Cross-Cultural ‘R’ Us


It was not political correctness, but rather a deep and visceral thirst that has driven me to reach out to people who are different — very different from myself. Being brought up Jewish (traditional eastern-European Jewish Ashkenaze) is not all of who I am, not even close to that, but it is the raw clay out of which I have been sculpted in America. Canada is different.  A pharmacist I worked with in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada was well-traveled and told me how it was different from America. “America is a melting-pot — Canada is a salad.”

Americans really seem (or at least seemed) to want to be Americans.  I remember the emigrants to America joking about learning about baseball, the bat being likened to a chicken drumstick, a “pulkeh.” To understand and love baseball was a very important part of being American. Part of the lore of the time was that it was possible to unmask a foreign spy who spoke perfect English if you asked him who had won the last world series and he did not know. Very different from Canadians who kept their own traditions and their own languages in tiny equivalents of their native lands around Edmonton where ethnic traditions were publicly exalted, in places called “little Germany” or “little Italy.”

When America is your second culture and English your second language you are special.  I think I love such people more. I went to France, consider myself French in many cultural ways other than my medical degree, but military veteran that I am, I could not be more American if I tried. My cherished friends include:

   * A woman who emigrated here from France to become a prima ballerina, and to express her creativity now has written a little screenplay that demonstrates an uncanny ear for English conversation.
   * A younger woman of French origin whose love for travel desire to advance her career have made her a valuable person in the national and international hotel industry.

I remember reading that William Safire, the New York Times critic of the English language, author of “On language,” was of Roumanian-Jewish origin. Examples of cross-cultural origins and efforts of Americans to get closer to people of other origins — well, they are weaker now than they have. I was brought up to believe any boy could become president. Okay, so that was supposed to include my brother if not me. But examples of people becoming American superseding Americans are rich. Melting pot stories nourished the spirit of post-WWII America. We need more of these stories. Stories like about how Werner von Braun came to America from Germany and if he hadn’t there may not have been an American space program.

I had a Mexican woman in her forties who came to see me for a routine psychiatric visit.  She was struggling with a first course in English for foreigners at the local high school.  Me, I have been throwing about my self-taught Spanish for a while.  So I spoke mostly English and I spoke mostly Spanish and she said, in English,” America is a very good place” and initiated the mutual hug that moved me to tears, as I responded, “Es Verdad,” [“that’s the truth.” ] Although I did not know it at the time of purchase, the ultimate story of Americanism is my duck’s head cane. I like ducks well enough, and I love feeding the cute little guys lakeside, as is possible in many places in California.

As a peasant in the rural Ukraine of Russia, my grandmother of blessed memory spent many years of her life tending a flock of ducks.  She told me about bringing them to shelter in the woods when she was stranded in a sudden storm, and many other stories. She had always wanted someone in the family to be a professional.  She wanted my father to become a dentist; he became a musical composer. Me, I am the professional she wanted.  A generation later.  “The girl?” Now I am a lady doctor with a duck head cane.  It’s proper name is “Cachkeh,” the Jewish (Yiddish –Judeo-German ) name for a “duck.” From one to the other in two generations. This is a story of America, as it ought to be.

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