How to deal with 'innocent' stereotyping from a coworker?
June 24, 2009 1:11 PM   Subscribe

How do you deal with ethnic stereotyping from a colleague in the form of innocent questions?

I am jewish, and at my job I work with a somewhat religious christian coworker. I am younger (29), she is older (early 40s?), and I am her boss. In all respects we get along very well. She feels very comfortable around me, and we are constantly joking with one another.

However, as our relationship has progressed, she has starting asking me many questions about my religion (an outsider would call me a reform jew, I call myself an athiest who enjoys the familial traditions that come with judiasm; otherwise I say I am "jewish with an emphasis on the 'ish'"). Some are innocent such as Why do Christians do X and Jews do Y (ie: kosher, holidays, etc). But often they veer into odd stereotypical questions (ie: "Is it true that all jews are rich? Alot of people I know say it's true"; "Why do Jews dislike Christians", etc.) I firmly believe that she is asking me in some sort of cross-cultural exchange thing, out of genuine curiosity and a desire to increase her own knowledge, and with absolutely NO malice, ill will, or desire to convert me or anything crazy like that.

I don't want to dissuade her from coming to me and asking me questions, but I want to try and lightly (not heavy-handedly) dissuade her from some of these more stereotypical thoughts. Other than talking to her gently about them, is there anything else I should/could be doing? Or, if talking to her is the way to go, is there any manner in which I should be talking, or anything which I should be saying?

Otherwise, is it totally dangerous to even HAVE these discussions in a work context? If so, how do I politely extricate myself. This course of action is NOT my preferred method, but I'd be willing to listen to arguments as to why it should be.

Note: I have no desire to speak to a supervisor or HR person, get her disciplined, or anything like that. I also don't mind if she asks me these questions, and it doesn't make me uncomfortable (well, maybe a touch, but not nearly enough to ask her to stop). I just want to try to be kind and educate (or if educating is a poor goal in this context, then insert your own suggestion here) while maintaining a cozy work environment. This may not be possible, however...

posted by evadery to Religion & Philosophy (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: (A clarification upon a too-late preview - I ASSUME she is comfortable around me judging from her behaviour and her actions described above; as well, I am comfortable around her).
posted by evadery at 1:13 PM on June 24, 2009

I don't think there's anything at all wrong with saying something like "Er, no, that's an unfortunate stereotype."
posted by jquinby at 1:23 PM on June 24, 2009 [17 favorites]

i'd be careful with you being her boss. discussions on the particulars of religion could bite you in the ass if you need to discipline/fire her one day. only you know if this is a concern at the culture of your job.

if it were me, i'd be lighthearted - "is it true all jews are rich?" would be followed with me laughing/tittering and then being like "oh no! not even close" - to sort of reinforce the idea that it's a silly assumption to have. maybe also enforce that all of X never does Y, which is to say every group of people are nuanced and no group has a truly singular identity, especially within ethical and moral beliefs. you could also point out stereotypical misconceptions about christians as a way to drive the point home. the answer to "why do jews hate christians" could include something like "well, some people believe that all christians are republican or that all republicans are christian, but just like with that - the most vocal part of a group doesn't mean they identify traits in the entire group"
posted by nadawi at 1:25 PM on June 24, 2009 [3 favorites]

I don't think religious discussions have ANY place in the workplace. YMMV.

As far as the stereotyping goes, I think she is comfortable around you, and is trying to understand a culture about which she knows little other than what her dominant culture has already informed her. She's making an honest effort to untangle truth from myth, which is, I think, a bona fide interest for anyone seeking to become a more well-rounded person in their understanding of the world.

However, you don't have to play the role of "token Jew" in her life, any more than she should have to play the role of "token Christian" or whatever.

If you can find a way to deflect her questions with humor, that would be the best thing. Or maybe if you can find exactly the right book to hand her the next time she starts in with stereotyped questions. (I have no suggestions here.) Barring all that, perhaps saying to her, "You know, this is my workplace, and I'm really not that religiously expressive. Perhaps your questions can be better answered by Rabbi [InsertNameHere]. Here is his phone number -- he'd be happy to meet with you." (This is, of course, if you've already located a willing Rabbi who will agree ahead of time to help you out.)

Personally, I loathe religious discussion at work, because it's one of those things which ultimately seems only to lead to division, not understanding. As her superior within the company, I think that should be your foremost concern.

