No Hablo Español...

Ok... so, I have this friend... A fairly new friend actually. One of those friend-of-a-friend deals. So, I don't know this guy REALLY well, but I think I'd like to keep him and his wife as friends. They're fun people, they live nearby, and we share common friends and interests.

There's a fine line that one walks when they're new to any relationship, the one that so many people can't even see when they're first dating or developing a new friendship with someone. You want to get to know each other. You want to like each other. You want to do whatever you need to so that you don't upset the fragile balance between you. At the same time, you both know there's no such thing as real relationship without honesty and authenticity so you can't just go along with everything the other says... especially when it goes against what you believe.

So... he starts ranting today about a the subject of non-English speakers (a.k.a. non-natives). One of his customers was mad at him because he doesn't speak Spanish. This is not the first time that this has happened to him in his job and I understand that's really frustrating to him. His response, however, was, "you are in america we speak in english, learn it" and "I find that to be pure lazyness on there part when they to the usa. the gov needs to be more strict about that."

Now, I'm not picking on him (well, maybe just a little, but I swear it's all in fun). I've encountered this sentiment repeatedly in varying degrees, and I'm using him as an illustration because he's the most recent example, and because I'm fairly sure he can handle me poking a bit of fun in his direction.

So, here's my view: I feel like all cultures and ethnicities should be appreciated and valued and, yes, even celebrated. However, I also feel that it is important to learn to relate to the culture in which are living. So while I feel it's important to maintain a sense of individual heritage and even language (which is, for a lot of people, a huge part of their identity and self-worth), it's also a necessity for people to learn the primary language of the country in which they live.

To further clarify, I think that it just makes sense, if you're looking to be a part of any culture, to become a part of that culture. One should NOT expect the world to bend to them. I would not travel overseas and expect every person I meet to speak English. But the main difference is, I'd probably find someone who speaks English in any other country much more quickly than I would find someone to speak Spanish (or any other language) here in America (particularly in rural PA).

We in America are incredibly insensitive to those who do not speak English as their primary language. As another friend countered in this debate, "I suppose the next step is that we need to get rid of thick accents, right?" Now, her point was delivered with all the politeness she could muster, but I know that she takes this subject very seriously. And, I don't think that Friend A was expressing this depth of "animosity" toward non-English speakers, but I honestly don't know as I don't know him all that well. But, I've heard that sentiment as well, usually in association with annoyance of a generally racist nature ("I hate calling Customer Service lines and hearing that 'Muslim' accent.")

I do think (with all apologies aimed toward Friend A) that it is rather hypocritical for someone to complain about non-English speakers with improper spelling and grammar, but then, I realize that not everyone is as linguistically minded as I am. I just find, in my own personal experience, that since most of the world is bilingual, we merely display our ignorance when we act and assume superiority on these types of issues. Just sayin', it wouldn't hurt us to learn some other languages.

Some days, comments like that from friends would really annoy me. Some days, they'd roll off my back, barely noticed. Today, however, is apparently a day when I come back with snarkiness and a blog rant.

1 comment:

ami said...

Perhaps I should clarify "takes it seriously". More like... "has been affected by it".

I understand both sides of the debate. I understand that if I were to move to a culturally radically different country than ours, I would be expected to conform to a certain extent. Take, for example, my husband's aunt and uncle, who are currently living in Ethiopia serving as missionaries. In Ethiopia, am and pm mean the opposite as they do here. So when my uncle schedule appointments with his students, he tries very hard to make sure that it is understood which 5 o'clock the appointment is for... and he doesn't fault the student if there is a misunderstanding.

Both my parents are immigrants. Both my parents are dual citizens. Both my parents received graduate degrees at an American university. My mother worked for 20+ years as an student advisor at another American university. My father has held numerous government security clearances. I can pretty well guarantee you that my parents have a better than average comprehension of the American English language.

This does not, however, mean that either one is easy to understand. They are to ME, because they're my parents. To others, the accent can be a bit difficult to work around sometimes. Because of this, my mother often uses me to speak for her. It has nothing to do with whether or not she can speak or understand the language. I've had people tell me in these situations that my mother should learn English. If only they knew that she used to teach French classes in her non-native language :P

Do I think that people who are emigrating to another country should learn the other country's mother tongue? Yes. For one's own benefit, one should be able to have a rudimentary conversation. Do I fault someone who walks into my husband's auto parts store for not knowing what the English word for rotors is? No. But then the question becomes one of where to draw the line when we define "basic comprehension and utilization".

Just for fun, let's throw things like Ebonics into the mix. Or Southern drawl. Or the Joisey boys. There are people who can't understand a word that Shannon Sharpe says on the CBS NFL Today show, and last I checked, he was born in America.