History of Nursing in Pacific Canada

The Gentle Art of Being a Foreigner Johns, Ethel 1933

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61
 THE GENTLE ART OF BEING A FOREIGNER
I was employed by a body which, while essentially American is
nevertheless truly international in its scope, - the Rockefeller
Foundation^
In two only of the countries in which I worked was English the
official language*  In the others my complete ignorance of Hungarian, Roumanian, Croat and Polish was decidedly embarrassing*
In France, Belgium and Austria my slender stock of French and
German, by grace of my courteous and patient listeners, tided me
over*  In the Irish Free State, though the official language is
Erse there are still plenty of kindly folk who speak English -
with an Irish accent of course*
It was borne in upon me with considerable force what it feels like
to be a foreigner, ignorant of the language, of the customs, of the
character and temperament of the people with whom one must nevertheless work and live for a time*  Believe me it is a salutary if somewhat painful experience•  If I may venture to say so it is an experience which any official who has to do with immigrants in any
country should undergo before he or she is considered fit for his
job*
Before I went overseas, during the time that I was superintendent of
the Children*s Hospital in Winnipeg, I had had to deal with the strangers within our gates *  You have only to walk into your own hospital
here in Regina any busy morning to see just such a group*    The
foreigners, you know.  All kinds of them, but mostly from Central
Europe brought their youngsters not only to the hospital but to the
out patients1 and social service departments*
 What a good thing it would have been for me and for those strangers
if only that chastening experience of "being a foreigner11 had come
to me before instead of after*  It was my job to deal with those
men women and children few of whom had been in the country very long
or spoke English fluently, though they might and often did, speak
three other languages*
As it was, all our medical and nursing staff leaned rather heavily
on a folish fireman down in the basement who had the gift of tongues
and who was dragged away from his fire-box far too often to suit our
stern Yorkshire engineer*  Even the fireman1s linguistic resources .
were not always adequate to the occasion*  I well remember his vain
efforts, made in several dialects to assure a highly temperamental
lady of doubtful national origin that we had no intention of cutting
off her little boy*s broken leg because we had neatly encased it in
a plaster cast*  He tried all he had without effect*  Finally I
said to him wIs she a Hungarian do you think?n  Whereupon the harassed man wiped the perspiration from his brow and said - ftNo,mafam,
I think she is a damfool*1 - and went back to his fire shovel in despair*
Since then I have changed places«  I have been that temperamental
lady - not it is true under the strain of personal grief and anxiety
that she was - but I know how she felt*  When, for example, one has
to change trains in the middle of the night on the Polish-Czecho
Slovakian frontier at a place called Deczidza, run the gauntlet of
custom officers, frontier police with clashing swords, and tall feathers in their hats, porters with mustaches which would do credit to
bandits*  To find oneself helpless^ armed only with a few stock
phrases written out in three languages which I could not read,
 explaining that I was a pilgrim and a stranger and, though probably
a "damfool11, really quite harmless*
I would like to acknowledge here my deep appreciation of the kindness, patience and courtesy with which I was treatede  Nobody tried
to make me understand a foreign language by shouting it at me.      If,
in Central Europe, there are equivalents for our atrocious terms
"wop11, "dago" and "hankie" I did not hear them*  In peasant homes
in Hungary, in Roumania and in Yugoslavia I have been welcomed with
native dignity and courtesy because I was a foreigner, not in spite
of it*
In short I have been made to blush for my earlier failure to understand the psychology of people who must adjust themselves to a new
environment, a foreign language, a different climate, strange food
and stranger manners and customs*  Yet any country which accepts
and even encourages immigration on a large scale exacts just that*
That the foreigner adjust and adjust quickly*  That on the face of
it is a reasonable and just demand*  In practice however it is sometimes well to temper justice with mercye
The process of adjustment is not easy*  There may be some in this
room who know how hard it can be, either from their own experience
or from that of others with whom their work brings them in contact*
Nationality, love of onefs own soil are subtle things.  Their roots
go deep*  !,01d, very old are we menrf even when we live in a new
country*
Speaking of new countries, Canadians travelling in Central Europe
are always a little surprised to hear Poles, Yugoslavs and Roumanians speak of their land as "new countries"*  Yet that is just
what they are«  The changes resulting from the war, the sense of
victory, have brought about a renaissance, a re-birth of national
 pride and energy which has sent a flood of new sap circulating
through every branch of those old trees, Poland, Serbia, Roumanian
They feel close in spijbit to Canada and the Canadians.      They are
new countries, young nations•
What about the defeated countries?  We know well enough in Canada
how strong the bond was which held the Empire together during the
dark days of the war*  Such ties do not loosen even in defeat•
For a good part of the time I was overseas I worked and lived in a
fair sized country town, Debrecen in Hungary, not far from the Roumanian border*  It has a University and there is a good deal of
interest in outdoor sport•.
One day in October I happened to be walking near the war memorial
statue*  A memorial to defeated men*  Two figures - one showing
the Hungarian soldier of Kossuth's time, - the other the Hungarian
soldier of the Great war*  Here they stand with bowed heads, on a
little square of grass shadowed by great trees*  ©n the pedestal
there is no inscription - simply the dates 1914 - 1918*  All of a
sudden I heard military music and along came the regimental band -
a fat pony gay with garlands, drawing the drum*  A procession
followed*  Everybody grouped around the statue*  A row of slim
lads shivering a little in their running shorts drew up smartly in
line before an officer.  A speech was made, a silver trophy cup
was handed to one of the young athletes*  He took it and gravely
raised it high towards the stone soldiers, defeated men, looking
