Is my boyfriend's mom trolling me?
March 28, 2013 7:44 PM   Subscribe

I received a gift from my boyfriend's mother that is at best in poor taste and at worst extremely offensive. How do I proceed? Super-fun cultural/religious beanplating inside.

Me:raised atheist by very liberal parents. My father's family is Jewish and I have a strong affinity for Judaism despite coming by it from the wrong parent. I celebrate the major Jewish holidays, (as well as Christmas), because that's what I grew up doing. I consider myself to be a pseudo-Jew, even though I don't believe in God, because of my deep connection to my dad's family and our traditions.

Boyfriend: raised Southern Baptist by a very conservative single mother. Went to Christian high school; discovered science and became agnostic/an atheist in college, before we got together. He still identifies as Christian for many of the same reasons I identify as Jewish, and to my knowledge he has not discussed his lack of faith with his mom. We have been together more than four years; have been living together for nearly two.

My boyfriend's mom (hereafter known as Mom) is deeply Christian. Boyfriend told her when we met that I was Jewish, leaving out the atheist part, because apparently being a Jew is (slightly) better than being areligious in her book. This has historically not been a problem. I have celebrated Christmas with their family, attended church with them, said grace with them, etc. In short, though I am emphatically not Christian, I have remained respectful of Mom and Step-dad's beliefs.

Fast-forward to this spring. Boyfriend told Mom several days ago that we were planning on hosting a Seder. She got really upset because he was hosting a Seder but wasn't planning on going to church for Palm Sunday. (He did, however, fly south today so that he could spend Easter with his folks.) I arrived home yesterday to find a package addressed to me from Mom. It turned out to contain a bedazzled crucifix bracelet.

I'm pretty peeved about it. Regardless of whether she thinks I'm Jewish or an atheist, she knows I'm not Christian, and this seems like a pretty bitchy, passive-aggressive move on her part. It feels like she's taking her disappointment with her son's loss of faith on me.

1. Am I over-reacting? Is there any way this could be construed as not a jerk move? Could she be joking? She has a tendency to mail us weird shit (Halloween dishtowels, an absinthe spoon, back issues of National Geographic) but this came on its own, addressed only to me (odd for her) and is also not the first religious-ish thing she's given me --for my birthday I received a book about Flannery O'Connor's spiritual journey.

2. If I'm not completely over-reacting, how do I respond? My etiquette instincts are screaming that I have to write a thank-you note. Should I? Do I mention that I thought it was (to put it mildly) odd?

Fwiw, Boyfriend is 100% in my camp. He's embarrassed that it happened and may choose to talk to Mom about it when he's home this weekend, though he may not. I don't want to press the issue because he's so rarely home that it would be a shame to have what would undoubtedly be an unpleasant scene mar the weekend.
posted by coppermoss to Human Relations (96 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
It was a dumb and weird thing for his mom to do, but are you looking for an apology from her? Do you want her to understand/empathize? Because neither of those things are likely outcomes.
posted by discopolo at 7:47 PM on March 28, 2013 [9 favorites]

Thank her profusely for the wonderful gift. Wear it when you visit her. Tell everyone how much you love it and how interesting you think it is that your BF mother purchased it for you. Make sure you are also wearing a Star of David medal. I would also throw in some Yiddish, but that is just me. Have a good laugh about it, best way to handle it.
posted by fifilaru at 7:48 PM on March 28, 2013 [20 favorites]

Sorry hit post too soon.

I'd ignore it. No note, nothing. If she pushes it in the future, just say you were confused by it because you're Jewish.
posted by discopolo at 7:49 PM on March 28, 2013 [43 favorites]

The easiest way to avoid drama is to ignore it. Throw it away and pretend you never saw it, and mentally put her on the "not to be trusted" list.
posted by zug at 7:50 PM on March 28, 2013 [6 favorites]

Could you maybe talk to her and ask why she sent it? She may have a reason that's something you haven't thought of. Right now, all you can go on is your assumptions about her motives, and I've never found that to be the best way to approach perceived slights.
posted by xingcat at 7:54 PM on March 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think you should be honest. Call her and say you appreciate it and it's lovely but as much as you'd love to, you couldn't possibly accept it because you're not Christian. More gratitude etc. for thinking of you but you'll be sending it back in Monday's mail. (Too bad your boyfriend already left to go there.)

Tell your boyfriend you're going to do this and that you expect him to back you up. That he "may choose to talk to mom about it when he's home* this weekend" isn't enough. Your serious, live-in boyfriend either has your back or he doesn't.

*Home is where he lives now, not his parents' house.
posted by headnsouth at 7:54 PM on March 28, 2013 [6 favorites]

Probably she's hoping you'll see the light, but if she restricts herself to tacky gifts, I'd just toss it in the tacky christmas present regifting bin (like those fake rhinestone - I kid you not - christmas bauble earrings that my mother gave me one year, apparently after a temporary bout of insanity in some department store checkout line?), and never bring it up. Ever. But I'm sure there are other reasonable ways to deal with unwanted/tacky gifts too.
posted by eviemath at 7:54 PM on March 28, 2013

You have one stamp.
You write two thank you notes.
One with all the withering sarcasm and outrage and WTFitude you feel about this. "Thanks! it'll go really well with my Pesach bonnet!" or what have you.
Save this for your records.
The next will be the sincere, actual thank you for an unexpected gift. Apply the stamp to this one.
Bonus, use some wording or turn of phrase in the second note such that it harkens back to your first one, and that only you will know the seething subtext of it.
She's got a history of sending weird and useless things, so just lump this into the camp of halloween dishtowels and not a personal offense.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 7:55 PM on March 28, 2013 [10 favorites]

Yeah, you're overreacting. She probably assumed that since you and the boyfriend have attended church, said grace and participated in other activities with them that you were down with The Lord. You should thank her and consider it a genuine attempt to maintain a relationship with you instead of viewing it as her mocking your lack of religion. Seriously?
posted by thank you silence at 7:55 PM on March 28, 2013 [18 favorites]

I agree with those above who say to ignore the "gesture". Especially because your boyfriend is on your side. If he didn't understand I'd say to treat it differently. As is: ignore it, ignore her. She's being passive aggressive, there is no reason for you to be.
posted by junipero at 7:56 PM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Toss it in the trash and pretend it didn't happen. She'll come around or she won't, but getting into an argument about it probably won't help. If you normally send thank you notes for things, and you don't for this one, she'll probably get that you didn't appreciate it.
posted by empath at 7:59 PM on March 28, 2013

If you are atheists, then it's no big thing. There's no telling what's in her mind. I'm with those who say send a brief thank you, put it in the back of a drawer (in case there's ever a good reason to have it, you'll have it), and move on. It's the ongoing relationship that decides your relationship and she will show the meaning of the gift by her actions. There is no reason to take an attitude. Be nice. Atheists are nice: "do unto others..."
posted by lathrop at 8:02 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes, jerk move.

