Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Press 1 Or Die

This week's column is about the petty issue some folks have with having to press 1 for English.

You wouldn't think one more key stroke on a telephone pad would create such a uproar.

But it's not about having to press 1. It's about ignorance -- and fear.

The sad part is that we have allowed a spirit of meanness to monopolize a civil and honest discussion about immigration reform.

What do you think?


Anonymous Andrew Sherling said...

Concerning your article about the language of intolerance, I say:


Ooops! I just used a word from another language. Considering this is the Good Ol' USA, that's a lot of chutzpah (Ooops! I did it again.)

Anyway, I congratulate you on your article. I'm a grandson of immigrants. My grandparents and parents often spoke Yiddish as well as English. I'm a retired Air Force officer who has lived in several countries whose languages were not English. I enjoyed hearing those languages and even gained some very modest competency in them. My daughter and grandsons live in a section of Flushing, NY, where Chinese, Hindi, Urdu, and Russian are common on the streets. She has become proficient in Japanese (she worked for the Japanese government for fourteen years) and is learning Hindi.

Why is it okay for someone to speak Italian, French, or German in public, but not some language associated with people whose skin is darker than "real" Americans?

I get so tired on hearing flag-waving, narrow-minded, fearful people bash non-English speaking people. What really bnothers me is how many of those bashers can't speak English properly.

On that note, I say, Ciao! (There I go again!)

12:41 PM  
Blogger clee said...

Ok, at the risk of sounding ignorant or fearful, or whatever, I did have a problem with the language during the 1996 Olympics held in Atlanta. It was determined that English was the official language during the games. Hello!!! What language would be official in Atlanta, GA, a southern city in the United States?!?!?!?

I had another problem with the manager in the supermarket 5 years ago after I moved to Florida. I wanted to purchase some fresh fish so I went to the counter and the guy working was with another customer. The sushi chef was there and never acknowledged that I was standing there or even tried to help me. She never SPOKE a word. That was the last straw! I started to just walk out, but the customer service had been terrible in the stores since I had moved to Florida that I decided to not keep quiet any longer. The store manager told me that the sushi lady didn’t speak English. Well, being ignorant, or whatever, I blurted out that this was America and she needed to learn to speak the language.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I still feel that if people are going to work, live or visit here, they should be expected to learn the English language. I also feel that if I went to a another country to live, work or visit, I should learn the language, or enough of the language, to take care my needs and not be expected to be catered to.

2:25 PM  
Blogger Jeff S. said...

Good article this morning about immigrants and language. I'm second generation American, having had both sets of grandparents arrive from Poland and Hungary in the early part of the 20th century. I never learned the language and I regret it. I think it would provide an essential connection to who I am.

I don't feel threatened by people that speak another language around me. I embrace their language and the culture. It's a learning experience. It's very liberating and enlightening not being scared. I feel that it enhances me and lets me live a fuller life.

When I'm in a multi-cultural environment, I feel fortunate. Just like anywhere, there's good and bad, but I've found that the good shines through. You know, much depends on one's approach to situations and I'm not about to generalize.

This is the way I raise my kids and hopefully they will continue to pass that on. It's one world baby, the only one we have.

3:14 PM  
Blogger Annette John-Hall said...

I love this conversation. All of you raise salient points.

This is America and English is the language that binds, but isn't it wonderful that everybody can speak their native tongue here without penalty. It's what makes this nation great.

But a lot of people emailed me to say they don't like it when manicurists spoke their own language in the nail shop; they said it had nothing to do with tolerance, that it was just plain rude.

Your thoughts?

4:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I actually don't like not speaking with a person immediately. I think my time is valuable. As a matter of fact I called T Mobile the other day about my bill, and to say when I finally reached a "real person" I was totally upset, I had to regroup not to take my frustrations out on the operator. They ask you your last four, what the problem is and then you have several categories for that problem and then you may get transferred.... Yikes.... So I don't mind because of the English or alternate language, I just don't like the time involved in speaking with someone and then having to hold for thirty minutes... Sorry you didn't ask me all that, but great article....

7:19 PM  
Anonymous aileysmom said...

I think it's fine to provide the ATM and other services in Spanish as well as other non-English speaking languages. I think English should be listed first, however, because English is the primary language in America. (Actually, we speak "American English" not the King's English, but whatever).
I think people use the English language issue as a veiled attempt at voicing their discomfort and/or resentment at immigrants---and anyone else who isn't just like them.