It does sound like you're looking for a delicate hand in this matter, so my advice may not be what you want.
posted by hippybear at 1:27 PM on June 24, 2009

Could you kindly point out that some people would be offended by her stereotypes? I think that would get the point across, and show her that not everyone would take as kindly to her questions.
posted by fermezporte at 1:29 PM on June 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

You could get a copy of The Jewish Book of Why, and let it idle until you get a question that it covers, and lend it to her in hopes of both educating and slowing down the question stream?
posted by kmennie at 1:30 PM on June 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

If it bothers you, I think it's perfectly fine to say something like jquinby suggests, but also add something like, "You know, there are stereotypes for every kind of person. I'd rather we deal with each other as individuals and not worry about the sterotypes, ok?" If she continues, you can respond with, "Remember, I said I didn't want to deal with stereotypes?" Say it with a smile.

Also, I DO think it can be dangerous in a work situation. It's not uncommon that something like this becomes a point of contention (and even legal action) if a work friendship turns bad. It doesn't matter who started the conversation. When someone has a bone to pick, they tend to conveniently forget the context of potentially controversial conversations.
posted by The Deej at 1:31 PM on June 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Since she has shown no ill will towards you, show no ill will towards her. Honestly, she may just be looking for a little education. So give it to her.

"Is it true that all Jews are rich?"

"Oh absolutely not." (Insert any examples you know here.) "I think that's an "idea" (let's be kind here) that perhaps came from the Midieval times. It was illegal or supposedly immoral for Christians to charge interest on money loans. . ." etc. Talk about usury and how Jews got a bad rap for lending money.

"Why do Jews dislike Christians?"

". . .well, I don't think they do. Do you?" Honestly, I don't have a canned answer for that one. But get her to talk about what's going on in her head. As long as she is comfortable and you are comfortable there's no reason in the world to go to HR or get defensive or attack her. In fact, she just may sense that she's got some wrong headedness going on in herself and may be looking for someone she trusts "on the inside" to set her straight. She might not know any better way of asking these questions.

This sounds like your oportunity to shine a bit of light and truth on somebody.
posted by Lord Fancy Pants at 1:36 PM on June 24, 2009 [6 favorites]

If you think she's generally interested in finding resources with which to educate herself about Judaism, tell her that you know a really great rabbi who'd be happy to help her. Send her my way.
posted by AngerBoy at 1:38 PM on June 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

When someone asks me questions like this I usually try to take it to a level of critical thinking that has eluded them. Examples: If I had been asked 'Are all Jewish people rich?' I would have replied 'Do think that any religious group is composed solely of members that are rich or poor?' If she asked me 'Why do all Jewish people dislike Christians?' I would reply, 'I like you alright and you seem to get along with me, so together we've disproved that concept, right?' These are the questions that once they're given thought beyond blind acceptance are easily answered. Over time she'll learn to answer them for herself.

If you continue to allow these questions--the alternative being a polite request to leave these topics for non-work situations--you are taking on the job of helping her to think outside of her own experience and retrain her mind's default state. That is something a lot of humans have a hard time doing, especially those that have already been taught to think a certain way as a result of exposure to things like religion, political affiliation, parental influence, schooling, et cetera.

The 'innocent' questions about customs are truly just that. When two groups of people do things differently it is healthy for people to be curious. These are the questions you should answer as fully as your knowledge will allow and with emphasis that all Jewish people's beliefs and understandings are not necessarily the same as yours.

On another note, if she is ~40 and hasn't had these questions answered before I think it is a good indication that she has led a fairly sheltered life. At least pertaining to this area of living. It is commendable that you are being patient with her and hopefully the outcome will be a better-adjusted individual in the world that understands diversity and acceptance are the bees' knees.
posted by Gainesvillain at 1:43 PM on June 24, 2009 [8 favorites]

I agree to some extent that it is best to handle the situation with some humor; that is an infinitely better approach than a heavy-handed discussion, particularly since your status as her boss would add even more weight to the whole issue.

However, she is also revealing a level of ignorance that can potentially be dangerous. To wit, even you get a bit uncomfortable when she asks these questions despite the good relationship you have with her and your firm belief that she is well-intentioned. What if she were to ask similarly ignorant questions to a client? To the president of your company? (And what if, in a follow-up to her ill-timed questions to an inappropriate person, it became known that you encouraged -- or at least didn't discourage -- her to ask such questions?)

