Cabbage for Christmas
Nicole Caratas | Sunday, August 30, 2015
I grew up in a Romanian household, with my grandparents, parents and sister, all of whom were born in Romania. Unfortunately, I was born in Chicago, so I’m not nearly as interesting. I guess it is pretty cool that I speak Romanian, but most of the time I feel like I’m lingering somewhere between being Romanian and being American.
For starters, I have absolutely no idea what Americans eat for Christmas. Traditional Romanian food for the holidays is cabbage rolls, or what we call sarmale. If I walk into my house and everything smells like cooked cabbage, I know Santa Claus is coming to town. Since I was little, I would help my mother and grandmother cook these cabbage rolls, and I never even thought about what Americans eat. Honestly, there isn’t a food other than cabbage rolls that I think makes sense as a Christmas dinner.
However, I’m not all that Romanian either. Whenever people find out that I can speak another language, they immediately start asking me to say things. Eventually someone asks for curse words or something dirty. And since I didn’t go to middle and high school with other Romanians, I never actually learned those words. That makes me wonder how Romanian I even am if I can’t swear in the language.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not having an identity crisis or anything. I love that I’m a weird blend of these two cultures. But sometimes I kind of feel like an outsider.
Going to Romania is weird. My Romanian is good if I’m talking to my grandmother who lived with me for 16 years. But then I try to take a cab to go visit my aunt, and the taxi driver is speaking to me, and all of a sudden, I have the speech skills of a toddler. They always comment on my accent and assure me that I speak very well for never having lived in the country, but really, they’re just being nice. It’s strange to be in a place where you should be able to communicate easily, but in reality, you struggle. And it’s strange to hear people use expressions or slang that I simply cannot know because I don’t actually live in that country.
It’s also weird sometimes to be in America. My family has a rather large group of other Romanians who all live in the Chicagoland Area. These are the people I really grew up around, and though no one knows who is actually related to each other, we basically all just say that we’re cousins. Our family dynamic is nothing like what I’ve seen of purely American families. The parents, or my “aunts” and “uncles,” all lived in and left the mother country, some of the older kids were born there and moved as babies, and then most of us were born in America. Our time together is a strange blend of dancing to the Romanian Hora dance and doing the Cha-Cha Slide.
I might not know what you Americans eat for Christmas, and I might not be able to swear in Romanian, but actually, being in the middle makes me unique. Even if I sometimes feel like an outsider, being both American and Romanian make me who I am. So I guess you can just call me a Romerican.