This is getting way out of hand for me. Maybe living here in N.J. I come in contact with a larger immigrant population than say, in some place in the middle of the country. And I know there is a debate raging presently about all the peeps coming in from here and there, the ‘sanctuary city’ question, how New Yorkers, the whole country is feeling overrun…or not. This is not what this piece is about though. Those debates are very complicated, and I don’t have enough information to side with any side, if I would even side with any. No, what I am on about here is non-American-born people trying to speak the language.
Or, more precisely, how people with hardly any true facility with speaking English are the ones who are put in corporations’ or retail establishments’ front-line customer interaction.
I just spoke to a recruiter who I had to keep asking, “Can you repeat that please?” because I did not understand his English, his accent was so strong…and this is a guy reaching out from an American-based headhunter service to place workers in American companies. Then there was the sammy I ordered at Dunkin Donuts yesterday (sorry Dunkin) where the lady behind the counter kept asking me something I absolutely could not understand and her co-worker had to step in and ask, “That’s on an English muffin, right?” What gets me is, I’ll try until my dying day to work with you and translate what you are saying, but don’t then give me the attitude then that the heavily-accented lady gave me when I couldn’t decipher what she was on about or give me obvious ‘tude over the phone when I tell you I can’t understand you.
Of course, when you bring up a point like this you are instantly called a racist. Go ahead, label me, I don’t care; I have been called worse (“Ralph, how can you be called worse than a racist, that statement alone shows you are probably a racist!”). The thing is, I don’t care about anybody’s rash assumption of me when all I am doing is asking a question or bringing up an obvious point. What I am is a cunning linguist (to take a term from Deep Purple); words matter to me, sorry. As does the simple ability to speak the language of the country I am in. I remember getting all pissed at the French when I traveled through Paris for the first time that few people spoke (or cared to speak) English. Then I had to remember, what country I was in. They might not have let us use their airspace during the war (Have you heard the old joke of why there have been so many civil wars in France? It’s because they like to win one every once in a while) but how could I complain over the fact that I was the foreigner in this instance and had no right to demand they spoke my language?
I know it takes time to assimilate and I know this is a country filled and built by immigrants (at least modern society as was “colonized,’ there were certainly people here before immigrants came, but then again those people weren’t here originally, so we are all immigrants, no?). But please, if you are going to put people in the front line of communication, be it the tech I speak to when I call my cable company or the person filling my taco at Moe’s asking if I want this or that kind of meat, it would be good if this person could be understood.
Or, am I just being a racist?