For this reason, my inclination would be to handle it with humor, as suggested above, but also to dish out "a taste of her own medicine". For example, after answering one of her questions, follow by asking something like "Why are there so many Christian religions? Can't they get along with each other?", to help drive home the distinction between pursuing one's curiosity and perpetrating stereotypes.
posted by DrGail at 1:50 PM on June 24, 2009

If it were me (also atheist/cultural jew, raised reform, though all extended family who are practicing jews are conservative to orthodox), I would be torn. I'd want to address the questions, especially those related to stereotypes, in the name of educating, but it's venturing into dangerous territory at work, especially if you're the boss. I think I would probably pick my words very carefully and really think about the implications of what I say before I say it, and I'd probably issue a lot of disclaimers.

I would avoid anything that requires speculative answers. For instance, why do jews keep kosher is an easy one to answer, if you have an opinion about the origins of keeping kosher from a logical or scholarly standpoint, don't share it. In a social setting, I could completely see myself sharing my opinion of the less-than-divine origins, so I'd probably have to self-censor to avoid sharing it in a workplace situation.

Are all jews rich? That's another easy answer: no. I would not address why people thought that, though I might be inclined to do so in social situations.

Ditto for why jews hate christians. You could say that you don't hate christians, that you don't know any jews who hate christians, etc. But if you speculate on the origins of that stereotype, you're going to head into non-PC-for-the-workplace territory. I've actually never heard that particular stereotype, the reverse is what I've always heard, but I wouldn't want to address that with a coworker, either.

It's less about offending her and more about how things get twisted when filtered through the mind of someone outside the conversation. In the workplace, speculative answers might inadvertently offend another jewish person or possibly someone who does believe those stereotypes, etc, especially if they heard only bits of the conversation taken out of context. It's actually for this reason, the potential for eavesdropping and secondhand accounts, that I'd try to avoid the whole topic completely.

So, if you continue, stick to the questions that can be answered with factual information, direct to wikipedia or other site for more information (it actually wouldn't be such a bad thing if you could direct her to a general informational site where a lot of her questions can be answered) and avoid any topics that require speculation or your personal opinions. I'm not sure if it's worth it to create an awkward moment by saying you can't/shouldn't/don't want to talk about it at work. I'd probably just provide factual answers when I can, and then avoid the others with "i don't know" or something similarly neutral. For example:

Her: Are all jews rich?
You: No
Her: I have lots of friends who say that, why do people think that?
You: I don't know
Her: Why jews hate christians?
You I've never heard that (if you haven't heard that)
You: I don't hate christians, I don't know where that comes from (if you have heard this)
posted by necessitas at 1:53 PM on June 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

Those types of questions are not acceptable even if you two are best of friends, because she reports to you. Even if the conversation occurs between you two, if someone happen to hear it outside, it could offend them. It's very unfortunate but it's very hard to be 'friends' with your employee or boss cause you're a huge liability to the company by the things you say, or don't say.

I'd say, unfortunately I am not an expert on the religious history and generalizations. This seems like it's a conversation for outside of work as it could potentially be offensive to anyone that could walk in here or hear us.

I've overheard my colleague(manager) talk to his employee, right outside of my office, about potentially offensive subject. He was agreeing to what the employee was saying(which was offensive to those around us), and he wouldn't address it. Rule of thumb is, you do not talk about the things that you can't ask about during a job interview.

I am sure she's asking cause she feels comfortable, but you need to cover your ass.
posted by icollectpurses at 2:08 PM on June 24, 2009

I am Jewish and agnostic. I have a Moslem coworker. We've agreed to be willing to ask one another stupid questions about our respective religions.

This means that I get to ask him about beard length and he gets to ask me about keeping kosher. As far as I can tell, this is a great thing. Our work situation is quite informal and I've felt comfortable asking him and as far as I know he's comfortable asking me. We do talk about stereotypes and it hasn't been a problem.

I've also been in a situation where Christian coworkers asked me questions about Judaism with an eye to helping me find Jesus. I didn't have any problems giving them what information I knew, but I eventually had to be a bit firm with them about my lack of desire to join their religion.

I generally feel that education about other people's beliefs is a good thing, however the workplace can be a bad place to discuss the traditional forbidden topics of sex, money, religion and politics.

It sounds like she's asking you questions and you're not asking her questions. If there was an exchange, it would probably be an easier experience.
posted by sciencegeek at 2:10 PM on June 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've been in analogous situations before, with someone asking me a "Why do all X people do Y?" My response usually is, "I don't know all X people, so I can't speak for them. As for myself, I don't do Y." Personally, I think it's bad enough that they're asking about a stereotype, but they're also assuming that you as a single individual are the authority on what everyone does in a group to whom you happen to belong. I find that's a good way to politely avoid addressing the question at all, if that's the route you want to take.

