I'm not usually one to broadcast my religion as I travel, but around Christmas time, as people continuously asked me how I celebrate the holiday, I began to tell them I was Jewish.
To date, every single person to whom I have told I am Jewish has responded with the same thing: ” You're so smart!”? Um, thanks? You've probably never met a Jew before, where is that stereotype coming from?
Well, it turns out that in this town, it's coming from the geography class where the students are taught that Ashkenazi Jews have the highest IQs of any minzu, or ethnic group. While that doesn't explain where the stereotype comes from in other cities, I have to assume it's similar.
Sometimes reactions have also involved follow-ups. Most of the time, it's simply that we're really good at business. Ok, that stereotype is worldwide, I get where that came from. Others have been less founded in reality, or more hilarious.
A coworker, for example, once petted my arm for awhile and asked me to teach her. She didn't specify what I should teach her, but seemed to hope that any teaching coming from my minzu would be particularly awesome.
One person, upon hearing that I was Jewish, paused, squinted at me, and then said, ” Well, why aren't you black?”? The person next to her then told her she was an idiot, Jews aren't black, so that probably isn't a commonly held misconception, but it does highlight that these stereotypes are based not on actually having met any Jews.
And, perhaps my favorite moment came when I actually asked why people think Jews are so smart. We were near computers, so this friend typed into BaiDu, the most popular search Engine in China, ” Which ethnic group is smartest?”?– top hit? Jews. Nice. If the internet confirms it, it must be true.
As I mentioned, this came up most around Christmas, as people really couldn't figure out why I don't celebrate the holiday. People usually looked perplexed and then asked, ” Why don't you have a New Year?”?– turns out there's a common misconception that because Christmas is the biggest holiday in the US, that it's also our New Year, similar to the Chinese New Year. It took me awhile, but I finally figured out the confusion.
At least in this town, not a single person knew that Christmas was related to the birth of Christ. Old Man Christmas (the literal translation for Santa Clause in Chinese) was known, presents were known, and many in this town even ” celebrated”? Christmas (giving gifts and eating a lot), but no one knew about the religious aspects. It's funny what we export, eh?
Once I set some folks straight, I told them my own Christmas tradition involved eating Chinese food. Now that was well-received, and many joined in my festivities.
Laura is currently working at a microfinance bank in rural Sichuan, China. She'll be traveling around China this spring and then sailing on Semester at Sea around the Mediterranean this summer. Not surprisingly, she studied international relations in college, graduating from Wesleyan University in 2008. As a self-proclaimed “Cheapion,” or champion of cheap, all of these travels will be done on a tight budget.