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Doctor's Orders

Claim:   A woman experiencing difficulty conceiving misunderstands what her gynecologist is proposing to do to rectify the situation.

LEGEND

Examples:

[Dale, 1984]

A friend is a consultant gynaecologist in Harley Street. One day, he received the wife of an Indian prince, who desperately wanted children but had been unsuccessful over the years of her marriage: she was visiting him she said, because she had heard that he was the best in London and, therefore, in the world. He received this news with his customary modesty, asked her many questions, took copious notes. Then he indicated a screen in the corner of the consulting-room. 'Would you go over there, please, take off all your clothes, and lie on the couch?'

'Oh, no!' she wailed. 'I want an Indian baby.'
 

[Scott, 1996]

There seems to be no end of inspiration for cartoons and jokes about the medical profession, like the one about the Pakistani lady in London whose husband sent her to see a Harley Street specialist because he wanted a son and had not been able to produce a child. The specialist asked her to remove her clothing and lie on the table for examination, whereupon she muttered wildly, "No, no. My husband wants a Pakistani baby!"
 

Origins:   What to make of such a funny tale? Truth is, it has a darker side than is immediately apparent.

When related in a form that omits nationalities (as a "blonde joke," for example), this tale of a misunderstanding by a gynecologist's patient is merely an amusing story whose humor comes at the expense of an earnest but naive young woman unfamiliar with who is going to accomplish what, and how. With the inclusion of nationalities, however, it becomes a legend with elements from some familiar motifs involving class and cultural snobbery:
  • People from <insert name of country> are so dim-witted or backwards they either don't understand the rudiments of a common medical examination or the concept that a physician could assist a couple to conceive in numerous other ways besides mounting up to do the job himself.
  • The hoity-toity Mrs. Wife-of-a-Prince may be a royal family bigwig back home, but over here she can't hide her lack of sophistication. Money and position doesn't equal quality.
As Pregnant woman a legend, it's a put-down of monied foreigners accomplished by portraying them as folks who have the wherewithal to afford the best but not the intelligence to make sense of it. Such tales help those whose countries have recently absorbed waves of wealthy immigrants feel better about themselves: "They may well have more money, but we've been here longer and we're smarter too!" says the legend. It's reassurance tendered in the form of a sour grapes tale.

Divorce the story from its "lady from another country" element, though, and this legend merely becomes yet another "fool-headed woman" tale in which a gal confuses a perfectly reasonable request with a sexual proposition. Witness how successfully that theme plays out in the following howler, a version of which we've chased back as far as 1947:
[Collected on the Internet, 1997]

The British Government's policy of socialized medicine has recently been broadened to include a service called "Proxy Fathers". Under the government plan, any married woman who is unable to become pregnant through the first five years of her marriage may request the service of a proxy father — a government employee who attempts to solve the couple's problem by impregnating the wife.

The Smiths, a young couple, have no children and a proxy father is due to arrive. Leaving for work, Mr. Smith says, "I'm off. The government man should be here soon." Moments later a door-to-door baby photographer rings the bell.

Mrs. Smith: "Good morning."

Salesman: "Good morning, madam. You don't know me, but I've come to..."

Mrs. Smith: (Interrupting) "No need to explain, I've been expecting you."

Salesman: "Really? Well, good.
I've made a specialty of babies, specially twins."

Mrs. Smith: "That's what my husband and I had hoped. Please come in and have a seat."

Salesman: (Sitting) "Then you don't need to be sold on the idea?"

Mrs. Smith: "Don't concern yourself. My husband and I both agree this is the right thing to do."

Salesman: "Well, perhaps we should get down to it?"

Mrs. Smith: (Blushing) "Just where do we start?"

Salesman: "Leave everything to me. I usually try two in the bathtub, one on the couch and perhaps a couple on the bed. Sometimes the living room floor allows the subject to really spread out."

Mrs. Smith: "Bathtub, living room floor? No wonder it hasn't worked for Harry and me."

Salesman: "Well, madam, none of us can guarantee a good one every time, but if we try several locations and I shoot from six or seven angles, I'm sure you'll be pleased with the results. In fact, my business card says, 'I aim to please.'"

Mrs. Smith: "Pardon me, but isn't this a little informal?"

Salesman: "Madam, in my line of work, a man must be at ease and take his time. I'd love to be in and out in five minutes, but you'd be disappointed with that."

Mrs. Smith: "Don't I know! Have you had much success at this?"

Salesman: (Opening his briefcase and finding baby pictures) "Just look at this picture. Believe it or not, it was done on top of a bus in downtown London."

Mrs. Smith: "Oh, my!!"

Salesman: "And here are pictures of the prettiest twins in town. They turned out exceptionally well when you consider their mother was so difficult to work with."

Mrs. Smith: "She was?"

Salesman: "Yes, I'm afraid so. I finally had to take her down to Hyde Park to get the job done right. I've never worked under such impossible conditions. People were crowding around four and five deep, pushing to get a good look."

Mrs. Smith: "Four and five deep?"

Salesman: "Yes and for more than three hours, too. The mother got so excited she started bouncing around, squealing and yelling at the crowd. I couldn't concentrate. I'm afraid I had to ask a couple of men to restrain her. By that time darkness was approaching and I began to rush my shots. When the squirrels began nibbling on my equipment I just packed it all in."

Mrs. Smith: "You mean they actually chewed on your, eh.., equipment?"

Salesman: "That's right, but it's all in a day's work. I consider my work a pleasure. I've spent years perfecting my patented technique. Now take this baby, I shot this one in the front window of a big department store."

Mrs. Smith: "I just can't believe it."

Salesman: "Well, madam, if you're ready, I'll set up my tripod so that we can get to work."

Mrs. Smith: "TRIPOD?!?"

Salesman: "Oh yes, I have to use a tripod to rest my equipment on. It's much too heavy and unwieldy for me to hold while I'm shooting. Mrs. Smith?... Mrs. Smith?... My goodness, she's fainted!"
Last updated:   16 November 2012

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Sources:

    Dale, Rodney.   It's True, It Happened to a Friend.
    London: Duckworth, 1984.   ISBN 0-7156-1759-1   (p. 77).

    Dundes, Alan and Carl Pagter.   Work Hard and You Shall Be Rewarded.
    Austin: American Folklore Society, 1975.   ISBN 0-292-78502-X   (pp. 217-219).

    Scott, Bill.   Pelicans & Chihuahuas and Other Urban Legends.
    St. Lucia: Univ. of Queensland, 1996.   ISBN 0-7022-2774-9   (p. 150).

    Bedroom Party Literature.
    Privately Printed, 1947.   (p. 9-10).