It would definitely be nice if you could help her broaden her horizons a bit, but like the others I would be very concerned about your work relationship. As others have mentioned it depends on the culture of your workplace but I would be inclined to avoid the issue altogether. At the very least, offer to go out for lunch or dinner one day and talk about it then, and not at work.
posted by paralith at 2:10 PM on June 24, 2009

You could be specific and say you're an atheist who grew up in a Jewish family. (By the way, atheism is not a dirty word. You're an atheist. I'm an atheist. There are lots of us atheists on Metafilter.)

If she's generally not up to speed vis-a-vis some of your cultural traditions and she's genuinely in the dark, innocently answer her questions, but keep an eye out for any indication she might be getting proselytizing/discriminating. The questions about 'Why do all Jews do X' are a bit of a tip-off that either she's really not too bright about the generalizing or she is a closet anti-Semite. Lightly dissuade her from stereotypes, but don't be afraid to call her out on her crap if she gets too discriminatory.
posted by kldickson at 3:53 PM on June 24, 2009

I want to applaud you for choosing to see the innocence in her questions and not imputing malice where ignorance is a better explanation.

I honestly don't think that there would be harm in suggesting that you parlay a conversation into a different conversation about what stereotypes are. It sounds like she is a "teachable" person. Perhaps you could explain to her a little about how she doesn't even recognize the prejudice in her questions?

She sounds genuinely interested in learning, and again I thank you for asking whether you SHOULD see malice rather than whether you COULD see malice.
posted by jefficator at 3:56 PM on June 24, 2009

She is your subordinate -- you should absolutely not, not, not be delving into this at work!

You have a friendly relationship, so depending on the culture of your workplace you might suggest talking over a cup of coffee after work -- not lunch, because you return to work after lunch, with too much of a chance for follow-ups.
posted by jgirl at 5:16 PM on June 24, 2009

Man, this lady sounds so much like a couple of my elderly relatives. I'm glad you're being so kind and patient with her. The following assumes it's ok for the two of you to continue discussing culture/religion together at work during breaks (I've worked places where this is true and places where it isn't):

I think there must be a way to gently stop her the next time she asks one of her stereotype-related questions and say something like, "There are lots of stereotypes about Jews, and it's a good idea to just ignore them and instead get to know individual people. You know me, and I'm a Jew, and you know I don't hate Christians or hoard money. Anyone who tells you that all Jews hate Christians--or that all Jews do anything as a whole group isn't the sort of person you should be getting your information from."

If that doesn't take care of it, then you'd need to get more explicit and tell her directly "When you ask me, 'Do all Jews really do X?' it's actually insulting to me because I have to defend my culture against a stereotype. I'm happy to discuss my culture with you, but please think about what you're asking before you ask me a question based on a stereotype."
posted by Meg_Murry at 5:25 PM on June 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

After reading some of the replies, two things jump out at me:

There seems to be a lot of focus on "all" versus "some" in her phrasing. It doesn't seem to be a pattern and the one use in the example is completely appropriate for the question she's asking. I'm not saying making "all/none" statements is appropriate, what I'm saying is that she was asking if ALL jews are rich. That's different than asking why all jews do X, or why all jews hate christians. Of course it's a ridiculous stereotype, but in this case, whether or not "some" jews are rich has nothing to do with the stereotype. The fact is, there is the stereotype that ALL jews are rich, the reality is no, absolutely not, they are not all rich. She was just repeating what she heard. Doesn't sound like she had a take on it, one way or the other, just repeating what she heard. It's a really simple question that requires a simple yes or no answer, there's no need to use it as an opportunity to lecture her about all/none thinking.

Whether or not her questions are appropriate, it would be even more inappropriate for him to lecture her about seeing things in black and white, phrasing things in terms of all or none. Not only does it not answer the question, it creates a situation that makes him look like he feels he's her intellectual superior, now tasked with teaching her reasoning, logic and critical thinking skills. Sidestepping the question and focusing on her phrasing won't get her any closer to the information she's seeking, and it'll probably seem a little suspicious. What, exactly does "not all of [anything] is [anything]" imply? A majority? A minority? 80%? 75%? 50%? I'd rather have her walk away knowing that not all jews are rich, period. Is it any better if, through sidestepping, she walks away thinking "most but not all" jews are rich? Does that do anything to chip away at the stereotype? It's not productive to babble about the gray areas between all and none. Not unless he's also prepared to discuss the different socio-economic issues that come with different forms of Judaism so she has a better understanding of why some tend to appear wealthy, and why they might be more visible than the ones who are less likely to appear rich. That certainly is not an appropriate conversation to have at work.

