Tuesday, October 28, 2008

In English, Please!

This is one of those days when I say, "It's good to be Queen," as I know I am talking about something that might make some uncomfortable. So be it. It's not going to be politically correct what I write here. That's just fine. I believe that political correctness is the most insidious form of censorship ever and we would be well shed of it. That's a battle for another day. Having said that, read the rest of this entry being fore-warned.

I called Proctor & Gamble today to talk about a product; doesn't matter which one. Let's just say, I called an American company and the customer service call center is located in America. I checked that because, sadly, so many aren't located here anymore. The nice rep I spoke with was an American citizen; checked that, too. She was speaking with me, an American customer. With me so far?

So, explain to me why, when first tangled in P&G's voice jail system, an American sounding woman on the recording says, "Thank you for contacting Proctor & Gamble. To continue this call in English, please press 1..." ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Press 1 to continue speaking in English??? Press 1!

How about, we just continue the call in English which, while not the 'official' language of the United States, is pretty much the national average? Press 1?! How about, if you don't speak English and need assistance in your language, YOU press a button to get the call converted into something you speak?!

Press 1? I don't think so. I'm not against cultural diversity in any way. Am not against it. After all, I'm only second generation in the United States. Trust me when I tell you that having a multi-cultural world, to my mind, is a great thing. However, I speak English as an American citizen and even with the cacophony of cultural dissonance in this country, I expect English to remain paramount. It is my express wish that it be so!

I resent so much of what we do in this drowning tide of political correctness. I do not suggest that we shouldn't be inclusive as much as possible, but we're headed in the wrong direction now! I respect cultural norms and practices. I find other countries and languages fascinating. I believe we're a stronger nation because of the varied cultures that live here. But, is it impossible to celebrate our diversity and remember that we must have things that unit us as a nation? Is it too much to expect that one of those points of union might be speaking the same language? Why does it seem that we constantly look for ways to splinter our population into slivers of difference pandering to the false god of diversity? Why has the goal of being a United States of America fallen in importance?

I am sad that I am not bi-lingual; I should be. I should be fluent in Albaneze which is a dialect of Italian that grew out of the flight of Albanians into Italy. So, what happened? It's Louisa and Nick's fault. When my grandparents arrived here in 1907, they did not speak English. They were not educated. Both could barely sign their names. They did what all hard working immigrants did in their new homeland- they took jobs they could find. Others helped them learn their way around in this strange land they had chosen. They found teachers who could help adults learn English and rudimentary reading and writing. Over time they prospered and became American Citizens.

Nick and Louisa only spoke to a couple of others in their native language. I often heard them speaking to my grandmother's brother, Joe, in that exotic blend of Italian with gypsy. I loved it. But, they did not speak it to their children or grandkids. Between Great Uncle Joe and Nanny & Pop, there were nine children. Except for two who picked it up on their own by listening, none spoke Albaneze because their parents believed strongly that, "We are Americans and we speak English now!" Deliberately, they would not speak their native language to their children. They were proud till the day they left this Earth that they had achieved the dream that America offers. They left their old world behind, embraced all parts of being American and that also meant the ability to speak English.

So, please, don't ask me to press anything to continue in English. Just don't. If you wish to live in America, don't ask us to accommodate your unwillingness or resistance to using English. When I worked for a month in Russia, the average citizen didn't speak English. There were no signs posted everywhere in multiple languages, none even written with the western alphabet. Any idea how hard it is to read Cyrillic? And, while I wanted to practice what little Russian I knew with my students and colleagues, I very rarely got the chance because they desperately wished to practice their 'American English,' as they called it! Back in my own country, I'm required to press a key to continue a call in English? My head's going to explode...

If I go to another country, I expect that I might have to ask for a translation. I do not go with the expectation that my lack of fluency in the native tongue will be accommodated. If someone comes to live in the U.S. the same should apply.

I will help anyone learn their way in their new country. In return, I learn customs and ways. Teach me to speak your language and I'll help you learn English! I am delighted that we are beginning to understand that we should be bi-lingual and intensely teaching other languages in our schools. But, English is universal; it is the language of commerce. It is the language in which world business is conducted. In most other countries, being bi-lingual is the standard; generally it means that the individual also speaks English.

So, if you speak other languages, outstanding! But, remember, English is the primary language in America. That's as it should be. I am not pressing a button to continue in English. Don't ask me to press one button. Nada. Nicht. Nunka. Nyet. No. Understood?

Namaste' Till Next Time,


Opie said...

Fantastic!! I couldn't agree more.

MelissaS said...

I agree.

But on the bright side, at least you talked to an American citizen that spoke clear understandable English. Once a year I have to call a customer service number and it is always someone who, to put it kindly, has English as a second language, and inevitably it takes me longer than it should cuz I have to ask them to repeat themselves so much. Damn annoying.

Anonymous said...

Press that #1 and don't be surprised that a nice woman or man will be there to help. Though, one problem, YOU CAN'T UNDERSTAND A WORD THEY SAY!

Mike said...

Great to hear from you again, Holly! Sad to say, I've had my share of call experiences not unlike your P&G example.

As of now, I'm not bilingual either. I'm trying to learn Mandarin though.

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