I very much agree with discopolo:

I'd ignore it. No note, nothing. If she pushes it in the future, just say you were confused by it because you're Jewish.
posted by nangar at 8:03 PM on March 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

So you've said grace and celebrated Christian holiday, even gone to church, maybe you are sending mixed messages? Just saying.
posted by irish01 at 8:06 PM on March 28, 2013 [9 favorites]

many people can't imagine what it's like being any different from themselves. how many fit people do you know who loudly proclaim losing weight was so easy and if everyone was as hard-working and dedicated as them, they could look like them instantly? now replace that with any question of wealth, politics, whatever. she didn't troll you — you know about trolling and assumed everyone was like you and because you would give this as a trolling present in her position well then she must have had the same motivation.

in other words: you and she are more alike than you think.

this is an instance where one person didn't really think about the reaction. it's a bit dumb, not filled with malicious intend.
posted by krautland at 8:08 PM on March 28, 2013 [10 favorites]

Yes, it is probably odd, but maintain the high ground by sending a straightforward and basic thank you note.

If it helps, reflect on the fact that the cross is a symbol with ancient roots that predate Christianity.
posted by salvia at 8:09 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

If it's actually a crucifix on the bracelet (little Jesus on the cross, not just a plain cross), that would be a super duper weird thing for a Southern Baptist to send as a sincere gift. Crucifixes are pretty Catholic, and that's pretty suspect for a lot of conservative Protestant denominations.
posted by donnagirl at 8:10 PM on March 28, 2013 [25 favorites]

Thank her for the gift, and for thinking of you, and then never wear it. You don't have to return it or explain why it's inappropriate. If it happens again, or if she asks about it, just say you feel your beleifs are private and do not feel comfortable wearing religious jewelry.
posted by elizeh at 8:12 PM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'll side with not overreacting at all, ugh. (I'd also be tempted to mail back a thank you note for "sharing your cultural traditions with me" and a nice Seder plate for next year, although...don't do this.)

But given that she's previously sent odd gifts, and that you've attended church with her before, is there a chance that didn't realize a cross would be offensive/inappropriate? I've found that some people can be weirdly myopic about things like this, to the point where they genuinely wouldn't make the connection between Jewish and no cross jewelry.

You know her better than we do, though, and your boyfriend certainly does, so if you're inclined to think it was a not-so-subtle statement, there's a decent chance it was, especially given the timing in the middle of a larger disagreement. Either way, I'd be polite but not disingenuous - no need to start a confrontation over it, but you also don't have to go out of your way to pretend it was a thoughtful or welcomed gift.
posted by eponym at 8:13 PM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You're etiquette instincts are correct. You must send her a thank you note. There is no excusable out.

As for...this seems like a pretty bitchy, passive-aggressive move on her part.

It probably is. Which is exactly why a thank you note is critical.

For your own pleasure, perhaps change this in your own mind to "Well. Bless her little heart, she's trying to save my soul the only way she knows how." And savor all the implied scorn and derision that is yours to savor.
posted by space_cookie at 8:13 PM on March 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

"Thank you for the lovely plus sign bracelet! How did you know I liked mathematics?"
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:17 PM on March 28, 2013 [57 favorites]

I think you've been sending mixed messages.

You're Jewish. You also happen to be an atheist, which is a pretty common combination. (Believing in God won't make someone Jewish, and not believing in God won't unmake it.) If you have been telling her you're something other than Jewish, well then she's probably figuring she's got a shot at bringing you over.

Going to church is a step too far for someone to take who is of another religion, I think. When I visit my religious Christian in-laws, I am respectfully silent during their Grace; when they occasionally drop into spontaneous praying circles, I'll hold their hands, and be silent. I don't go to church with them. Church is for preachin'. It's not just happy family fun time.

I think you should call her, ask her kindly why she sent it, and explain to her that you're Jewish so it would be inappropriate for you to keep it. You could also tell her during this conversation that you're sorry if you've sent mixed messages by attending church, which you were only doing out of affection for her, and that you are not up for being converted, now or ever.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:33 PM on March 28, 2013 [17 favorites]

I also do not think you're over-reacting, but I'm not sure there's as much malice behind the item as one would be inclined to think. More like, insensitivity.
It might just be a seasonally-appropriate tchotchke/gift meant to include you from far away.
I'd send a the afore-mentioned thank you note, sincerely acknowledging the gift and her thinking of you. If she, at some point in the future, asks if you wear it, that's your opportunity to gently point out that you're Jewish.
posted by ApathyGirl at 8:45 PM on March 28, 2013

A conservative Southern Baptist probably is not giving a Jesus-oriented gift to anyone thinking that it is ridiculous and/or tacky.

I think she did it as a way of accepting you into her fold. Her faith is a central part of her life. You've said Grace with the family and have attended church with them. She doesn't know that, not only are you not religiously Jewish, you are an athiest.

She means well. She is not being passive-aggressive. She doesn't know that you aren't ok with it.

If anything, this is a problem your husband created by not being honest with his mom about his true faith. And you know what? That makes sense to me. I think you should stand by your husband's decision here, and thank her for the bracelet.

Or you can talk to him about changing this dynamic, but I don't know that I would recommend that. He made a choice about his disclosure of his faith to his family and I kind of think you need to support him in that.
posted by k8lin at 8:45 PM on March 28, 2013 [14 favorites]

She's "witnessing" to you. She's trying to reach you for Jesus. And while you look at your religious observances as cultural events and courtesy, she sees them as Her Chance to win you to the Lord. She wants you to see this bracelet and be reminded of Jesus and somehow magically moved to accept him into your heart. While it's weird and awkward, I would really bet that this is what motivates her. So I would thank her but then put it away and don't encourage her or the pressure and efforts will just increase.
posted by lemniskate at 8:46 PM on March 28, 2013 [10 favorites]

Best answer: I think it's worth pointing out that it's entirely possible that you've sent her mixed messages not because you should have known better, but because her flavor of Christianity is perhaps more prone than most to mistake you being polite for interest in her religious beliefs.
posted by hoyland at 8:51 PM on March 28, 2013 [14 favorites]

is there any possibility that she might miss the particular undertones of giving a crucifix to someone who identifies as Jewish? Living in a quite secular country, and not (knowingly) associating with people of that cultural heritage, I assumed it was almost - oh hey, you're involving your boyfriend in cool Jewish stuff, that's awesome, we should make you feel welcome by giving you something that's to do with our religious beliefs.

I have a bad habit of ascribing nasty stuff to stupidity rather than malice, though.
posted by b33j at 8:54 PM on March 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

I've known more than a few Southern Baptist types who honestly don't think of religious art as religious. Like, it's not a witnessing thing or a passive-aggressive thing, it's just, "Oh, that's a cute little shiny thing. I should get that for this friend of mine, she likes cute little shiny stuff." If you were to point out to one of those people that it's a cross and might not be an appropriate gift for someone who's not Christian, they'd honestly think, "Why wouldn't it be? It's cute and shiny." There are so many crosses in their house and their parents' house and in their office and just around everywhere that it doesn't even occur to them that it's, you know, a cross.

