Frumgirl 4: Unexpected Conversation

The elevator emptied out as we approached the top floors, until there was just me and a chunky Asian inside, and only “seven” glowing on the panel. I don’t know his name, but let’s call him Jin, in keeping with the Jo- crowd.

Jin looks at the panel, looks at me and conveys that he would like to know if I too am heading to the seventh floor, or should he press another button for me? I say “convey” because his speech was slow and halting and the communication wasn’t necessarily all vocal. I responded that seven was exactly where I was heading, thanks.

He hesitated and then started expressing himself again. “Is – that – Jewish – clothing?” He gestures at my ensemble.

Momentarily taken aback, I reply, “Yes, it is. I mean, the clothing is from all over, but the look is definitely Jewish.”

He digested that for a moment while I digested his question. Asians are not very savvy about Judaism, if they know it exists at all. They’re not terribly savvy on western religions in general. Heck, the average Chinaman thinks the main difference between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the mascot: fat man in red pajamas with a tree versus sober men in black and buckles with a turkey. Religion doesn’t come into it. So I asked the natural follow-up question:

“How do you know about Jewish dress?”

“I – live – in – Borough – Park.”

Aaaah. Well, that explains things.

“You – don’t – wear – a -” Jin makes a gesture of putting a bowl on his head – “hat?”

“No,” was my uncomprehending answer. “The men get the hats, the women get the skirts.” Only later did I realize that me probably meant a turban or shpitzel or whatever they all wear in BP. At any rate, he mulled that over a second and then got out, “I think – that it – is – very – nice.”

That surprised me. I mean, you don’t hear that very often, even from people like Joe, and obviously he’s his own case. “I think so too,” I said, for lack of anything else popping to mind. Well whattaya know.

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Published in: on September 11, 2008 at 11:51 AM  Comments (7)  

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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. As a public school teacher, I have been in this situation hundreds of times. Sometimes I feel that if the person in question is a bit older, I just forgo the whole “I can’t shake your hand thing”. If they didn’t get it after being in the NYC public school system after hitting 60 years old, I defer to their age and be respectful. This once did backfire on me as a got scolded by a lady who was “testing” me. I pointed out that I passed by being polite, and she failed as a person for being rude. Congrats on you 10,000! Frumpunk is right, you do write very well!

  2. I’m not surprised that he complimented you on your clothing. The whole long-skirt-simple-blouse look is classic and flattering. I think a lot of men find it attractive.

  3. I wanted to point out that your blog post make you seems just as uneducated in worldly matters as you claim the average “Chinaman” is in regards to western religions. First, you refer to him as asian, then you assume that he’s from China. Why are you upset that he doesn’t understand everything about your religion when you made your own assumptions about him? Not to mention you pointing out that you don’t know the difference between a “turban or a shpitzel or whatever they all wear in BP.”

  4. :-/ Did I say I was upset? I was *surprised*. Surprised that he knew, I mean. I don’t expect anyone east of Pakistan to know a Jew from a Druid. I think that’s perfectly fair: they’ve got their own masses of religions to keep track of. Presumably, they don’t expect me to know the Punjabi caste system either.

    My assumption that he’s Chinese: based on the fact that about 90% of the oriental/Asian students in the college are Chinese. Also, according to the crash course in eastern facial physiognomy that my co-researchers gave me, the Chinese have rounder faces than Koreans (who apparently tend toward square jawbones), so I made an intelligent guess. It’s a bit silly that I’d have to defend this, but go figger.

    I know the difference between a turban and a spitzel (and a tichel, snood, pre-tie, sheitel, pillbox, and a good deal of the rest of it); I don’t know which is the more common one where he comes from or if some new headgear has recently come into fashion. And if I sound dismissive on the subject, it’s because I find the Punjabi caste system far more interesting.

  5. I wouldn’t have expected him to live in Boro Park.
    That’s cool that he complimented the “Jewish” way of dress.
    I’ve become friendly with some Chinese people from my class once, one of them was older and had the broken English type of accent. The others sounded so American, every time I would hear the voice I would turn around to see who it was and be surprised to find it was a Chinese Person.
    I find that a lot of non Jewish people respect the “Jewish” way of dressing.

  6. ditto- ive found that ppl usually respect our modest way of dressing, and think highly of it

  7. Perhaps you are not aware of this, but the term “Chinaman” is generally considered to be a racist slur with roots in a discriminatory history. I am not even going to get into what the equivalent terms referring to Jews would be. Needless to say, a lot of people fine the term offensive, and it’s pretty insensitive to have it up on your blog. In your shoes, I would try to remember not to actually use that term in public, and you should seriously consider switching to a less offensive word on your blog.


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