I am a strange looking person.   Here is how I know.  On the bus, while I am sitting there minding my own business, a nice gray haired lady opposite suddenly looks at me and says with a Slavic accent, out of the blue, “where are you from?”  I say I am Canadian and she smiles slightly, nods her head and replies, “yes, yes, we are all Canadian.  But where are you from?”

I answer that I was born in Austria.  “You don’t look German,” she says in disbelief.  “Where are you from, really?”   I answer her in German and her eyes widen.
“So you are German!  Huh!  I would never have guessed.”

After a few moments, I asked her, “Where did you think I was from?” 

“I thought you were Muslim from Bosnia,” she says, whereupon I played my turn and asked where she was from. 

“Yugoslavia,” she says and right away I know she is a Serb.

In one downtown Lebanese diner, I ordered a falafel and asked for the spicy radish to be included.  The store owner smiled at me, knowingly, winked and says with an Arabic accent, “you must be Egyptian.”  I say, “you’re in the neighbourhood but not quite.” 

In another take out place, I order some salad and the store owner looks at me with a quizzical look, and with a Central European accent, asks me, “you speak Russian, don’t you?”

“Why do you think so?” I say.

“You look Russian,” he says.

I find out later he and his wife are from Slovakia.

When I had darker hair and a moustache, the guy in the Greek restaurant thought I was Turkish and the Turkish restaurant owner thought I was Greek.

My conclusion is that I obviously don’t look “Canadian”, whatever that is.  They don’t even think I’m French Canadian or Aboriginal.  People think I am from somewhere else.

And wouldn’t you know it.   The place they usually think I am from is a place that they are familiar with.

It is true that when I was applying to graduate school in the States, my cheap passport photo from the automated machine gave me a dark complexion.   Combined with my moustache and goatee, along with my Jewfro, this had a startling effect.  I was admitted to their visible minority program as a black.


Now, after each one of these incidents I go home and look at myself in the mirror and for the life of me, I can only see myself as ordinary, that is, as me.  Maybe you can see something I do not.  I invite you to scrutinize my picture.  Don’t I look like me to you?

When I tell people my name, the jig is up.  With my name and looks what else could I be but a Jew?   They nod wisely and immediately ask me if I know Moishe Goldstein from Montreal, who of course, is one of their best friends.  There may be a Moishe Goldstein in Montreal and I wish him all the best, but I always end up having to admit I have not met this illustrious gentleman.   But who knows?  Life is long and I may yet run into him, if he is still with us.  As a matter of fact, I’ve heard his name so often, I am beginning to feel as if I should know him.  If all these non-Jewish people know Moishe and consider him to be a close friend, maybe I am missing out on something.

You know, I am inclined to think that I must be a “visible minority”.  Given my experience, I feel fairly visible.  It’s just that I am not sure which category I should place myself in.   Probably, given the tendency of other people to see me as the member of a minority they know, if I am asked which visible minority I belong to, I can honestly answer, “visible minority of your choice”.   That should cover it.