Sunday, July 11, 2010

Australia: Our Multicultural Society.

After the Second World War there was a great influx of migrants from all over the world to Australia. Many of them didn’t speak English; I was one of them. The migrants were then referred to as "New Australians."

We have now a mixture of names in Australia that are looking somewhat strange to most Australians, many are a jumble of letters and they have difficulty in pronouncing them. The ‘Sch’ at the beginning of my name is still causing problems for many people in Australia, and the first thing after being asked what my name was, is immediately followed by the inevitable second question: “how do you spell it? Spelling my name since coming to Australia must have run into the millions and has become second nature to me.

I often wonder how Australians, who generally speak only English, could ever put themselves in the position of a migrant who came here and couldn’t speak any English at all. Although I went through an English correspondence course before coming to Australia, I soon found out to my chagrin that reading English, and speaking and understanding what was said, were different altogether.

I have documented many funny occurrences during my quest to master the English language, but for me, it is still a work in progress.

However, because of the migrants that came from far and wide and from various cultures, we can say that we are a multicultural society, but I accept this concept in name only. I strongly believe that migrants that are “adopted” by this country should assimilate and integrate into the Australian way of life and not form and live in their own cultural enclaves. The old adage: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” should also apply in Australia.

With an open mind, we can learn a lot from each other, but to be loyal to Australia that accepted us is imperative. As far as I’m concerned there should never be divided loyalties.

Many migrants would have interesting stories to tell, and I would encourage them to share them with all of us. I recall vividly the reaction by an Australian cane farmer to my request to speak Oxford English to me. Read story below.- Werner
* * * * * * * *
This brings me now to this amusing tale, namely: Moishe Plotnik’s Laundry. Whether this is true or not doesn’t matter, but it should generate a chuckle for the reader.

Walking through San Francisco's Chinatown, a tourist from the Midwest was enjoying the artistry of all the Chinese restaurants, shops, signs and banners......

When he turned a corner and saw a building with the sign 'Moishe Plotnik's Laundry.”

'Moishe Plotnik?' he wondered. 'How does that belong in Chinatown?’

He walked into the shop and saw a fairly standard looking drycleaner, although he could see that the proprietors were clearly aware of the uniqueness of the store name as there were baseball hats, T-shirts and coffee mugs emblazoned with the logo 'Moishe Plotnik's Chinese Laundry.' The tourist selected a coffee cup as a conversation piece to take back to his office. Behind the counter was a smiling old Chinese gentleman who thanked him for his purchase.

The tourist asked, 'Can you explain how this place got a name like 'Moishe Plotnik's Laundry?'' The old man answered, 'Ah..Evleebody ask me dat. It name of owner.' Looking around, the tourist asked, 'Is he here now?' 'It me, me him!' replied the old man.

'Really? You're Chinese. How did you ever get a Jewish name like Moishe Plotnik?' “It simple” said the old man. "Many, many years ago I come to this country. I was standing in line at Documentation Centre of Immigration. Man in front of me was a Jewish man from Poland."

'Lady at counter looked at him and say to him, 'What your name?' He say to her, “Moishe Plotnik.” Then she look at me and say, 'What your name?'

I say, “Sam Ting.”
* * * * * * *
Oxford English.
When I came to Australia in 1954 I volunteered to cut sugar cane and was sent to the Maclean district in northern NSW. I was in a gang of five German migrants and we were given instructions with the help of an interpreter. Then the Cane inspector from the sugar Mill asked, “Who of you speaks English?” I said, kind of reluctantly, that I had completed a correspondence course in English in Germany. “OK,” said the cane inspector, “you are the ganger.” I had to ask what “ganger” meant and entailed, as I had never come across this word in my correspondence course. After it had been explained what my duties were, I was overwhelmed by this sudden promotion.

Although I had completed an English correspondence course, I soon realised that there was a big difference between reading the language, and speaking it and understanding what is being said.

Conversation between the farmer and me usually went something like this: he would give me instructions and after every sentence I would say, “Yes”. After about four instructions and four yeses, he would ask me, “Do you understand?” To which I would reply, “No”. The exasperation clearly showed on his face, and he would scratch his head mumbling to himself and walking away to organise an interpreter. I wasn’t sure what he mumbled, but I had the feeling it contained some expletives (plus perhaps – “Bloody New Australians”).

Then I remembered the advice my cousin Paul gave me back in Germany; he had learned English at the University, but had never been in a crash-course situation like me. He gave me the following counsel. "In Germany we speak different dialects, but everybody can also speak the High-German or school German. The same situation exists in England, and I'm sure the same applies in Australia”. (I remembered the language problem I’d had in the canteen in Bremen speaking my dialect). “The equivalent of the school German in the English language is Oxford English", Paul said, “the English you learned in your correspondence course”.

With this in mind I faced the next day with additional confidence. During smoko time the farmer came along to tell me something, and I was ready to try this new tack. After he finished the first sentence I said, “Would you speak Oxford English please?” For a moment I thought he was going to have convulsions; in order not to swallow his tongue he coughed and his cigarette dropped from between his lips. “Hey? Oxford English? - Oxford English?” he slowly repeated again with a perplexed facial expression, “You must be bloody joking, ha, ha, ha”, finishing with a guttural laugh. He then turned around, calling out to his brother who was a bit further down the paddock. “This fellow here” he said, pointing to me, “wants me to speak bloody Oxford English. Can you speak it?” he asked with a chuckle. Needless to say I have never asked anybody since to speak Oxford English.

My thought for today. – Werner
Life is not the way it's supposed to be. It's the way it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference. Virginia Satir.


Julie Edwards said...

Hi Werner, You know, even here in the US, where there are lots of Germans, I always had to spell Schmiedlin. It's easier now with my married name, Edwards.
Except that we now live on Schellenberger Road -- have to always spell that, too. :-)

Annette Sheppard said...

I shared this with a few others in the office. They had a good chuckle too.

Barbara said...

Funnily, the “Sam Ting” happened to us as to Annette Sheppard – all of us got a chuckle too from your two stories. Loved them!