My parents were down last evening for a family birthday party, and so stayed over at my place instead of a late drive home. As usual when they stay over, we went to the local Cora’s for breakfast (Mom really likes it).

Just before we left my apartment, I mentioned to Mom that it was my cousin’s husband’s 50th birthday today, and mused about whether The Significance Of The Date had faded somewhat in the last nine years. Then we got into a peripheral discussion, as we often do, of whose birthdays the the family fall when, and was Grandpa’s September 5th or 6th…?

As we were walking into the restaurant, a family of Middle Eastern extraction, and Muslim — father, mother, baby — were arriving just in front of us. The woman was wearing both a hijab and niqab.

While I’ve seen plenty of Muslim students around town over the years wearing the hijab, the number of women I’ve seen in town wearing more formal dress has certainly increased in the last couple of years. Not really surprising; we have a fair number of immigrants here.

I notice the attire, certainly, but I am also aware of the religious and cultural intent of it, and am probably more comfortable with the choice to cover up extensively than the choice to expose acres of flesh and/or extreme body modifications. My parents, on the other hand, have long lived in a rural area where multiculturalism is, to put it mildly, not pervasive. (They wouldn’t have dealt well with exposed flesh and body mods, either, for the record…)

My parents didn’t get it, and couldn’t understand why she was covered up like that, with only her eyes showing. How would she eat or drink? Did she take it off during breakfast? I said I was sure she was used to managing just fine, and no, she would not take the niqab off in public.

To be sure, my parents didn’t approve, though their reaction was at least quiet, and was less direct than Dad’s comments (blessedly sotto voce) last time we went for breakfast, when we saw two women pushing strollers, both swathed head to toe in black — jilbab, hijab, and niqab, again — only their eyes and hands visible.

While I was wondering how hot you’d get (it was a very bright summer day), Dad implied something along the lines of how wouldn’t you be scared of people like that. Can’t even see who’s under there. Really? Two young women pushing babies in strollers? I didn’t bother pointing out how they were out in public unaccompanied.

This morning over my coffee, I thought about our own family, and the many members of which who grow beards or wear head coverings and plain, full-length clothes (homemade!) Who have “unusual” culture, religion, and traditions and special government status due to their beliefs. Who eschew electric lighting and automobiles, speak a different language, manage their own finances and insurance, pay for medical treatment, and otherwise keep themselves separate from much of The World. Does it get noted if they buy large lots of fertilizer for their farms?

What are they thinking? How would you not be scared of people like that?