Like b33j says -- stupidity is more common than malice.
posted by Etrigan at 9:02 PM on March 28, 2013 [25 favorites]

Write the thank-you note with a clear conscience. Because unless you are secretly jonesing to proselytize to her about atheism, there is no reason not to.
posted by bricoleur at 9:02 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ugh, this sounds like something my grandma would do. I have a few explicit do-not-gift-me classes, which my family is well aware of due to a history of trading christmas wishlists, and jewelry, clothing, and religious tokens/books are at the top. Inevitably, about once a year, my grandma will send me something that manages to combine a few of those things. Like a cross pendant necklace or something.

I just ignore them now. I know they're a passive aggressive attempt on her part to get me to be whatever way she wants me to be, and she knows they just make me feel bad.

I thank her profusely for anything I ever get from her that isn't on the do-not-gift list, and just ignore it completely when it is. If I'm 15 minutes late in thanking her, she'll ask me if I got the thing and how I'm liking it--unless she's given a passive aggressive gift, in which case she doesn't ask.

It's a weird dynamic. She knows, I know, she knows I know, and I know she knows I know.

Ignore it.
posted by phunniemee at 9:04 PM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

My guess is 10% passive-aggressive, 90% cluelessness. If it really bugs you, buy a beautiful coffeetable book about jewish traditions and write a note saying how much you appreciate her kindness and generosity, and that you would like to share some of your faith traditions too.
posted by viggorlijah at 9:04 PM on March 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

Okay, it's a weird gift, and really tone deaf, at best. I do think it doesn't warrant an intense response, though. But I wouldn't fault you for being peeved, either. That's not the same as saying you should be peeved, though. I think that we should all strive at some point to be able to let things like this flow over us like water, even if they are passive aggressive. The reason being, when things happen that could or could not be offenses, the person who isn't rattled is generally the person who wins.

We aren't always there, though, and that's just fine. But if you can overlook this and not overtend to it emotionally and mentally, I think it has two benefits: 1) your life is immeasurably better, as you aren't dwelling on it overly proportional to the amount of time that you actually interact with her; and 2) you don't take the chance of misinterpreting the intention of the gift, which again probably takes a lot of your mental energy. If it's just a bit tone deaf, then it's definitely not worth getting worked up over. If you are pretty sure it's a passive aggressive gift, you can decide if it's worth saying something, which may be cathartic. But you probably won't change much in terms of how she feels, just what she does (i.e., sending you gifts, which may not matter if you learn to let it just flow on by).
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:12 PM on March 28, 2013

lemniskate has it exactly. The Christian high school your boyfriend attended, his mother's Southern Baptist form of Christianity, the Flannery O'Conner book, and the bracelet all add up to one thing: she wants very much for you to convert. In her book, you are not 'saved' because you 'haven't accepted Jesus' and she earnestly believes that she must help you 'make a decision for Jesus' so that you can go to heaven when you die. You identify as Jewish--and she cannot accept that. (And she really could not accept atheism.)

It *is* obnoxious and I see it constantly, not just from those of a more conservative Christian expression (Southern Baptist) but from many in the mainline Protestant churches too. A lovely lady at my church has a daughter who married a Jew, and their three kids are being raised as Jews. She is educated about many things (she recently retired from teaching) and is terrific with kids--but she is sad that her grandchildren don't 'know Jesus.' I teach religion part-time in a local community college. I've talked with her, I've listened to her, I've given her books to help her better understand Judaism (because there's so much she really doesn't understand, because of the misconceptions that Christians have been taught)--but her reaction is emotional and visceral; she feels her grandchildren are 'missing out' on something she has been taught is The Most Important Thing.

You won't change her. But you might tell her, in one-to-one, thoughtful conversation when the moment is right, what you believe. I'd stand your ground in a nonthreatening way. You've accorded your boyfriend's mother and stepdad respect toward their beliefs; I really don't think it's asking too much of them to respect yours.
posted by apartment dweller at 9:14 PM on March 28, 2013 [11 favorites]

I have met Christians who have been honestly shocked, surprised, and befuddled to learn that Jews do not believe that Jesus is the savior and do not celebrate Christian holidays. I would not be surprised if there were some insular Christians who are similarly confused about atheists. It is just possible that this is a case of extreme stupidity, not malice. In either case I would say something about how you do not wear crosses in a "thank you" note to her, perhaps preceding it with a "bless your heart!"
posted by Wordwoman at 9:17 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think she's probably trying to slowly convert you. She may be passive aggressive, but it's hard to say without more information so I'd say the charitable explanation is this is her way of introducing you to her faith. No problem, send her a lovely thank you note saying you appreciate the gesture to learn more about each other's faith! Blah blah something about being proud to be a Jew. Isn't it great when two religions reach out to try and understand each other more! You'd like to return the favour, so include a star of David and an pamphlet/info on an introduction to Judaism.

This will send a pretty clear yet polite message that you're firmly in your camp (as far as she's aware) not interested in being converted yet still respectful. Do not write this as being passive aggressive, make it genuine and treat it like an exchange on religious beliefs - as you're sure this is how she obviously meant it.
posted by Jubey at 9:25 PM on March 28, 2013

You probably shouldn't do what I would want to do, because I am known to be a crazy person. But if I were in your shoes, I would totally send her a bracelet with a Star of David on it in response. And maybe even include a note that said, "Thank you for the cross bracelet. Isn't it so nice that we can respect and learn from one another's religious heritage?"
posted by BlueJae at 9:27 PM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'd start sending her things that are obvious gag gifts. You get a bedazzled crucifix? She gets a black velvet Jesus painting.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:32 PM on March 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

I did think it was a jerk move up until I read that she'd sent you other weird shit in the past - I mean, Halloween dishtowels, an absinthe spoon, back issues of National Geographic? In that context, that's hilarious at best, and quirky & misguided at worst. I'd think nothing more of it and just put it away somewhere.
posted by 01080591 at 9:41 PM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'd ignore it and let him deal with it. I think it's his problem to deal with, not yours. And I would try not to take it personally. It's about her (intolerance, or lack of tact, or whatever the case may be), not about you.
posted by Dansaman at 9:46 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hoo boy. I say this from a place of sisterhood. I myself grew up in an intermarried family, "made it legal" by converting to Judaism many years ago, but still try to accommodate my blood relatives by going to weddings and funerals in churches and showing up for a couple of hours on Christmas on those rare occasions, let's say once every 6-7 years, that I'm in my hometown.

I'll use an analogy from the dietary laws. This is an ANALOGY. I know you're not asking about keeping kosher. This is a real thing that repeats itself almost every visit home.

I go to my aunt's house. I eat the potato salad. (Under the law I shouldn't.) I eat the coleslaw (under the law I shouldn't). I eat the pumpkin pie (same thing). I drink beer (actually, beer is probably 100% kosher).

Does it give me the creeps when my aunt then cuts me a slice of ham and says, "oh, come ON?" Sure it does. But I had it coming.
posted by skbw at 9:49 PM on March 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

So, I grew up in the Bible Belt.

While I was raised Episcopalian, and my family is relatively devout for liberal mainline Protestants, I didn't really feel a strong religious connection growing up. I mean, my family were a bunch of godless heathens next to the Evangelicals, Southern Baptists, and staunch conservative Catholics I grew up around.

