Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Experiencing Prejudice

I've been very fortunate in my life.  I've grown up in a time where being a woman has not had a significant impact on my career path.  I've never had concern that I lost a job to a man and have never felt that I couldn't do something just because I was a woman.  I grew up in a time where my parents told me I could be anything I wanted to be - not just a nurse or a teacher or a secretary which were the occupations expected of the women of generations before us.  I was expected to go to college (and did) and while my college didn't have a significant amount of women at the time, I never felt that I was outnumbered.

I am not racist.  I do not judge on people's backgrounds and where they came from - I'm more concerned about the type of person they are - kind, caring, considerate, giving, etc.  I've never cared if someone could or could not speak English just because they were in America.  I think it's a narrow minded viewpoint and don't have a problem saying that. 

But when we moved to Europe, I did have a little concern about preconceived notions about Americans.  With controversy all over the world regarding wars and economics and feeling the need to be involved in everything, Americans aren't always the most welcome of people.  And so I was surprised at how well received we've been here.  As far as I've been concerned we haven't had any issue with people looking at us differently because we are American.  If anything, we've found some to be a bit fascinated with it.

Though that doesn't mean that at times it's not frustrating.  But I don't look at it as being prejudiced.  Sometimes I'll go into a restaurant or a coffee shop (specifically Starbucks but in their defense, what Spanish people are going to Starbucks?  They are all getting the local coffee) and before I've opened my mouth, they speak to me in English.  I don't think they are being prejudiced though, they are just trying to be kind and make me more comfortable.  And while I appreciate it, I'm never going to learn if they keep talking to me in English.  Same goes for the kids - both their tennis and jiu jitsu instructors talk to them in English.  It's been an incredible kindness that I appreciate and while it hasn't improved their Spanish, it has given them a level of comfort that they might not otherwise have had.

Ok, so you probably get the picture - we feel pretty good here.  People are kind.  People don't (appear) to judge us based on our lack of communication abilities.  So fast forward to today.  Liam had a doctor's appointment that I did not want to chance a misunderstanding during.  Our pediatrician speaks some English but limited.  And while 98% of the time I can function on my own in Spanish or certainly do my best without assistance (how else will I learn?), there are moments where I know I need to rely on others.  In the case of medical situations I recognize that I must acknowledge my shortcomings and rely on someone to help me. 

This wasn't a case of a simple annual physical.  This was a meeting with an endocrinologist.  Long story short and similar to my tale with Aidan, I tell it because it had a happy ending and therefore I'm ok about talking about mental/physical issues with the boys in that case.  Liam's teachers had mentioned to me that they noticed his arms and legs were slightly short.  Not significantly but enough for them to notice.  They had recommended an endocrinologist to take a look at him.  But before jumping the gun, I opted to take him to the pediatrician.  The pediatrician who's English is just so-so and therefore I couldn't ask her the 20,000 questions in my head because since that conference I had, of course, done some googling and found information online that was most certainly scary and concerning. 

The pediatrician checked Liam over and agreed with the teachers - he should see an endocrinologist.  She arranged for the appointment on my behalf and just a few days later (today) we went to see him.  Because this was something that could have a significant impact on Liam's well being, I brought along a friend who spoke fluent Spanish.  I did not want to take a chance that I might not understand something. 

The doctor looked at Liam and with a bit of disgust looked at us, like "why is this child here?".  My friend told him that the teachers had spoken of his extremities being slightly shorter and that the pediatrician agreed.  I gave him Liam's medical card from the States with his height/weight information and his computer system had the last 2 years.  Of course, the US stuff is in inches and pounds, not centimeters and kilos.  He looked at my friend and asked if we were British and questioned if we actually lived here full time and when she said we did and that we were American and not British (to which his response was "even worse"), he did ask if we were Barca fans at least.  You could tell just by the looks he was giving me that he absolutely wanted nothing to do with us. 

Of course my biggest concern was Liam and not his attitude though I also was worried about his quality of care (his bedside manner definitely lacked for someone who is a pediatric endocrinologist) given what definitely appeared to be a prejudice against us.  He was annoyed when I could not give him information about Liam's head measurements from the States - our little book only had records of his weight, height and shots - I know his doctor at home has all this information in their computer but it's not information that I have ever needed and I was not told in advance that I would need it or I would more than happily have called them to get it.  He kept looking at me with the look of "stupid American". 

It was an incredibly frustrating meeting.  Thankfully he said that Liam is perfectly fine and that his arms are not short, but that his upper arm is shorter than normal and that this is a hereditary thing.  Given that neither Josh nor I have abnormally short upper arms makes me question it but he was insistant upon this.  My friend kept defending what I would say and the doctor would occassionally talk to me in some broken English just so he could reinforce his words to her.  In other words, he tried to make me look bad.  The thing is, I understood most of what he said.  Yes, I brought a friend to interpret for me, but I brought her in the case that I needed to understand more or to ask questions that I might otherwise not be able to ask.  I did not bring her because I can't understand any Spanish.  I absolutely can - but I can't understand it all...yet... and I didn't want to risk my child's health for my own ego. 

I felt very badly after the appointment.  We decided this man was an absolute jerk.  I know there is prejudice all over the world, but it doesn't make one feel any better for sure.  And I know that he is being ignorant and in a way naive to the world around him.  I cared about the best care for my child and that should have been his main concern, not where we come from or the language that we speak.  He should have been happy to see that I wanted no miscommunications (ahem, like the gym) when it came to Liam's health.  But no, all he could see is that we were American and did not speak fluent Spanish.

I hope this experience abroad, not just this one experience with this doctor, will teach my kids more about tolerance of others.  That they will learn that everyone is different and that we all have things to contribute in different ways.  That we should not judge based on appearance, heredity, language, etc - that we should not judge at all.  Liam had a lesson in that after his appointment when we saw a very deformed man panhandling in the street.  I explained to him that all people are different and that is what makes us special - if we were all alike, life would be pretty boring... don't you think?


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