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The kindest insult

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 03 May 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:991
  1. Jonathan Han, physician (
  1. New Kensington, Pennsylvania

    That Mrs Park wore a woollen overcoat and scarf on an unusually warm spring afternoon was not disconcerting to me. After all, this uniform is typical of many mentally ill elderly folk living a tenuous existence on the streets of San Francisco. Her paranoid rants about the end of the world and the neighbours who were spying on her also left me unmoved. What was painfully upsetting to me, however, was the anger and offence she took at my need for a Korean language interpreter.

    Mrs Park stopped growling and gesticulating long enough to appear hurt

    “If he is Korean, why does he need someone to speak his language for him?” Mrs Park exhorted through the translator as she eyed me suspiciously. The interpreter shifted nervously through her own embarrassment as she channelled this message to me.

    Having grown up in the only Korean family within several counties in rural Ohio, I did not place learning my “native tongue” high …

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