I feel the same way about stereotypes. She's asking these questions out of interest in the cultural and religious differences. Sure, identify the stereotypes as such, but don't make a big deal out of teaching her the RIGHT way to approach stereotypes. That's really just above and beyond what is necessary or appropriate. There's no need to respond to her questions like a lecturing pedant, dissatisfied with her phrasing or making assumptions about her ability to intellectually process stereotypes or prejudice. After all, it seems like she's just repeating stereotypes, which themselves are born out of prejudice, but this says nothing about her ability to determine whether or not there is prejudice behind the stereotype. I mean, she's asking for the truth about these things, that alone says a lot about her ability to filter things for potential prejudice.
posted by necessitas at 5:31 PM on June 24, 2009

Gosh, I am a little surprised by some of the replies advising you to tread lightly. Granted I am not American, and I'm aware that talking about religion can be trickier in the US than in less-religious countries, but still. This situation just does not sound super-charged or fraught to me.

Personally, I think you should just model good behavior: be yourself, be open and honest, speak from your personal experience only. If she asks you "are all Jews rich," just say no, and tell her that your Jewish family and friends range across the economic spectrum (or whatever is true). If she asks why Jews dislike Christians, tell her you don't personally know any Jews who dislike Christians, and that there are a lot of different Jewish cultures, and it's hard for you to imagine total consensus on any topic, let alone dislike of an entire religion. Tell her explicitly that you yourself aren't very religious, and can't claim to speak for all Jews, or to be an expert in Judaism. Don't feel the need to lecture her, or to shut down discussion with one-word answers.

I agree with the posters who're inferring that your co-worker has lived a sheltered life, and has heard some stupid stuff. Sounds like she's making a good faith effort to get information, and good for her for doing it. But I don't think it's your responsibility to tackle the subtext: just answer her questions honestly and transparently. If you stick to that, and avoid creating any appearance that you're trashing her beliefs or the people who taught them to her, I find it hard to imagine this causing any problems in the workplace.

(The one thing I think would be a bad idea, is to joke about it. Jokes about religion are too easy to misinterpret: I'd steer clear of that.)
posted by Susan PG at 8:39 PM on June 24, 2009

Unfortunately, you can be her friend or you can be her boss. This is one of those areas where you need to choose.

I think it's fantastic that she feels comfortable exposing her ignorance to increase her knowledge. And, I think it's great that you want to help her be less ignorant. But...

(To another coworker): "Look what evadery gave me! The Jewish Book of Why! Evadery is great -- we talk about religion all the time, during work hours! Why just the other day, I asked why Jews are all rich, and evadery asked why Christians drink blood during church! Then, evadery recommended I talk to a rabbi."

Your helping can be misunderstood:

- Where is the line, as her boss, when this might look like proselyting?

- By feeling comfortable exposing her ignorance, are you helping her look stupid to her peers?

-If you later do not put her down for a plum assignment/raise/promotion, will all the knowledge-sharing be interpreted by her (and Human Resources) as being dinged because of either the type of questions she's asking, or because she convert (because it might turn to that type of interpretation)?

- If you later do put her down for a plum assignment/raise/promotion, will the discussions be interpreted by her peers (and Human Resources) as being a result of these chats?

- If you are having long non-work-related conversations at work, do her peers and yours feel this is an acceptable way of passing the time at work?

-Will your manager worry that paying you while you discuss religion is sending the wrong message?

I think one or two questions are ok. For example, she might have discovered you are Jewish when making winter holiday plans. She might've said, "Have you put up your Christmas tree yet?" and you might have responded, "Actually, I celebrate Hanukkah and my family doesn't put up a tree." Then it might have been ok if she said, "Oh, what's that?" and you could explain (briefly). But once it veers into the type of questions she's asking, at work, to her boss, I think it's got to stop.

My recommendation is to stop these conversations before they negatively affect you and her. To do this, the next time she has a religious question, you could say, "I love that you feel comfortable bringing these questions to me. But, I'm afraid others will misunderstand, so we must stop having talks about religion. How is going?"
posted by Houstonian at 2:55 AM on June 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think you're taking the right approach, and that's how I personally would handle it. I think the way to discourage stereotypes is just to gently and honestly answer her questions, and encourage a kind and friendly exchange of information. When questions are along the lines of "all" then you can add that there's a really diverse group of people under a broad umbrella term and give some examples as necessary.

