Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Speaking of Appearances

Speaking of appearances, this midwestern-born Jew is finding it nearly impossible to blend in here in Southeastern America. I have two stories regarding this.

Upon my arrival in the airport, a very friendly young woman with long blonde hair and high bangs came up to me to chat about my cat. She just loves kitties. She's got four at home. And when she found out I was teaching at the local private university, she got very excited. You see, her father was an electrician there, and she and her sister were the first staff children allowed to attend. She was very proud of this. It was pretty cool, actually. Then she said to me, "So, you'll be teaching Spanish, right?" When I said no, I'd be teaching Renaissance English literature, she said "Oh, good for you!" as if I had pulled myself up even farther than she had, which made me oddly both embarassed and angered.

Second story. A few days later, I'm sitting in the bank opening up an account. And the woman who is handling it is another excessively friendly woman with bright blonde hair (no high bangs this time; white collar background). And she gets really excited because she looks at my birthdate and we're the same age, born in the same month. And then she gets even more excited because I live in the neighborhood and she just moved here too! Well, we'll have to be neighbhors! Then she decides that she just has to try to set me up with her friend, a pharmacologist. Because he's really nice, and she thinks I would really like him and she just knows he would like me: his name is Vikram and he's been looking for a nice Indian girl for a while.

I decided to let her down easy. "You see," I said, "I teach Spanish . . ."


Jonathan said...

Well, at least that answers whatever lingering questions we might have about the assimilation of jews. . . .

Great pictures, by the way.

muse said...

Yeah. Except that we're practically half my department: 8 out of 20 (not counting the non-tenure track people).

Another funny story: we had to teach on monday (Labor Day), and one of our newest hires, a big fancy named chair in theory (also Jewish), just didn't show up. Because it's labor day. He assumed classes would be cancelled. We joked that he should say he didn't hold class because it was a Jewish holiday. You know, Emma Goldman day.

Thanks for the picture compliment. Obviously I can't take credit for them, but I can certainly take credit for being vain enough to compare myself to Maria and Audrey. Well, at least I have some of the features, though none of the talent.

Jonathan said...

There is a story in sociology that in the 50s (or thereabouts) all the gentile theorists would "fake" being jewish because it was believed that jews were better social theorists.

Brilliant response to the labor day issue, too. That's what tenure gets you--the right not to show up once in a while.

Hieronimo said...

Oh man, do I have a transplanted Jew story for you. When I moved to my first job, which was in a small midwestern town, I went to get my haircut. First problem: the woman had really never seen a man with curly hair. Second problem: she decided to spend the entire haircut working out her own 19th-century Racialist theories of inheritance. First question: "So, does your father have curly hair too?" I respond that he does indeed. Pause for a couple minutes. "But... does your mother have curly hair?"

muse said...

I know a scholar who has such a jewfro that the last time we were at a conference in a big (east coast) city, someone passed him on the street and said "Shalom, dude. Rock on."

I think this happens to him all the time. I can't imagine what it would be like for him down South. Probably similar to your midwestern experience.

But I wonder if we can really blame the ignorant/provincial with racism if they simply only have 1 or 2 referents for "other." "Jew" just isn't in their vocabulary, I guess.

Or else they expect us to have horns.