Monday, September 18, 2017

Poms Don't Tub

Cab service improved in Minneapolis in the 1990's. Cabs started to be well-maintained, drivers were clean and respectful, Minnesota Public Radio, rather than loud rock, was playing quietly. The driver may have worked as a physician or a teacher or an engineer in Somalia, but now he was working his way back up.

In the past year I've spent many days pacing the corridors of Methodist Hospital in a Minneapolis suburb. As with any well-run medical facility, surfaces were being cleaned non-stop. I was cheerfully acknowledged by housekeeping staff from far-away places like Somalia, Myanmar, Tibet, and the former Soviet Union.

When I had surgery last year, a lovely young nurse made me feel like a human being, rather just a patient. She took the time to talk with me. When she checked a temporary urinary catheter, she did it in such a way I did not feel embarrassed. Late in the evening she brought me a cup of tea she had made with tea her friend had brought back from the UK. Her upbeat face, framed by a hijab, was an important part of my healing.

There seems to be a human need to feel a sense of belonging to a tribe. Sometimes this can mean disparaging other tribes. When immigrants from Sweden started moving into Minnesota around the turn of the last century they were called "dirty Swedes." Australians used to joke "Poms don't tub" which, in translation, means "British people don't bathe." This differentiated Australians, with their high standard of living, from British immigrants who once couldn't afford homes with plumbing. It was irrelevant many Australians could trace their ancestry back to Britain.

Culture is fluid. At the start of the 19th century half the population of Britain was illiterate, modern Christmas traditions had yet to be established, and most people had never traveled much beyond their home towns. My sense of tribe, culture, and belonging has evolved happily as I've traveled through life. A sad alternative is to be angry at every change around me.

Note:  The photo at the top of this post shows a former pom (me) in a bathtub in Australia.