Monday, April 26, 2010


Zelig, you may recall, is the title of a 1983 Woody Allen film about one Leonard Zelig, a “human chameleon” who had no identity of his own, but who would take on the characteristics of the people around him.

I’m a little like that. Not quite the same as the Zelig of the eponymous movie, my talent is a sort of Zelig-like ability to be mistaken for a member of whatever ethnic group I find myself among.

If I’m in a crowd of Italians, everyone assumes I’m Italian.

When I am amongst Greeks, everyone thinks I’m Greek.

With Turks, I am Turkish. Russians, Russian. Albanians, Albanian. I can pass... until I open my mouth, of course.

There are exceptions. Nobody ever thinks I am Scottish, Irish, White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, or Asian. (Well, actually, someone once thought I was Asian. But that person was either drunk or terminally stupid.)

Perhaps the strangest instance of my Zelig-osity took place at a party She Who Must Be Obeyed and I attended in Houston some fifteen years ago. Our neighbor across the street was the Indian consul, and one evening he and his wife decided to do some Major Entertaining. The guest list included representatives from pretty much every diplomatic mission in Houston, a gaggle of consular officials from every continent - plus a handful of The Locals sprinkled in. We, along with a few of our other neighbors, served as The Locals.

As I wandered through the house with SWMBO, drink and tandoori chicken drumstick in hand, Zelig moments started taking place at regular intervals. People were genuinely surprised to find out that I was a “mere” neighbor rather than an ambassador from some exotic foreign locale. (Ireland excepted.) Things got even stranger, however...

There was a small group of bearded men wearing white robes and headcoverings sitting together in one corner of one room. When they saw me, the immediately motioned me over and introduced themselves as the Iranian consular mission. Possibly owing to the beard I wore at the time, they were absolutely convinced that I was Iranian. When I politely explained that, no, I was not, at first they didn’t believe me.

“You must be Iranian.”

“No, no - really, I’m not. Trust me on this one.”

And when they finally gave up and invited me to visit their country one day, I said I would be honored to do so.

Under my breath, I added, “Ven di Moshiach kimmt (when the Messiah comes).”

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