7:22 PM  
Blogger clee said...

I don't get my nails done on a regular basis, but I do wonder what manicurists are saying about my toes! I don't really care what language they speak as long as they understand what I'm asking for and don't try to overcharge me, which I've never had a problem with. We have to be honest, we go to these nail salons for the price and they do a good job. If we want to go to a salon that totally speaks English, what would be the price? Or, could we find one?

5:00 AM  
Blogger Suzanne said...

I just wanted to salute your piece on "the language of intolerance" in today's paper. We need to hear more people speak out in this direction. The only intolerance should be of intolerance itself. Difference does not mean better/worse it means difference. LOVE your pointed question of "do they really believe their liberties are being compromised with one extra key stroke?" This bears a strong resemblence to the fuss over changing gendered language to be more inclusive ... I never quite understood how that took anything away from anybody ... well, actually I do understand as it's a matter of power and who has it and how to keep others from getting some of it.

While I do believe one must learn the dominant language of a country if that's your 2nd (3rd, 4th ...) language if you chose to move to that country, there is no reason why the transition can't be made less painful. I'm Canadian, now living in Exton (for the last 12 years) and we have both English and French options on all government phones and many corporate lines as well. It's just a normal fact of life. Were there grumblings in the 70s when that was first instituted? Oh yeah but everyone soon got used to it. Are all those English speakers "forced" to listen to French now? No, although once in a while the introduction is in French and you have to wait to get to the English that the majority speak. Ohhhh, had to wait 10 seconds, life might be over.

Limited amounts of power (held by the few) lead to lack of hope for the many (witness the sorry plight of women under the Taliban, the situation of young muslims in France - there are lots of other current & historical examples) and lack of hope breeds intolerance/fanaticism. Have Americans gotten to the point where they have no hope for a better future?

The lack of tolerance also reminds me of childhood bullying. Bullies pick on those with less power (usually meaning they are different in some way). This bullying those who don't speak English also comes from a place of fear of losing that power. Why is it so hard for people to comprehend that sharing power INCREASES everyones power.

Sorry, got on my soapbox. Once again, I appreciate your article!

12:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't care that I have to press "1" for English. When you think about it, this is such a dumb discussion - not dumb that the issue was raised, but dumb because people are actually mad at this.

I can think of 10 issues that would benefit from the energy it takes to get angry about what language someone speaks from education to poverty to health.

Whoever took the time to print that shirt should get a life...

12:51 PM  
Anonymous Trina said...

As an American who has lived in Europe for more than 30 years, I get a good laugh at all the Americans who claim they'd learn the host language if THEY lived in another country. Although it's certainly an over-generalization (I speak fluent Germany and passable Dutch), there is more than a kernal of truth in the old joke that goes: "What do you call somene who speaks 3 language? Trilingual. And someone who speak 2 languages? Bilingual. And someone who only speaks 1 language? AMERICAN!!

I think many people are using this superficial issue to vent their fear of and frustration at all the non-white faces they encounter. Sometimes people like that makes it very hard for me to believe we're actually living in the 21st - instead of the 12th - century!

11:39 PM  
Blogger Queso said...

I wish we all spoke more languages. Lots of languages! More ways to connect. More ways to express our thanks, our love, our ideas.

6:07 PM  
Anonymous Janis said...

I'm sorry if you disagree with me, but if they want to live and work here, they should learn to speak English. Why should I have to learn several different languages to communicate when they only have to learn ONE!!!!! English is the official language here. I am not prejudiced. If they can speak English, then I have no problem with them. But why the hell should I have to learn SEVERAL languages? Let's see, there's German, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Dutch, Hindi, Arabic, Russian, Portuguese, Korean, French, Vietnamese, Turkish, Polish, and several others, not counting the different dialects in some of those languages. For example, Spanish spoken in Spain is different to some extent from the Spanish spoken in Mexico. Same thing for French spoken in france as opposed to the French spoken in Canada. So yeah, I feel they should have to learn to speak English as I do not have the time or the resources to learn 99 other languages. See Wikipedia article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_languages_by_number_of_native_speakers if you wonder where I came up with that number.

10:56 AM  

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