Thursday, February 25, 2010

Happy Birthday (Now Get Cooking)

The best birthday present: a yummy breakfast made by Chris and Katya!

Birthdays, just, well, AREN'T a big deal in American culture, at least not once you're an adult... They can easily pass by without your acquaintances knowing it was your "big day," because it's just not "done" in our culture to tell people about it. There's some sense that you'd be then putting them in the awkward position of having to do something for you.

When friends do know about your birthday, they'll often invite you out and then split the bill to treat you.

Here it's the opposite!

Birthdays are a huge deal in Russia. They rank up there with the attention we give a milestone anniversary, New Year's and even, perhaps, some elements of Thanksgiving. Russians invite their family and closest friends over for a lavish meal (or they go to a restaurant), and the festivities last at least six hours (in my experience). There is usually a lot of alcohol involved, even when it's a child's party (for the adults!).

Famous singers regularly give special concerts for their birthdays, particularly when the age is a "jubilee" one: a multiple of five.

Perhaps the strangest tradition for me is that it's customary to treat all your coworkers to desserts or meal when it's your birthday. You get more dressed up than usual and bring in cakes, etc., to work. It makes me feel so self-conscious! If you don't do it, though, you offend people because you never gave them the chance to share your special day with you, and to wish you all of their long-winded and sincere wishes for a health, happiness, love, success, etc.

The proof? Even the guys who sell me my vegetables and fruits at the market gave me this beautiful bouquet of roses!

The other proof? I now need to spend the rest of the day making homemade tiramisu to bring in for all my colleagues. Since I work equally in two different buildings, I need to cook for both sets of faculty! (I'm just not gonna cook for the elementary school teachers, where I also teach... I do that later in the spring when I make big desserts to simply say "Thank You!" for all they do for the girls).

I could just buy some cakes, but that's, well, just NOT me. I take pride in being a good baker... Since so few of my colleagues actually know how to cook, they really appreciate it. It's also a rare chance for me to show that despite the many cultural gaffes I might make from time time, there are some things we Americans can do rather well...!

My birthday was actually on Sunday, but I haven't cooked yet because Monday and Tuesday were national holidays, and Wednesday there was already tons of food to celebrate "Defenders of the Fatherland Day," which is basically "Men's Day."


Annie said...

Lovely birthday bash!

We went to a Russian restaurant in Detroit to celebrate our friend Masha's 16th birthday - and the other big party there was a group of Russians celebrating the mother's 60-something birthday. Everyone was dancing! It was a blast.

I like the Russian idea, though the cakes in Moscow are pretty and tasty enough that I wouldn't consider baking! It isn't my skill, as it is yours.

I had the oddest intuition (well I knew subconsciously, of course) that it was "Boy's Day" and I'm so cross; I wanted to do something for Zhen's class..... Don't know if they'd allow that though - even knowing "Girls Day" was coming up. Perhaps I wanted to do it just to see.

katbat said...

and I have your tart pan since, ummmm thanksgiving!!! when can I get it to you?!

Rachael said...

Mmmm. Tiramisu sounds fantastic. I've made it before, but it's been a long time and I wasn't completely happy with the recipe I used.

You are a fantastic cook! You co-workers are very lucky you are having a birthday!

Hope it was great and hope you got some you-time during your days off to recharge.

Annie said...

I spent a whole summer making tiramisu and never finding a recipe I liked.... Of course I tried it in upteen different restaurants, and had the same issues... I am SO ashamed of myself that the tiramisu I LOVE is Olive Garden's.

Share your recipe if you get the chance.

MoonDog said...

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!! Thanks for the info on birthdays culturally. I remember when it was Bens first birthday with us just after coming home from Ukraine we had cake after dinner and sang happy birthday and gave him a present and all he could say was
for Ben? for Ben? he was just shocked to have all this just for HIM.

Annie said...

Having seen how important birthdays are in Russia, it is all the more dismaying to realize that there are children who never get to celebrate at all...Ilya (13!) was not even sure when his birthday was...he'd never celebrated any holiday - even Christmas or New Years - and received a gift.

Tina in CT said...

I can attest to how fantastic my daughter's tiaramisu is. She made it when friends came to dinner the day after I arrived. The lasagna she made was equally fantastic. Putting aside that she's my daughter, my tastebuds and I agree that she's a great cook.

Tami: Post your lasagna and tiaramisu recipes for your readers.

How nice for the family that you buy your produce from to give you the beautiful flowers. They were such friendly folks.

I'm sure your fellow teachers enjoyed the birthday tiaramisu as I know how much they enjoyed it when your brought it in in Dec.

A very nice birthday gift from Chris and Katya - a nice breakfast that you didn't have to cook. I remember one Mother's Day at the beach when you and Dad did the same for me when you were a little girl.

Anonymous said...

Happy birthday cooking!
And Happy Birthday!
I have a recipe for tiramisu from my Italian friend, I will try to find it and post it. She is a great cook but not much of a "recipe" or "measure" type. So it is not so much a recipe as my notes on her making it.

Rozmin said...

The fact that the birthday person pays totally baffled me as well! A couple of years ago when we were in Odessa my boyfriend's birthday happened to fall during our stay, and he was annoyed because he was obligated to take out several friends to a restaurant. Not celebrating was not an option. :-)

And way to represent Americans on the cooking front! For some reason, maybe bc we DO like our fast food every once in a while, many Russians I've met seem to be under the impression that we can't cook to save our lives. I second recipe requests.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I didn't know birthdays were a big deal in Russia !

garnet said...

Happy Belated birthday! How did the dessert turn out? Great, I hope! I'm not sure how I would feel about celebrating my birthday there. On the one hand, it might be nice to have it actually recognized with something special since my husband generally doesn't do anything, my kids are on the small side and my mother is on the other side (almost) of the world. However, I'm not one that likes to draw attention to myself (I find myself skipping our morning staff worship / meeting on that day in order to be sung to). I'd also feel obligated to bake something too, but my cakes never really turn out -- especially here.