Interview with a Babushka

First image taken from the iconic Soviet-era cookbook

Image taken from the iconic Soviet-era cookbook, The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food

Over the course of my stay here in St. Petersburg, many stereotypes of Russians that foreigners have (and I, to an extent, had) were largely dispelled and proved to be, as most stereotypes are, gross generalizations and misunderstandings of the inner-workings of Russian culture. Perhaps one of the most glaring differences between Russians and Americans is that nobody ever smiles at you on the street in Russia, and more often than not, outsiders often assume the absence of a cordial smile means that Russians deep down are cold, closed-off, and unfriendly people. However, my professors in St. Petersburg, although quick to agree that yes, Russians hardly ever smile at strangers in public, dispelled the myth that Russians are not friendly people. “On the contrary,” they said, “Russians, when they get to know a person, ‘open their soul to them.'” My professors often used this phrase ‘открывать душу человеку’ to describe how Russians interact in the private sphere of their lives.

Fortunately, Kary and I had the unique opportunity to have a Russian Babushka open her soul to us in her own home during an interview on Soviet-era food and The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food. Our Russian friend, Igor, organized this interview with his grandmother, Tatiana, who owned a copy of this cookbook. As soon as we set food in the doorway, Igor’s grandmother immediately made us feel at home by handing us some tapochki (slippers), insisting that we made ourselves comfortable at the table, and offering us tea and delicious cakes. When we finally began the interview, Tatiana didn’t hesitate to pour her heart out about her life during the Soviet Union, about her childhood memories of food shortages, Soviet recipes, and the cookbook. Igor even chimed in at times with his own commentary as his grandmother spoke, giving the interview a more personal touch.

By far, interviewing Igor’s grandmother was my favorite interview experience. Not only did I get a wonderful, personal glimpse into life and food during the USSR, I also finally experienced what it meant to have a Russian open her soul to you.