And yet it took a really. long. time. of living in the urban Northeast before it occurred to me that wearing anything with the symbol of the cross on it is seen outside the South as an explicitly religious gesture, even an offensive one. To me, crosses were just another entry in the "tasteful conservative jewelry" column.

It is very possible that it doesn't even occur to your boyfriend's mom that sending you jewelry with a cross is a faux pas. Hard to believe, but true. The South is a weird place.
posted by Sara C. at 10:01 PM on March 28, 2013 [15 favorites]

I'm with Cool Papa Bell w/r/t gag gifts. If bedazzled presents can be given seriously, what's next?!
posted by suprenant at 10:08 PM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Thank you note. Wacky gift bin. Doubt she meant anything by it, more likely "this us the sort of thing I'd get a family member."

If you're not radiating "Christianity is offensive to me" and shooting satanic lasers out of your eyeballs, she's going to assume you're like everyone else she knows and hey, isn't this a sweet gift?

Just think nothing of it. Yeah, it's confused, clueless, and maybe passive aggressive, but she's trying, bless her heart.
posted by zippy at 10:14 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sorry. My above comment was in response to question 1.

Question 2. What to do? Leave it one hundred percent alone unless you and your boyfriend see engagement, marriage, and children in the immediate future. Don't do anything. Don't say anything. But cut way back on your participation in whatever religious stuff they do.

I would say (again, knowing a little bit about this kind of situation) that bowing your head at grace is the MAXIMUM ecumenical thing you can do in this context. I say it from the heart. I left the Christian milieu in 1995 and my guts still feel a little funny, for emotional, not spiritual, reasons, when the guy (it's always the guy) at the head of the table starts up with "Bless us, o Lord, and these thy gifts." So for that reason I subject myself to this situation very, very rarely. There is a reason why it says in Psalms, "Forget your people and your father's house."

Now. Your situation is not exactly like mine. But I know my relatives. If I didn't bow my head, they'd take it as a fuck you. If I said Amen to the Jesus mentions, they'd think they had a shot at bringing me back. It's a very fine line. In the particular scene you describe above you may (100% inadvertently) have ended up on the wrong side of that line. Just try, I suggest, drawing it a little more clearly next time.
posted by skbw at 10:17 PM on March 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Dear boyfriend's Mom,

Thank you very much for the unexpected gift. As my grandma used to say, "it is the thought that counts". Thank you for thinking of me.


posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:19 PM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

There seems to be a strong vibe that you should be chill, and not create drama. If that works for you, you've got great advice up above.

It wouldn't work for me.

I let something antisemitic from my in-laws pass a long time ago and it still sticks with me, both for the insult and for the missed opportunity to have a conversation with them about stuff that's very important to me.

I'm not one for creating drama for drama's sake, but if you feel as strongly about this as it sounds, I wouldn't let it drop - instead, I'd go right back at it with her and tell her that you felt confused and puzzled by her gift. That you've respected her traditions and love her son, but that this present felt disrespectful and that, rather than trying to guess, you want to have an opportunity to talk and find out exactly what she was thinking when she sent you that gift.
posted by jasper411 at 10:23 PM on March 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'd ignore it. Or you can send her a gift of your own -- something with a Star of David on it -- with a note thanking her for the hilarious joke gift. Best thing is probably to ignore it though, especially if your boyfriend wants to bring it up with her and precisely because there is a chance you may not understood her real intentions.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:37 PM on March 28, 2013

Out-insensitive-ing mom is probably not the best idea. You could thank her for thinking of you. Period. If she has a female bone in her body she will want to know more about her gift. "It is right here in my jewelry box." Period. :-)
posted by Cranberry at 11:26 PM on March 28, 2013

It's bedazzled bracelet from Claire's at the mall and you think this is offensive???

Hon. She's kidding. It's a joke.

Cool down, tiger.

If it were a serious cross and chain 14 carat gold with a bible inscribed to you, then we could discuss this!

Send the thank you note suggested above by qxntpqbbbqxl and move on with a smile.
posted by jbenben at 11:37 PM on March 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

Thank her profusely for the wonderful gift. Wear it when you visit her. Tell everyone how much you love it and how interesting you think it is that your BF mother purchased it for you. Make sure you are also wearing a Star of David medal. I would also throw in some Yiddish, but that is just me. Have a good laugh about it, best way to handle it.

Oh my god no. I'm Jewish. I've been in some extremely uncomfortable situations with people who did not understand that they were being offensive, but giving into the cultural hegemony and wearing a crucifix? Hell no. No fucking way.

No one calls it a "Star of David medal," by the way.

Throw in some Yiddish?!?

Being misunderstood and forced to kowtow to the dominant culture is not some cutesy etiquette shit, okay?

Hey OP: Just put that damn bracelet in a drawer and forget about it. If your boyfriend's mother asks about it, you can tell her, that, while you think it's lovely, you don't feel comfortable, as a Jew, wearing jewelry with the symbol of the cross on it.

I doubt that she's seriously trolling you. And when I've had to explain things to people, they've been pretty cool about it, for the most part.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 12:33 AM on March 29, 2013 [15 favorites]

On preview - what jbenben said.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 12:33 AM on March 29, 2013

You could go serious. Send it back to her with a note saying "Thank you so much for thinking of me. There's just one teensy problem. I'm not christian, I'm really not planning on becoming a christian, and I'm worried that some people out there who do take their christianity seriously would be offended if they saw me wear it, knowing it's not my faith. So I appreciate the thought and the gesture, but I'm sending it back to you. I'm sure you can find a friend/relative who would appreciate it and wouldn't feel uncomfortable wearing it."

If she was sincere, you've been honest and sincerely explained your problem, and hopefully put an end to it. And if she persists in sending you christian stuff you can just keep politely referring back to this. "Don't you remember, Helen, what I wrote you about that crucifix you sent me?".

If it's a joke gift, it's a pretty crappy joke. Face to face she could smile and laugh, say "Isn't that ridiculous?!", and share the joke with you. Sent in a box, with no note explaining it, she'd be putting the joke on you. And in that case you're putting the joke back on her.
posted by benito.strauss at 1:03 AM on March 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

There is a strong strain within Southern Baptists of a heterodox model for understanding Christianity based very strongly on an initial choice to accept Christ that defines what it means to be a Christian and guarantees admittance into heaven in a way that can be really disorienting for people who did not grow up understanding Christianity according to this model. Signals about how you feel about Christ and crucifixes that would be very clear to more familiarly orthodox Christians might be baffling to someone looking for a totally different set of cues.

My vote is that your Mom in law means well but might be trying to test the waters in an awkward way, where she may be trying to figure out in her own way whether you identify with what the cross means to her in one of the various kinds ways that would be recognizable to her and could be jammed into her model for understanding her religion having now suddenly gotten a very strong weird signal1. Celebrating Christmas with their family, attending church with them, saying grace with them - particularly if Christ is invoked, all could very easily send specific strong signals that you might not know how to recognize. She may be looking to see if you have 'accepted Christ' in a very specific and very non-intuitive though still pretty ecumenical way that may be worth looking into whether it can jive with how you feel about religion - but the conversation you would need to have with her to figure this out might be very confusing and disorienting for both of you. I'd encourage you to try have a conversation focused on asking questions about how she feels about cross bracelets and answering questions about how you feel about cross bracelets the next time you're both together, while avoiding the stunty stuff being suggested in this thread that would convey messages you probably don't wan't to communicate.

