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Life

A Game of Borscht-22

The expectations Russian mothers have of their daughters are tough to live up to. The biggest one is that Russian women should know how to cook. And since we have the double privilege of being Jewish, we are expected to know how to make both borscht and latkes, often at the same time as having children, pursuing higher education and having a career, and marrying a Nice Russian Jewish Doctor.

The thing is: you could technically be splicing the atom. But unless you have hot soup on the table for Romochka or Natanchik or whichever Russian name diminutive you decide to marry, you are an abject failure.

“I spliced the atom today, mom,” you might hear yourself saying on the phone, beaming. “That’s nice dochenka (the diminutive for daugher),” your mom might reply. “But it’s already seven – so late. I’m sure your husband is starving at home and the kids are going feral. Don’t go too crazy. Go home and make them some soup. God forbid they’re eating takeout on a Wednesday night.”

And then the killer phrase questioning. “What kind of hozayika (homemaker) are you?” The unspoken fear is that your mother-in-law will get word of this, and gossip of your non-cooking will spread like wildfire through Brooklyn. The Russian Jewish gossip rumor wave is thought to be stronger than radioactivity and will render anyone within a five-mile radius impotent.

Which is why I can’t imagine anything worse than being the Russian woman that takes this job: running a Russian food truck. And I’ll tell you why it’ll be a Russian woman: Russian men just don’t cook. It’s embarrassing and emasculating, unless they’re barbecuing meat, in which case, woman, stay out of the way.

I can just picture the woman that takes this job. “And what does your Verachka do?” the rumor mill will ask Vera’s mother politely. “Oh, she runs a food truck…with Russian food!” Vera’s mother will say in a murmur, hoping they don’t understand her. There’s nothing more embarrassing than working in the food service industry when you’re Russian. Unless you do it for free on Wednesday nights (and every other night) for Natanchik. “That’s…nice,” the rumor mill will smile viciously at Vera’s mother.

Vera’s mother will desperately grasp for straws. “She makes such delicious borscht there! And the blini. You should taste them! She works so hard. Seven days a week she works there.” But the rumor mill won’t bite, because who gets takeout during the week? And fast food, too? And food they could make at home? What kind of insane Russian would do that? “That’s…nice,” they’ll tell Vera’s mother. “But in between all the working, does she have time to cook for Natanchik at home?” And they’ll cluck their tongues in sympathy.

Which is to say, whoever invented this Catch-22 situation of the Russian food truck is a cruel, soulless individual. Probably a Russian mother-in-law.

Vicki Boykis, 25, works in Philadelphia and is pursuing an MBA from Temple University. Her roots are in Belarussia and Russia. She immigrated from Yaroslavl in 1991 along with her family.

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