For some reason I seem to be a magnet for quiet eight-to-ten-year-olds in whatever library I work. (I suspect part of our camraderie stems from them knowing instinctively that I enjoy children their age and am subsequently a pushover.)
Currently I have formed an acquaintance with a very quiet African American lad, call him JJ, who always greets me when he comes in and talks to me in a voice so low that I feel like a deaf Victorian grandmother with one of those ear horns because I can never ever hear him the first time.
The other day I really thought I couldn’t hear him because after giving him a new library card (his dog ate it, true story with a trip to the vet and all) he asked me “Are you a Jew?” I had to ask him to repeat himself, maybe twice.
Technically I could be half-Jewish but I’m not really because I don’t know that side of my family and was not raised in that faith (see previous comment about family). So answering that question is always a bit of a pain for me because I can never gauge what people want from me. Do they want to know where my family is from? Do they want to know if they can send me a Christmas card?
Is it because of some other thing I can’t understand because I have no grasp of cultural differences (in class we were discussion stereotypes of Mexican immigrants in relation to a book and I did not know any–for real) because those kinds of things always elude me (I knew a girl at school from age 5 to 18 and only realized she was Jewish in my senior year of high school–true story)?
So, like, a lot of anxiety for a little question.
I tried to answer honestly because JJ is a really polite, soft-spoken young man and I knew he wasn’t trying to be mean or whatever even though I was a little thrown by being asked if I was “a Jew” instead of Jewish (legitimate, not cheating-technically-speaking Jewish people is there a difference between the two or am I the only one who would be thrown?). I told him I was half Jewish more or less and might have raised my eyebrows or something because JJ went on to tell me he was asking because he thought I looked like a Jew.
I get that all the time. I was getting my old, shitty smartphone fixed and the guy at Verizon asked if I was Jewish because I had the dates for Chanukkah in my calendar (and I think because he was looking for a nice Jewish girl which he soon realized I was not, alas). People have also thought I was Russian or Spanish (like they talked to me in Spanish and I ignored them because I knew I wasn’t Spanish). A fellow bus rider even asked if I was French when I was wearing a jaunty beret. I rarely get people asking if I’m Italian, which is funny because that’s what I most identify as after being simply an American from New York.
I’m not sure where I was going with this post, I just wanted to talk about what happened. But let’s make it into a comment discussion as well. So, dear readers, are you ever “mis-identified” by people? How do you respond to what are, essentially, totally irrelevant and prying questions from strangers*?
*Which reminds me that the same day a patron asked if one my coworkers was gay. I told her I had no idea and it had nothing to do with anything. I don’t know if she found him irritating in some way or wanted to ask him out. Welcome to the world of public service!