down at him*  As he did so his companions laid a great wreath of
autumn flowers at the foot of the statue.  A band of crepe stretched across the wreath had the word Trianon on it.  You will remember that it was the treaty of Trianon which took away from Hungary
more than a third of her former territory•  Land which had been hers
for a thousand years *  After a moment or two of silence the band
 struck up a wild gay Hungarian march and everybody marched briskly
awaye  The boys very proud with their silver trophy*
Nothing was left in the green square but the soldiers in stone, looking down at the mourning wreath*  Did I say nothing?  Yes there
was something*  The spirit of an old nation proud in defeat, renewing itself in an unconquerable youth.
Why am I telling you these things? To re-open old war wounds now
healing fast?  No - but because people are coming to Canada from
all these countries*  From the victors, from the vanquished* They
all look upon this country as a land of promise - and it is that*
They do not understand our ways but neither do we always take the
trouble to understand theirs*  There is the bar of language, there
is the difference in religion, there is the failure to comprehend,
on both sides*  They bring us their art, their music, the very
things we need but it Is only lately that we have been willing to
look at what they have to offer*  It is a rich gift - that peasant
culture*  Just as honorable is their pride in and love of their
own land*
Nothing so heartened me overseas as when I read of the national
festivals now being held from time to time in the Canadian West*
A splendid beginning has been made.  That is real Canadianization.
There is no danger that such things will Balkan!ze Canada.  No
thinking man or woman wants to perpetuate old feuds or to encourage
a Babel of languages in this country.  Two official languages in
any country are enough - although Switzerland has three and gets
along very nicely in spite of it.
Canadians are not upset by native costume when it takes the form of
a Scotch kilt nor affronted by a homesick Welshman who sings Ar hyd
y nos.  They are no worse Canadians becuase they hark back to their
 beginnings once in a while.  Neither is a Pole, a Roumanian, a
German, when he sings of "old, far off, unhappy things and battles
long ago"*  It does not mean that he is not a good peaceable
Canadian citizen and it certainly does not mean that he doesn't
know that he is better off in the country of his adoption than he
was at home.  If a few common sense third generation Canadians are
stimulated by these strange lyrics to struggle with a foreign tongue
and to go oversees and look at the places young Canada is coming
from so much the better*  Not as a condescending tourist, but as
someone who must do his daily job and at the same time cultivate
the gentle art of being a foreigner•
If I dared I would ask you to deal patiently even with those strangest foreigners of all - we English.
One of my American colleagues oversees always groaned when his job
took him to England*  His usual stamping ground was Macedonia
where he really felt himself at home.  He liked the Macedonians
very much*  One day I found him plunged in gloom, getting ready
to cross the English Channel*  Fresh from a horrid struggle with
French irregular verbs I tried to comfort him by saying - "well -
anyway - you can speak your own language in England"*  "No I can't",
he said gloomily, "they speak nothing but English".  "You expect them
to understand you and they don't, - I'm an American you know"*
Just at that time the disastrous experiment of bringing over large
numbers of harvesters to this country was getting a good deal of
publicity in the English press*  It made anyone who, like myself,
is English by birth and Canadian by adoption, feel a bit sick.  One
wonders whether there may not be a bar of the common tongue*  It Is
not always a bond*  "Yo\i expect them to understand you and they don't"*
Perhaps both Canadian and English have to learn the gentle art of
being a foreigner - and in a hard school too*  Perhaps they have to
 learn to speak each other's language with mutual forbearance and
understanding*
What can Canadian women do to foster this mutual understanding
between the various national groups?  A very great deal*  They
can encourage their children to learn and to speak at least one
foreign language, preferably French or German since these are commonly the "second language" of most European countries*  When I say
speak a language I mean talk coherently In it, understand what people round about you are saying.  A different thing to the usual
"pen of my aunt" and "dog of the gardenSbkp.
Most people plan to go to Europe sooner or later.  Why not leave
the beaten path and take a look at the countries young Canada is
coming from?  Travel in Poland, in Yugoslavia, in Austria, is
pleasant and, if you speak a little German, not unduly expensive*
You will not feel lonely.  There are parts of Poland so much like
the Saskatchewan prairie that one expects to see a grain elevator
or a Ford car at any moment.  The Hungarian Puzta, some of it, is
very like the Brandon hills except that men and women have been
born, have lived and have died there for a thousand years*  Does
that fact affect the quality of a landscape?  I venture to say
that Is does*  But go and see for yourselves.
Canadian women take an active part in politics.  They might do
worse thajf study immigration policy.  Indeed they are doing so
already.  For all I know you may have a study group in Regina like
that in Winnipeg which has done some clear constructive thinking
along these lines.  May I make a suggestion - invite a few foreigners
to join such a group.  You can't study people from the outside.
Continue above all with the good work of enco\iraging the foreign
groups to self expression in their native arts, in music and in
dancing*
 (^^^JU.^1^ /—■''■■/I       /A        /J,      rCu**C   &CA^JK^»
lew
\(f^
 After all women are more concerned than men  with the weaving of the
social fabric in any countrya  This fact was made abundantly clear
during the pioneer days in Canada when life was far less complex
than it is now#  It is your privilege, the high privilege of the
women of this western country to do your part in weaving the seamless web of a true national life*  Many threads, strange bright
colours, must go Into the warp and the woof, and the pattern of it
whether we will or no.  There will be snarls and tangles, knots
and broken threads.  But in spite of that we can say, and say
truly of Canada "They shall bring the honour and the glory of the
nations into it"e

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