Earning a living in the U.S. surprised woman’s father
Eva Shurman’s parents witnessed Hitler’s rise to power. They realized early on the danger he posed to their family, and they fled to Italy and sent Eva to England to study languages. When she finished school, Eva decided to immigrate to the United States with her boyfriend. Here she remembers her first days in America.Shurman: In 1937, things in Europe didn’t look very good, and I had a boyfriend who had decided to go to America. He didn’t want to be involved in what was definitely going to happen in Europe. And so after I finished my schooling I also came to America. I had learned everything about New York before I came. I knew where every street was and I knew what it looked like. And it was exactly the way I expected.I boarded a ship with all my belongings. I had lots of luggage and other things I was able to bring along. I came to New York and went to my hotel and then I immediately went to Broadway to a drugstore where they used to serve breakfast. It was my first experience and it was very exciting because I was on my own and I just loved it. The whole thing was such an adventure. I did not miss my home. I did not miss Europe. I was just so enthusiastic to be here. And the people were so nice.My first experience was in this drugstore. I asked for a ham sandwich and coffee. So the drugstore clerk said, “Up or down? With or without grass?” Grass did not have the connotation that it does now. I didn’t know what he meant. Coming from England, as I had, they didn’t use words like that. So all the people who were sitting at the counter also having breakfast began to explain to me that “up or down” meant toasted or not toasted and that “grass” was lettuce.That was my first lesson and then, of course, I was supposed to pay. It was perhaps a quarter. Things were extremely cheap. So I asked what a quarter was. And they explained to me what nickels, dimes and quarters were. That was my second lesson.Then, the next day I went to an employment agency for people who were multi-lingual. I went there modestly dressed and had an interview. The woman who interviewed me said, “Well, I do have a job for you, but the way you are dressed, is that the best you can do? I had dressed as I had seen my father’s secretary dress, which was very modest. She said, “Well, you know, you are an American now. You always have to look your best. Now you go home and you change. Then you come back and I will send you to your job.” So that is what I did, and it was a very nice job. I could earn my own living. My father could never imagine that. He was not very much in favor of my coming here by myself. I had never earned a penny in my life before. But I really was old enough. I was 22. Anyway, I got this job, and when I got my first paycheck I sent a dollar to my father, and he always kept it in his wallet because he was so amazed that I could really earn my living. After a few months my boyfriend and I got married. He had relatives in America even though he also had come from Europe. They gave a wedding for us, which was very nice but also unusual because I didn’t know a single person who came to our wedding. And then I went back to work and somehow the people at work heard that I had gotten married. My boss called me and said, “Is it true that you are married and your husband has a job?” I said, “Yes.” And he said, “You know we are in a depression, and we have a policy that if we employ a woman whose husband has a job, we cannot keep her.” So I lost my job.I think that is something that people nowadays can’t imagine. I got another job. It wasn’t quite as good, but it was also quite nice. And so that was my beginning.
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