"Are you from Russia?"
I was minding my own business, working on a presentation for a critical design review I coming up tomorrow, examining graphical circuit outputs, while sitting at a booth. The question came out of nowhere, and I didn't realize he was talking to me. Then he repeated it, sort of stamping his foot to get my attention.
"Are you from Russia?"
Rather confused at such a weird question (although, by now it shouldn't be weird anymore), I stammered, "Excuse me?"
And he asks it again, slowly, because I'm quite possibly Russian and maybe I'm having difficulty understanding him. "Are--you--Russian?"
By this time I'm giving him a rather puzzled look, curious at how this conversation is bound to turn out. "No," I reply simply, without going into details. He is standing about 10 ft away--too far for me to engage in easy discussion.
He starts making motions around his head, "But you're wearing your scarf..." and then it strikes him, "Are you from B---..." He looks at his wife. "What's the name of that place that starts with a B?" I try to contain my laughter while he again looks at me and asks very slowly "Balkans? Are you from somewhere in the Balkans?"
"No," I reply again. I'm amused, not annoyed. He explains, while over-exaggerating his gestures, imitating tying something around his head--that the way I'm wearing my scarf looks very nice. ("Thanks.") But he wants to know how I learned how to tie it that way, since I'm not Eastern European.
I'm baffled, as if it is something complicated. I mean, I've had to show other ladies how to tie an oblong wrap-around scarf, but this is just a square piece, folded into a triangle, wrapped around my head, pinned under my chin, with the front pieces just sort of where ever they fall. Perhaps it was the color or style (olive and dark green with paisleys) that suggested to him I was Russian. I can't say, I've never been to Russia and don't know what he based his assumption on.
But clearly "American convert to Islam" wasn't the first thing he thought of! So I told him it was quite simple, I just pinned the fabric under my chin. That seemed to satisfy him--he left me alone after that.
Now the weird thing is that I haven't been able to find any Eastern European hijabs styled the way I was wearing mine. So what he was really going on about... I have no idea. I should have said, "No, sir, I am a Muslim convert! Would you like to learn about Islam?" But no. I'm a chicken. Opportunity lost.