1Particularly in more conservative circles being very explicitly welcoming of Jewish identity is also often a thing, and one that is also often mixed with a collection of funny ideas about what Jewish identity means absent any real familiarity with it, that might also be affecting your mother-in-law's perception of what is going on with how you feel about religion. She may not have a totally solid idea of what a Seder is, but may totally be more open to them with more understanding.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:36 AM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I guess what I'm suggesting is up until now she may have been seeing you as 'Christian' just in a weird Jewish way she didn't really need a clear idea of to appreciate and identify with. Then not celebrating Palm Sunday was a very explicitly not 'Christian' thing to do, particularly when replaced with a ceremony she may not be totally clear on, leading to confusion and this awkward attempt to resolve it. Resolving the confusion seems like the thing to do here, syncretically or otherwise, but both are probably still options so long as you are thoughtful enough about it.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:52 AM on March 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

Also, from my experience with Southern Baptist culture, this is almost certainly not intended as a snub or trolling or mocking, if that were the intention there would almost certainly be a lot more obsessive effort involved and zero ambiguity.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:06 AM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I actually had a fairly strong negative response to the idea of being given a crucifix bracelet (tacky or not) around Easter. For many years many Christians were taught how the Jews killed Jesus. There were increased incidents of anti-semitism around the holiday and I (raised Jewish, presently agnostic) was always taught to be especially sensitive around religious discussions with Christians at that time of year (Smile when explaining that matzoh doesn't have blood in it - I mean, if it did, it would taste a heck of a lot less like cardboard). For this reason, I'd see a gift of a crucifix at Easter as deliberately inflammatory. She's doing two things: she's not respecting your religious-ish affiliation and she's giving you something that has a specific cultural meaning.

I'd take note of what she did, have a good talk with your boyfriend about it and realize that she's not a very nice person. It isn't worth trying to fight her. She's trying to piss you off.
posted by sciencegeek at 4:34 AM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

My mother in law tends to give interesting gifts too but she has a heart of gold.

If this woman is pleasant to you in person I would just laugh about it and fuggedabout it. That was a really stupid present but I get the sense this is in camp total clueless and not camp total bitch.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:12 AM on March 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I think it's completely possible that she's being passive aggressive, trying to convert you, and thinks you're going to hell. If I got that bracelet I would probably be livid (and scared) and think of exactly what sciencegeek said above. On the other hand it's also completely possible that she is totally ignorant and truly doesn't get that Jewish atheists don't wear crosses. There is really no end to the bizarre assumptions and misunderstandings that some Christians (and others) have about Jews. Sometimes it's hilarious, sometimes it's dangerous. I don't know her so I can't say where she falls on this spectrum but, while I'd never discount it if I got the sense of anti-Semitism or disrespect, I also try to remember that we're like 2% of the US population (if that), and lots of people simply have no clue.

And if I were you I'd write a short thank-you note that would please her and amuse myself ("Thank you for the bracelet. My goodness, is it ever sparkly!") and then throw the thing away.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 5:13 AM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

It is a weird message but as others have pointed out, she's not the only one sending out weird messages here.

You are Jewish, you gloss over the fact that you're an atheist, and not only that but you go to church and say grace along with the family when you visit. You're not actually being honest about what you believe. She only knows what you've revealed to her through actions and words.

In light of that, and her habit of sending odd gifts, I don't think there's any one way to interpret the meaning of this gift.

Having said that, "the crucifix is the one with the little man on it" as they say? If it's a crucifix and not a cross (which given all the facts would itself be an edge case) then she really *should know better* even if she doesn't.

So this is one of the rare situations where I would be inclined to say nothing, because gifts that are insulting (and I agree she may very well not have intended it as an insult, but still) don't require thanks. If she asks after it you could say, "Oh Bf's Mom, how kind of you to send me this! Unfortunately, being Jewish, it wouldn't be appropriate for me to wear it, but thank you for thinking of me." Or, if the idea of not sending a thank you note is unbearable, you could return the gift with a note saying as much, and perhaps send a (thoughtful, well-chosen) gift to her along with it. Since she may genuinely be unclear as to the state of your belief system, perhaps the latter is the more generous and diplomatic option.

Her response to it will tell you a lot about her original intentions.
posted by tel3path at 5:15 AM on March 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Sounds to me more like her being a little bit of a space case than any kind of malicious intention. I mean, she send you other random crap, so I'm guessing it probably didn't occur to her that you'd be upset by this. I am also guessing that she doesn't actually expect you to wear it. I mean, she doesn't expect you to develop a love of absinthe, right? It's just a stupid bracelet. Throw it in a drawer and don't think about it or you'll give yourself a headache. Assume it's neutral.
posted by windykites at 5:32 AM on March 29, 2013


Husbunny and I are in a similar situation, I'm Jewish/Agnostic/Pagan, he's pretty mad at God these days. My family are Jewish, his Mom is a very religious Pentacostal woman.

My MIL has shown me nothing but love, respects my beliefs (the Jewish one, I'm not dumb enough to push the others) and we exchange gifts we think the other would like.

Your Boyfriend's mom may love you, but she's not getting what you're putting down.

In this instance, while I'm not sure that she meant any harm, you might want to return her gift with a note:

"Dear Julie,

It was so thoughtful of you to send the bracelet. I appreciate your thinnking of me. As a Jewish person it would be really disrespectful to my religion and my parents for me to accept this very kind gift. I'm sure that it would look really pretty on you, and I'd love it if you'd enjoy it for me.

Have a wonderful Easter.


It's not perfect, but you're giving her the benefit of the doubt and giving the item a chance to be enjoyed by someone who can appreciate it.

No reason to be angry or upset, rise above it, but be firm.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:46 AM on March 29, 2013 [12 favorites]

Well you have guesses that run the gamut here, so take your pick. If you really want to know the answer you (or your boyfriend) will have to have an actual discussion with her.

But as long as we're speculating I'll go with she is trying to "save" you. And if you want a glass-half-full way of looking at it, it could be that she is recognizing the seriousness of your relationship with her son (and/or she actually likes you as a person) so she is "caring" the only way her faith tells her she can. Compare this to what she probably considers her only other option - getting her son to break up with you and find a proper Christian girl.

I think before your boyfriend has any talk about you with Mom he has to have a talk about his own current spiritual mindset. Otherwise, her focus is going to be disproportionately on you as the "non-saved" factor of your relationship.
posted by mikepop at 5:50 AM on March 29, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for all your answers so far! Here is a picture of the object in question. (It is a cross, not a crucifix -- thanks to all who pointed out there's a difference. I had no idea!)