Saying something like 'Do think that any religious group is composed solely of members that are rich or poor?' (as suggested above) sounds a little bit patronizing and rude, and I think that's the opposite of the direction you say you'd like to take.

I'm a lawyer but not by any means an employment lawyer, and I can see how people would caution you to avoid some aspects of religion at work, but speaking just as a person I'm not sure I get the caution that these conversations are going to be offensive to others or are so inappropriate for work. I imagine it differs a lot depending on workplace culture and whatnot.

Anyway, I think you have a great outlook.
posted by KAS at 6:19 AM on June 25, 2009

but speaking just as a person I'm not sure I get the caution that these conversations are going to be offensive to others or are so inappropriate for work.

I know lots of us approached this with different perspectives, so I can only speak for myself. When I said others would be offended, I was talking about being offended by some subjective, opinion based answers. For instance, I am atheist, I was raised jewish so I know about kosher laws. I do not believe they are divine, I believe that they were based on common-sense food storage and preparation guidelines. For instance, if you're still consuming dairy after the cow's been killed for meat, the dairy is probably no longer good. Of course this doesn't take into consideration multiple cows for multiple purposes, so this thought is really a work in progress. Anyway, if I shared that at work and someone who does keep kosher overheard, they might take it as me minimizing something they hold sacred. Others who are devout, either jewish or christian, might be offended by my approach to the bible as being non-divine, mostly folklore.

I don't think there's a risk of offending anyone with factual answers.
posted by necessitas at 9:10 AM on June 25, 2009

Just for your own understanding, OP, and other readers, I'll share something of my own view about the situation of Christian meets Jew. I'm not going to address the issue about the work relationship, as I'm terrible at understanding such boundaries.

I'm from a suburb of a small city in Michigan. There is no synagogue in that small town (or, at least, there wasn't, back then). I was raised Christian, in a Methodist church (standard ordinary mainstream religion-lite type Methodist). In church, one hears constant reference to the Jewish people, as well as Romans and other more exotic, far-off, ancient people, most of whom, it would seem, no longer exist as an identifiable people. Doesn't lend much credibility to the stories, does it?

Then you encounter a person who is Jewish (whether ethnic or religious, and that's a difference you have to learn). This can be rather profound, to someone from a very white European-American background! This is even more especially the case if you were also sheltered from the negative stereotypes (which describes my upbringing). Obviously, it's not on par with being confronted with the Living Christ or some winged angel, but, seriously, it's far more profound than meeting, say, an African-American.

With the Hebrews, an entire new layer of fascination comes from learning that here are people who continue an identity from ancient times, even after being spread across the planet for 2000 years. And that's apart from the fact that that identity is the same one claimed by the devine being of your upbringing. (about those stereotypes: The honest Christian will be quite confused about negative stereotypes assigned to the people from the Bible.)

In short, what could possibly be more fascinating to a Christian, than to meet an honest-to-gosh Jew?! It sounds corny as hell to anyone from, say, a major coastal metro area, I'm sure. But someone has to grow the corn and milk the cows (or build the cars), so we don't all come from New York City.

But then too, there is this whole thing of Jewish identity, the religion, history and culture that keeps them identifying separate from the general population. Things that are truly thought as "perfectly normal", even "universal", are not true when applied to non-Christians. If you grow up in an extremely homogenous place, this is just more fuel to the fire of fascination.

So there. I have laid bare yet another bit of my own personal history. Once upon a time, I was a totally provincial bumpkin that didn't even know the ugly stereotypes. To this day, I am still happy enough considering myself what I call a "Judeophile". Why should that be any different from any other cultural fascination that anyone can develop?
posted by Goofyy at 6:24 AM on June 30, 2009

Goofy, I don't think anyone was especially curious or doubtful about the nature of her interest. If the OP is uncomfortable with it, even just a little, it's for his own reasons. I suspect that it's pretty awkward and possibly unpleasant to be the one "honest to gosh" jew that a judeophile knows, who then gets tasked with constantly answering question after question, speaking on behalf of all the mythical "honest to gosh" jews, just to cater to a judeophile's every last curiosity. Sure, there's nothing wrong with being a judeophile, but if you're tasking people to be your own recreational museums, it's not cool. Unless those people are rabbis or members of some sort of cross-cultural awareness group. When you go to work, you usually don't sign up to have your brain picked about the ins and outs of the religion in which you were raised.
posted by necessitas at 7:56 AM on June 30, 2009

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