I had lunch at a little French crepe shop in the retail strip at the foot of my apartment. Ham and two eggs with emmenthal, and the batter is whole wheat, I think. It came with a very light mustard sauce that complimented the flavour of the crepe, reminding you that some people understand food. Delicious. Furthermore, this place has a chessboard with no missing pieces, books to read, and an authentic French name, so long and French that I couldn’t decipher what it meant with my grade 9 vocabulary.

Being inside, my senses take on a veil of Frenchness. Of course the proprietor-chef is French. But that woman and her daughter, both of them with black hair and those eyes like hard pieces of chocolate– so French! Good to see them patronizing the establishment of their countrywoman. And this man, shaved head, pursed lips and a thin splinter of a nose– so French! His stubble is rough but contained to well-delineated areas of his face, as though he shaved only the patches that were unfashionable.

Maybe he’s German. Maybe this woman and her child are Danish. Or like me, Canadian. Why does my mind like to jump to these conclusions, apply assumptions like plaster in which to cast the strangers in my life? Is it for entertainment? Power? Simple practicality? Am I alone in this odd behaviour? Are these people stealing sidelong glances in my direction, thinking, “Look at that mullet! Why don’t the French get haircuts?!? Perhaps no one is spending a moment to speculate about my heritage. Or better yet, maybe that man looks up between bites and wonders, “What is that Jew doing in a crepe shop?”

Of course I’m not actually Jewish. But apparently, it’s the only thing people can come up with when pressed to place my appearance. Middle Eastern, of some variety anyhow. When I realized this, in my twenties, I was shocked; I’m one quarter Armenian and three fourths French-English mutt, yet the least of my blood makes the most of my face, and I had no idea. Even worse, there is no arguing the point with people once they hear my name is “Joshua.”

I’ll never forget this girl I used to work with who made a passing reference to the fact that I was Jewish.

“I’m not Jewish,” I corrected her, mildly surprised.

She frowned. “Yes you are.”

“No,” I laughed, “I’m not.”

“Of course you are,” she said, sounding frustrated.

“Why?” I asked.

This brought no response. So I explained my background and the fact that my parents just liked my name. She looked at me skeptically. I had told her who I was– me, the person who knows me best– but she remained unconvinced.

Ah, but she was Italian. You know how they are.

The moral of this story: Be aware of the veil.

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