Just to clear up a few things: while I appreciate the comments to the effect of "hey, you're sending mixed signals," (you're right, I am, and I am going to give a lot of thought to whether playing happy family/keeping Mom pleased by tagging along to church when I visit during the holidays is more important than sticking to my [dis]beliefs), there is no way she thinks I'm Christian or Christianish Christian-leaning. It is a confirmed source of distress for her that I am not Christian. We have talked about how I'm not Christian. She has told Boyfriend that I'd be perfect if I were Christian.

The more I think about it, the more I agree with those of you who've said she's trying to slowly convert me (eg., during a game of Trivial Pursuit, I correctly identified the 23rd Psalm [is that a mixed signal?] and she said, "Hallelujah, there's hope for her yet!") so I'm going to have to think a lot about how I want to respond to that. Coming right out and saying something to the effect of "Please stop trying to convert me" seems harsh, especially given that she is extremely conflict-averse and does the stereotypically Southern thing of never saying important/uncomfortable things outright.
posted by coppermoss at 5:52 AM on March 29, 2013 [6 favorites]

Jesu, that is one fugly piece of jewelry. It's so ugly it hurts my feelings. Fo-sho send that thing back to her.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:00 AM on March 29, 2013 [12 favorites]

Of course she's trying, very vaguely, or in some way, to convert you. That's a part of their religious practice.

That being said, this isn't that different to how I think a giant bottle of scotch or five pounds of steak or a copy of The Ethical Slut is an ideal hostess gift. That's my culture! And I'm blind to how things like religious sensitivities, or veganism, or monogamy might be household values that I would never even think about.

When you have cuckoo religious relatives and in-laws, you get weird shit. I have religious and conservative family that would think nothing of sending me a Bill O'Reilly book or something equally LOL-worthy. My experience: don't even worry about it. Because this will come up again.

Just wait till you start getting household cleaning gifts, because you're "the lady of the house."
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:11 AM on March 29, 2013 [5 favorites]

Okay, well, if you're definitely sure she's trying to convert you then I still think my script is appropriate.

It is indeed likely to be part of her religious practice to try to convert you. So, in order to accept one another, you may have to accept a paradoxical situation.

If you want to clear the air, you could say something like "I understand why you want to convert me, I have no intention of converting in the foreseeable future, but if I ever do change my mind on this I'll talk to you about it." You can't say fairer than that.
posted by tel3path at 6:22 AM on March 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

p.s. I agree that it's a fugly piece of jewelry, but I bet I could make it work. Send it to me ;-)
posted by tel3path at 6:23 AM on March 29, 2013

Your serious, live-in boyfriend either has your back or he doesn't.

her boyfriend already has her back, as the OP emphatically said.

OP, Don't turn this into an unnecessary battlefield, especially by turning your BF into a weapon. When provoked, de-escalate. Escalate only if you're ready to scorch.
posted by Kruger5 at 6:37 AM on March 29, 2013

If you keep it and send her a thank-you note, you're reinforcing the behavior of giving you gifts that she knows you will find inappropriate.

If it were me, I'd send it back to her with a note that said something like, "I really appreciate the thought, but I'm afraid I'm not comfortable wearing an item that suggests I subscribe to a religion that isn't my own. It's lovely, though, so perhaps you'd like to wear it yourself?"
posted by cranberry_nut at 7:01 AM on March 29, 2013 [5 favorites]

Where I grew up (in Charlotte, NC in the 70s), there just wasn't any real comprehension that people could be anything other than Christian (and Protestant, at that). Everyone I knew was Baptist--we were the weirdos for being Presbyterian. 10 years ago, I (a white guy) married a black woman, and that was far, far less controversial in my old-South family than the fact that she was Jewish. My wife would gamely go to Christmas Eve services with me and Mom, and Mom was obviously very uncomfortable with the fact the my wife wouldn't take communion. Christianity is completely ingrained in the fiber of many Southerners, to the point that, no, your boyfriend's mother probably didn't consider that you wouldn't like a Christian-themed bracelet. She may not have even consciously registered that it was Christian themed. (I recall someone recommending Veggie Tales for my daughter, as it wasn't, in the friend's words, overtly preachy. WHAT?!?)

Still offensive, yes, in its utter cluelessness, but not specifically aimed at offending you, I'd say.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:04 AM on March 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh, and I'd deal with it by not sending a thank-you note, not wearing it, not mentioning it. Maybe she'll get the hint, maybe not.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:05 AM on March 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

Here are a couple of thoughts about "the long game" that maybe you'll find helpful.

IF you (fortunately) haven't spent a lot of time around outreach-minded fundamentalists, i.e., people who really wish you would accept Jesus NOW, then it is possible that you haven't seen their various kinds.

(1) Some people, and they skew on the young or recently born-again side, will be aggressive and hostile about it, bringing it up in a nasty way every.single.time.

(2) Some people ("intellectuals," for lack of a better quick label) accept your differences but continue to pray (not in front of you) for a change of heart.

(3) Some people ("the loyal opposition") really do wish you would convert, genuinely feel bad that you haven't, mention it from time to time, but basically act with lovingkindness toward you.

From what you describe here, Mom seems a lot more like Camp 3 than Camp 1. This wouldn't make KIDS any easier. But you're a long way from that yet.

Outside of the coasts, I haven't met too many people who are hip to this reasoned conversation, respectful of differences thing. So MAYBE you can do that, but don't be disappointed if it doesn't work.

A long-term member of Camp 3 is not the worst thing to have in your family. To paraphrase Johnny Cash, seriously, "My [in-laws] love me, but they don't understand."
posted by skbw at 7:19 AM on March 29, 2013

Here is a picture of the object in question.

Oh, yeah. That is totally "Hey, this is cute" without thinking "Oh, that's a cross." Put it away and never refer to it; if she asks, just say, "Eh, not really my style."
posted by Etrigan at 7:21 AM on March 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Actually that bracelet looks kinda gothy to I wouldnt worry about it.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:34 AM on March 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

This will always be a problem. Telling her that you will never convert will cause tension and strife but it won't fix the problem. Your problem is twofold:

1. Incompatible belief structures - She does not understand life as a non-Christian. It literally does not compute for her. This is one of the most - if not The Most - important things in the world to her. She is afraid you will to to Hell. She is afraid her son will go to Hell. If you get married and have kids, they might never find Jesus and they, too, will go to Hell. This fear is visceral and real, and it isn't going to go away by discussing it or ignoring it or by doing anything but converting. I'm not suggesting you convert, but this is a problem with only one true solution.

2. Your boyfriend (I am sorry I called him your husband in a previous comment) has chosen to lie to his mom about his identity and yours in order to protect his mom and his relationship with her. Personally, I understand his choice. That would not make it any easier to go along with it if I were his girlfriend.

This is going to be a problem throughout the lifespan of your relationship with this man. Just something to think about.
posted by k8lin at 7:44 AM on March 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: On seeing the cross in question -- yeah, that's from the trendy $4 accessories bin at Forever 21 or the like. This is NOT an attempted conversion, just a clueless southern Christian deeply not understanding that the cross can be emotionally and culturally charged for a lot of people.

