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Monday, August 6, 2012

Hungarian Hands

Have you ever had one of those moments when you see someone, think that you know them, tell them so, and then regret it? I had one just recently when we were in a waiting room for a doctor's appointment. As soon as I heard my mouth say, "I think I know you," all of the mental cogs finished spinning and I was thinking, "Oh, no! Why don't the brakes for my big mouth work?" Before I knew it, I had spoken to someone I really didn't want to. Not that it did me any harm; it just brought up some interesting memories.

I have some specific reasons for not thinking terribly highly of this person, but that is something I don't want to get into right now. It is too heavy and too unhappy for me to put in my blog. And this from someone who has told you about some terrible things from her own past! Ah, well. I will share a story about this lady, though, that happened many years ago. I believe I was in Junior High School at the time, and was visiting at my Aunt Roberta's house. As often happens in neighborhoods where long-lasting friendships form, there were neighbors stopping by for quick visits. 

While we were there, one of the sets of visitors was a proud grandmother showing off her daughter and her daughter's newborn baby. News travels fast, and a few other neighbors came by to see the new baby. One such visitor was the lady I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Let's call her Mrs. X. Mrs X was looking at the baby, remarking over how lovely it was. When she looked at the baby's hands, she said, "Oh, look at those hands! She has hands like a Hungarian!" Since this lady is not a Hungarian, and I am, I was both curious and pleased. I thought the baby had beautiful hands. Maybe Mrs. X would drop a little pearl about my Hungarian heritage that I wasn't aware of, like Hungarians have hands like artists, or something else equally nice. 

So with a smile on my face, I said, "Oh, really?" "Yes," she answered, "Hungarians have different hands than white people." HUH? I wasn't aware that Hungarians or any other ethnic groups were a different species than the rest of the human race. At that moment, I knew that I would never pay very close attention to anything Mrs. X said from that moment on. Later events that occurred in her family made me realize the wisdom of this decision.

Of course, when I saw Mrs. X at my husband's doctor's office, it made me remember the Incident of the Hungarian Hands, among other things. It also made me remember a teacher that I had in Junior High School. I must say, I had some wonderful teachers at this stage of my life. They not only filled me with knowledge of the world, but helped form me as an individual. One of the best of them taught me that it was okay to question authority. "Just because I am a teacher doesn't mean that everything I say is right. If I say the sky is green, the fact that I am a teacher doesn't make it true. It's your responsibility to say something when things like that happen." True wisdom from the lips of this young man.

In contrast, there was Mr. F. Mr. F was a Social Studies teacher. I was smart enough to know that he had a lot of intelligence and information to share with us. But I was also smart enough to know that there was something about him that just wasn't quite right. You see, Mr. F. always had a joke or a comment about ethnicity. And for some reason, he spent a lot of energy aiming his comments at me. "Hey, Katrina, do you know why you never tell a Hungarian a joke on a Wednesday?" "No, Mr. F." "You can't tell a Hungarian a joke on a Wednesday, because he'll start laughing in church on Sunday! Ha ha ha!" "Yeah, Mr. F, that's so funny I forgot to laugh."

Although I wasn't very knowledgeable about my Hungarian heritage, it made me angry. Why did he always have to say something cruel? Why not just say, "Hey, Katrina, all Hungarians are stupid. Since you're Hungarian, that means you are stupid too!" But he couldn't say something like that. First of all, it was way too direct. And second, how can you say something like that to a girl who has some of the best grades in her class? I found out several years later that Mr. F had gone too far. He was sued for his continued ethnic jabs and comments, and lost his job as a result. I don't bear him any ill will. 

As the years have passed, I have learned that Hungarians have hands just like all the other humans do. And just like everyone else, there are Hungarians that are not so bright, and those that are super-smart. If you don't believe me, look up Albert von Szent-Györgyi or Erno Rubik. And when you've found out how intelligent they are, look at the mug shot of Zsa Zsa Gabor after she got arrested for slapping a police officer with her Hungarian hands. I rest my case.