conditioned spaced (could have used that undershirt ;)! ) and I laughed that we put stickers on our fruit in the grocery store. Thanks so much for sharing!
    S.L. Payne recently posted…I WonMy Profile

    • Reply Bestofbaby March 27, 2015 at 6:01 pm

      Ha yes! I never thought about the stickers thing, but I imagine other countries would find that quite silly!

    Reply Lorinda March 30, 2015 at 7:09 am

    I just found your blog via Djibouti Jones. I giggled about your sardines. I grew up in the US in a family that ate sardines for an easy Sunday night supper. I disliked them so my supper would be crackers and cheese. My husband and I have spent the last 20+ years in Eastern Europe, and I now eat sardines. And garlic. We all love it, and sliced on bread with butter, it’s delicious! I also don’t let my kids sit on cold pavement. 🙂

    • Reply Bestofbaby April 1, 2015 at 3:35 pm

      Lorinda I had to laugh at your pavement comment! And I’m glad you’ve “seen the light” on how delicious sardines are!

    Reply Stephanie April 2, 2015 at 11:16 am

    This was so interesting. Thank you for sharing your story. I am honestly surprised at your teacher’s response to your Citizenship test. As a former teacher, I would have hopped on that opportunity to educate everyone on different cultures and American history. That would have been such a great opportunity for everyone to learn!
    Stephanie recently posted…All the BarfMy Profile

    • Reply Bestofbaby April 6, 2015 at 4:47 pm

      Yea, it actually still surprises me to this day, especially since she was a great teacher. You’re right, it would have been a fantastic teaching moment!

    Reply Louise December 24, 2016 at 3:30 pm

    It’s good to get a fresh way of loionkg at it.

    Reply Starr December 24, 2016 at 7:06 pm

    It’s a joy to find soemone who can think like that

    Reply Jenelle December 24, 2016 at 7:13 pm

    Check that off the list of things I was cosnefud about.

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    Reply February 28, 2017 at 11:30 am

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