Like someone upthread said, wait till you start getting bibles and more expensive religious jewelry before you start looking for conversion attempts.

The one to watch for is the 14 carat gold cross pendant, by the way. That's what you give your future daughter in law who OF COURSE plans to convert and have a big church wedding. Right? Right? Amirite?
posted by Sara C. at 7:59 AM on March 29, 2013 [8 favorites]

The one to watch for is the 14 carat gold cross pendant, by the way. That's what you give your future daughter in law who OF COURSE plans to convert and have a big church wedding. Right? Right? Amirite?

Oh yes this is perfect. 100% accurate.

Agreed that she's not using this to convert you, probably just thought it was a nice trinket that would appeal and didn't even realize the cross would be at all offensive to you.

That said, she definitely has converting you in mind in the long game, in my opinion.
posted by sweetkid at 8:32 AM on March 29, 2013

Halloween dishtowels, an absinthe spoon, back issues of National Geographic

Just wanted to say that I'd be so excited to get these sorts of randomish gifts from an in-law. So much fun. If I were you, I would assume the best - that she thought it was cute, picked it up on a bit of a whim and sent it to you to enjoy.
posted by webwench at 9:52 AM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

The one to watch for is the 14 carat gold cross pendant, by the way. That's what you give your future daughter in law who OF COURSE plans to convert and have a big church wedding. Right? Right? Amirite?

Which is exactly why I recommend being honest now and not accepting a token, test religious gift. "Thank you and as pretty as it is I couldn't possibly wear it in good faith [haha] because as you know I'm not Christian. Have a wonderful Easter."
posted by headnsouth at 10:11 AM on March 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Mod note: UU derail curtailed, OP is able to assess that option for herself. Please don't debate other answerers; thanks.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 11:00 AM on March 29, 2013

Best answer: As a Jew*, I am very offended for you. I am tempted to call up my Jewish mother and get her offended for you, too. I was raised to be very wary of conversion attempts, because some are quite insidious--Jews for Jesus, hey-o!--and because of attitudes toward proselytizing within Judaism itself (which is no way, no how). I would say that the respect you've shown the dominant religion of your boyfriend's family goes above and beyond, and it's pretty ugly that you haven't been shown the same respect.

I would send the note that RuthlessBunny suggests. I also think it's time for your boyfriend to take a stand for you and say, "Mom, that wasn't cool."

Like someone upthread said, wait till you start getting bibles and more expensive religious jewelry before you start looking for conversion attempts.

Word. A Wiccan friend received a "Family Values edition" white bible as a wedding gift from her mother-in-law and then was accused of being insensitive when the mother was offended she wasn't more pleased about it.

Which is why it's important to take a stand now, before it gets any worse.

*I am an agnostiJew of matrilineal descent and I call myself a Jew because it's my strongest cultural identifier. All of reform Judaism is cool with both of us sitting under the Jewish umbrella, and you could sit at my seder table any time, friend. Please, no more worrying about being a real Jew or not.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:09 AM on March 29, 2013 [10 favorites]

Were you two at a "seriously dating" stage I'd say your response should be somewhere along the lines of:
"Gee thanks!" and smiles sunshine and never bring it up again. Vent to boyfriend.
Since you two are serious and living together, you two should probably:
Say thank you, and have your guy bring it up. Now or in the near future is the time to make it known that you will not and will never convert. This is his job to get his family to play nice and accept you, or to at least run interference for you.
Should your guy and you decide to get married:
You two need to double down on the "never ever converting" and probably "by the way your son is an atheist too". Make it clear you're a unified front on this.
Should your guy start to plan to have kids:
BTW, we're still atheists and won't be raising our kids religiously Christian
posted by fontophilic at 12:02 PM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

have your guy bring it up

I think this is a good idea. Having dated a lot of non-Christian people, I've made a habit of running interference in situations like this. Especially where, most likely, there's a simple cultural miscommunication at issue and not malicious intent.

I'd recommend having your boyfriend have a conversation with his mom about the appropriateness of cross-themed jewelry as a gift for someone who isn't Christian. I wouldn't have him frame it as anything more dramatic or ill-intentioned than that. Just a heads up. If mom gets offended and insists that it is her RIGHT to give cross jewelry and HOW DARE Coppermoss PULL THE ANTISEMITE CARD, then yeah, maybe a bigger conversation is in order. But for now "this was a faux pas, please don't do it anymore" is probably all he needs to say.
posted by Sara C. at 12:26 PM on March 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

So weird and offensive! But I think the smartest approach is to never acknowledge it (let alone wear it).
posted by latkes at 12:29 PM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

If my über-Christian, proselytizing grandmother sent me—an agnostic, raised atheist, but technically Jewish, and married in a Jewish ceremony to a Jewish man—this, I would put it in the box in my closet with all the other weird things she's sent me and leave it at that. I would not ever wear it. I suggest you start a box.
posted by limeonaire at 4:17 PM on March 29, 2013

. If I'm not completely over-reacting, how do I respond? My etiquette instincts are screaming that I have to write a thank-you note.

Honey, MILs are weird. Mine was fabulous but I got clothing I would never wear in sizes I am not - I took this as a passive aggressive thing because my MIL was both thin and vain, and I am neither of those. Whatever; she was actually a fantastic person and in the interest of good relations (which are worth their weight in gold, btw) I just sucked it up. Do NOT make this the hill you choose to die on, you know?

Dear MIL:

Thanks so much for the unexpected gift of the bracelet - it was such a treat to come home from work and find a waiting package to open! I love the sparkles and I'm sure I'll find the perfect occasion to wear it.


The occasion will obviously be Halloween but there is no need to say that.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:23 PM on March 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Bracelet goes to a charity shop, for a secular charity if possible. Turn the mother's faux pas into 50 cents worth of good karma for someone else.

I wouldn't send a note; perhaps send some Easter chocolates via the boyfriend when he goes.

(Her, subtextually: "Here, have a sparkly torture implement on which your ancestors may possibly have gotten our messiah killed."

You, subtextually: "Happy Zombie Jesus Day; have some chocolate fertility symbols.")
posted by Pallas Athena at 5:14 PM on March 29, 2013 [6 favorites]

just throw it out, and if she ever asks about it, tell the truth: "that thing? oh, god, it was so ugly i threw it out."
posted by cupcake1337 at 5:18 PM on March 29, 2013

I would send the note that RuthlessBunny suggests. I also think it's time for your boyfriend to take a stand for you and say, "Mom, that wasn't cool."

I agree with this. Honestly, I am surprised that there are so many responses here telling you to just ignore it. If a member of my family did something like this to my boyfriend (who is Jewish), that person would get an earful about why this is offensive and disrespectful and not ok.

I also don't think you're necessarily sending mixed messages by attending church or celebrating holidays (saying grace is maybe a bit much). I have attended shul with my boyfriend and his family and they understand that I'm there because a) learning about other traditions and cultures is interesting and b) I want to share in parts of my boyfriend's life that are important to him (I get that it's not a perfect analogy since Jews aren't so much into converting people, but still). You've shown a willingness to respect and appreciate her faith and she isn't returning the favor. Her ignorance may explain her behavior, but it doesn't excuse it, and I think your boyfriend should explicitly tell her to cut it out.
posted by naoko at 5:57 PM on March 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

Honestly, I am surprised that there are so many responses here telling you to just ignore it.

