I was at Gnashing, the sprightly restaurant where I recently had my birthday party, and its manager whom I’ve known for years approached me, asked me to step out in the hall with him for what I expected to be marketing ideas, and shocked me with, “Auntie, someone heard you in the bathroom say through the stall to one of our employees, ‘Speak English. You’re in America.’”
The girl had been talking on her cell phone to someone in Haiti, so her language would not have been too unfamiliar to me, given my heritage.
But really, what would be unjust with saying those words, asked my friend who joined me. Is there something wrong with speaking English, or even Americanized English, while in the U.S.? Knowing the aid and intervention the UN and U.S. have given Haiti in 1994, 2004, and more recently, I would think she’d appreciate Americans.
And if she was supposed to be working, why was she in a public restroom talking on the phone? If I were an employee of an establishment, I’d pay homage to those who paid me—the patrons and my employer—showing public honor and respect, which is a good principle for us all.
If she were truly offended by being asked to speak English, why would she tell her American-born boss? As a friend familiar with the establishment wrote: “I don't know what was said, but you are living in America and people can say what they want! Why didn't this girl say something back to you if it was such a problem???? She could've stood up for herself.”
And isn’t it politically correct to respect the language of the people whose country you are living in? I’m not referring to tourists, who would typically speak their native tongue with a smattering of English, unless they’re European and learn English in grammar school.
But this girl was supposed to be working, so she must be living here.
I said to my world-traveler friend, “If I were going to another country, I’d do the best I could to learn some basics of the language before I visited. In fact before I went to Italy, I practiced with books, tapes, and a dictionary. Even though they couldn’t understand me, they appreciated my feeble attempts.”
He, having visited numerous African countries and China a couple times, several Middle Eastern countries, and Europe and Mexico numerous times, responded, “I always try to learn common phrases before I leave. And though Chinese was somewhat difficult, I worked toward educating myself. People really appreciate that I’m making an effort. It’s always said how rude the French are. Well, when I was there, I did my best to speak their language, and they were very gracious to me.”
It’s about respect.
When asked the question, Do you think people should speak English in America? a female interviewee wrote: “Absolutely, it pisses me off when they speak their native language in public or place of business!”
A man said he’s been to Haiti and they spoke English, though according to a few sources, their languages are Haitian Creole and French. “Don’t you know,” he asked, “that there is a current conspiracy against Americans and that we are seen as evil and must be destroyed?”
All I’m discussing here is that we have the United States Constitution, and I’m defending one’s right to exercise our First Amendment right and support a country with its diverse heritage.
It’s about respect.
In 387 A.D. St. Ambrose said to St. Augustine, “When I am at Rome, I fast on a Saturday; when I am at Milan, I do not. Follow the custom of the Church where you are.” Eventually his thoughts evolved into “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
The Gnashing manager wants me to apologize to Miss Haiti or I’m not welcome back. Being obsequious, I probably will. But he wasn’t specific about what to apologize about.
Am I sorry for purportedly saying the obvious: she’s in America, in a public place speaking other-than-American-English? for purportedly exercising the Constitution’s First Amendment right? for interrupting her conversation?
Is it okay to speak your mind in a declarative sense, or is Iran on the right track?
Is it PC to speak French in France, German in Germany, French or Creole in Haiti, English in England, American-English in the U.S.?
Please click the comment link below and let me know how you feel. Go ahead—rip me a new one!
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