Multicultural Manners

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Folklorist Norine Dresser is the author of "Multicultural Manners" (Wiley, 1996). Send her your comments or ideas c/o Voices or by e-mail:

New York-based jazz musicians on tour in Siberia persuade their interpreter to find them a restaurant serving “the best Russian food in town.” After eating a mediocre and expensive dinner, the disappointed musicians complain to the interpreter who impatiently retorts, “Well, if you want really good Russian food, go to Brighton Beach.”

Why is this?

Ethnic enclaves away from their places of origin often preserve traditions more vigorously than people still living in the homeland. The New York musicians, however, never expected that the best Russian food could be found in their own back yard, Brighton Beach, near Coney Island. This bustling New York Russian immigrant community, known as Little Odessa, has become a center for outstanding Russian cuisine served in restaurants and sold in food shops. Because U.S. food supplies are plentiful, stores in Little Odessa are crammed with caviar, smoked fish, sausages, rich pastries, ready-to-go eggplant dishes and blini, items not always available in Russia, especially now in its transition period.

Russian food is plentiful locally in West Hollywood, especially in small shops and delicatessens along Santa Monica Boulevard.


Because Russian immigrants also miss other home traditions, elderly Russian women on Brighton Beach streets sell cold remedies, diuretics, blood pressure medicines and muscle relaxants in bottles labeled in the Cyrillic alphabet. According to the FDA, this practice is not only illegal but also dangerous because often the medications are considered unsafe by U.S. government standards. Similar issues have arisen in Los Angeles regarding folk and imported medicines favored by some Mexican and Central American immigrants.