Probably a cultural thing? I didn't think about it much before posting, but even though I was raised atheist and did encounter conversion attempts, social isolation, and reactions ranging from could care less to confusion to discomfort to blank incomprehension to fear, I never had to deal with any crap about "your people killed our guy!" And while I definitely was raised with a belief in evangelising being obnoxious or rude, that's perhaps a bit different from being raised with a belief that evangelising is morally wrong under the weight of world view with thousands of years of tradition. So for me, the religious gifts are on a par with all the presents that I got from my grandmother over the years trying to feminise me, and fall into the category of "yep, there's definitely a problem with that, but I love my mother and she loves her mother and the relationship between the two of them is difficult enough already, so I'll choose my battles elsewhere."

Perhaps it would be a good idea however for coppermoss' boyfriend to point out to his mother that there is a particular history of Jewish-Christian interactions that makes her religious gifts particularly poorly considered. I'm of the opinion that, if anyone were to bring the topic up, it's better if he does. First, coppermoss wouldn't even know or be interacting with this woman if it weren't for the fact that she's an important person in his life. It was my mother, for example, who had any conversations with her family about how subtle conversion attempts, religious gifts, my uncle baptising my brother and I in his kitchen sink, etc. were not acceptable. Second, tactically, a gentle heads up from him might be more effective at getting his mother to change her gift selections without getting defensive about it.

I was surprised that there have been so many responses saying coppermoss has been sending mixed messages. Despite the above, on the few occasions when my brother or I were staying with our grandparents over a weekend, we were expected to go to church with them, though just to sit there quietly and politely; and I do the polite participation in grace by holding hands and looking down at the table at meals with folks who do that. I don't think that's unreasonable when you're in someone else's home, and if the boyfriend's mother is somehow misinterpreting coppermoss' politeness in doing so, that's the mother's issue and I don't think coppermoss should in any way feel responsible if boyfriend's mother has a non-standard interpretation of such simple acts of politeness.

(I never know if I should address these responses in the second person, directly to the question asker or use the third person like in posts on the blue.)
posted by eviemath at 7:40 PM on March 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

I typed my answer earlier, and deleted it. Since then, you have posted an image of the bracelet, and favorited an answer which is in concord with the tone of your original question. Obviously, this is what you feel, and anyone should be honest to her feelings, at least privately.

But I do feel a need to tell you my story. I have a very similar background to yours, though, being a European, I identify strongly and proudly as an atheist - since that is what I am. Also I am a lot older than you, and things have changed in many ways.
However, for 15 years, including 10 years of marriage, I was with a German man whose parents were former Hitler Jugend and believing Protestants. Crazy, in my book and in his. Today, I am absolutely certain that falling in love with me and marrying me was part of his feud with all that was wrong with his parents. He hated their past and their unresolved dealing with that past. It was his choice, not mine, that our child has a distinctly Jewish name. The parents said and did offensive stuff way beyond any decency all the time. (As in: "we really like Arabs, because most of them understand the problem with the Jews" - really, at a family gathering). But strangely, for all those years, I was the one who kept his relationship with those parents going.

Now, I feel it is important for people to have relations. If you do, you can at some point in life forgive and forget whatever was done wrong. If you are not speaking, there is nothing you can do. One day after we were married, I had a huge fight with his father over those insane things he said. Another wonderful day, his father and I spent a whole day together alone, doing stuff we both loved, and getting behind the huge grief and confusion he felt over the loss of his childhood home (now in Poland), and the even greater loss of his son, my husband. Because his son hated him.

My mother-in-law was a very lively woman, and always trying to have fun and make people feel good, even if she was completely clueless about my culture and what that might implicate. Yes, we were dragged off to church at Christmas, and yes, she noticed I didn't participate. We also went to a Chinese restaurant on Christmas day, because she'd read that is the Jewish way. (Not in my family). She sent me crazy gifts all the time, some offensive, some just ugly. That was her way. She'd have loved if I had converted to their type of Christianity, and become more like them, but to be honest, I think the most important thing for her was my love and respect, and she had no idea how to achieve that.

After seeing the actual bracelet, my sense is that the worst offense is its ugliness. But I can see where that is coming from. She is probably my age, and she really wants to communicate with you, but she has no idea how. Heck, I can't figure out how to by gifts for my own children. The bracelet is a Southern Baptist version of "cool" and "urban". The cross is not visible in any sense to her mind.
posted by mumimor at 2:56 PM on March 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

i think your bf needs to 'fess up to mom that he is no longer a believer in jesus. she probably still thinks he's in the fold and is possibly worried that you by being jewish and hosting a seder are going to draw him away from the christian faith. he needs to tell her this has already happened and it was long before you came in the picture so you don't get cast as the bad guy here. then, he can tell her about you--maybe a little later so she can recover and call the prayer hotline for immediate prayers for salvation for him--not being a believer either. she can then call the hotline back and add you to the salvation prayer list. yes, i'm a snarky christian.

as for the bracelet i'd just throw it in the goodwill box and not mention it. she's not trying to piss you off with it but rather to convert you.
posted by wildflower at 1:34 AM on March 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

on preview i see some are saying this is just a southern thing to give cross jewelry. i still don't think that is it because this was given to you directly after her hearing about the seder and skipping palm sunday and right before easter. she's definitely trying to convert you imo but just doesn't realize giving a jew a cross is not a swift move. my apologies on behalf of insensitive christians.
posted by wildflower at 2:14 AM on March 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you again for all your responses! Just thought I'd pop in and let you know I opted to split the difference and sent a breezy, chatty thank-you e-mail in which I thanked her for thinking of me and dropped a couple of Passover references to make myself feel better gently remind her that I'm Not Christian.

For now, I am going to leave it up to Boyfriend to decide if he wants to talk to her about it, but if the pattern should continue in the future, I will insist that he go to bat for me.
posted by coppermoss at 1:56 PM on March 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

It sounds like you took the right tack.

There are some people who are sincere when sharing gifts/cards that are from their faith but not yours; a former boyfriend once invited me to his family Seder, and it was made clear to his mother that I Was Not Jewish; she welcomed me warmly, and since I'm still on good terms with her son, she's occasionally sent me Passover cards.

But I know she means well, and I know she always accepted the fact that I was a different faith. In your case, though, since you say that your boyfriend's mom was a little miffed that he was doing a Seder with you and yet not going to church, I'd insist that this does sound a bit passive-aggressive on her part; and yet, I agree that it's his place to do most of the speaking to her. Your response sounds spot-on, though (polite and gracious, yet tactful).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:17 PM on March 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

That sounds like an excellent solution. If this is indeed a nasty thing rather than a clueless thing, clearer less messy battles worth fighting will no doubt present themselves soon enough.
posted by Blasdelb at 1:56 PM on April 1, 2013

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