Saturday, July 11, 2009

Should English Be Spoken in the U.S.?

I’m beginning to believe being PC isn’t politically correct anymore.

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!

copyright © 2009 by Auntie Eartha. All rights reserved.

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  1. Oh Auntie,

    I am finding it hard to believe you said those words, who else was in the restrooms at the time?
    My thoughts are this, don't go back to the establishment.
    I believe the establishment has a live one on their hands and in time she will create her own destiny and weed herself out, meaning she will not work there anymore!!
    Wait, you will know when she is gone and you can once again return to your favorite place. Save yourself the embarrassment of having to apologize to someone who has nothing better to do than try to incriminate patrons on her bosse's dollar! Manupulation....why is it that so common amongst some cultures?

    Be strong Auntie and stay true to who you are!

  2. You are too kind. In the restroom was another employee, according to the manager.

    I'm feeling lately as if I do not want to be bullied, but maybe that is how this Haitian felt.

    Today I will work to be a better human.

  3. I've only been outside the US once for business and I was scared to death that I would be surrounded by people whom I did not understand nor whom did not understand me. However as it turned out most of the natives spoke English and made me feel comfortable and welcome. I feel it is the least I can do for someone who does not speak English here in the US.

  4. Way to go Auntie!

    Years ago your comments may have found disfavor with me, however, after countless AMERICAN tax dollars have been spend on printing voter's ballots, federal aid forms, etc. in a FOREIGN language, I applaud you for your boldness.
    If the manager chooses the employee's side over his customer's - take your AMERICAN dollars elsewhere. Perhaps even publish the true identity of said establishment and we can all take our dollars elsewhere.

  5. I was working in Michigan on a satellite system being installed by NEC, a company many of you have likely heard of. Many years ago they changed their name from Nippon Electric. All of the engineers I worked with were Japanese, as in, truly visiting from Japan. They constantly apologized for their lack of skill in English. And my constant reply was "Believe me, your English is much better than my Japanese." Even though there were five of them and only one of me they were doing everything they could to communicate in my language. And the grace in that attempt was appreciated even more than the fact it made it easier to resolve problems.

    It is interesting to me that PC seems to be the forced respect of minority cultures, languages, and beliefs directly tied to the inherent disrespect of the cultures, language, and beliefs of the majority. I don't know if it is possible to disentangle the two but I believe it creates the same level of resentment and discrimination we have suffered in the past, just from the opposite direction.

    See if Auntie would be welcome to compete in the Miss Black America or Miss Latina US pageants (though I would vote for her!) Maybe part of my resentment comes from the perceived attitude of "I want all of mine and I want my choice of yours, too." Maybe I'm getting tired of living on the leftovers.

  6. Sounds like a certain someone was being grumpy that night.

    Of course the manager is blowing it all out of proportion, but he may have written guidelines he has to follow in such a situation.

    It's always humbling to apologize, a good dart to anyone's arrogance. If I liked the restaurant, I'd apologize, but it's no big deal for me having worked with the public for over 25 years and dealt with much worse complaints.

    You will do as your nature dictates, a growing experience whatever the outcome.

  7. Yes we should all speak English, broken or otherwise.

  8. This employee was having a private coversation on a phone with a person in a non-English speaking country and you felt the need to say something - for what? Because you weren't privy to what was being conveyed? You should apologize for trying to overhear something that was none of your business.

    Think about it. If you were in Italy and called home, would you be speaking in Italian? Would you be speaking to the other Americans in your group in Italian, or would you all be speaking English amongst yourselves and only attempt the foreign language when speaking with a local person?

    This would be a different matter if the employee was speaking directly to you, but that doesn't seem to be what happened.

    You were essentially admonishing this person for doing something that you would do yourself and for that you should apologize.

  9. Hi Gorgeous -- I think I do not understand, but I am sure we are on opposite sides here.

    If you call someone in Italy, you speak English to them, even if they do not understand it? And, presumably, since they are in Italy, they speak Italian to you, even if you do not understand it? That doesn't seem very productive to me.

    Or, does the initiator of the call determine the language? If YOU call Italy, the conversation is English? But if Italy calls you, the conversation is Italian?

    Or is this like dipping the flag at the Olympics, if ANYONE wants to talk to an American, then by God they'd better speak English? After all, that's all that God speaks.

    Sorry, I don't buy it.


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