**NOTE** Be sure to read through to the end and check out the comments! I’ve already had one reader call with chest pains before realizing I did not in fact become an intolerant bigot since she last saw me!
Don’t you hate it when service people don’t speak English? I mean, here they are, taking your orders for food or gas or hotel amenities and they don’t know the language! What are they thinking? Don’t they know that they’ll slow up the lines, create angry customers, maybe even get yelled at, ridiculed or – worse – fired?
Yet they do it anyway.
They show up for work knowing that not only do they have to do the technical parts of the job well but that they will also need to learn/practice/fail at/apologize for their new language. Often in the face of unforgiving patrons. Us native speakers don’t have that kind of pressure. Really. Think about it. If you had to do your job suddenly in France or Greece or China you’d have a tough row to hoe. Honestly, I get enough grief from other parts of the country when they hear my Worcester accent. What does it take for someone to have the need, the desire – the courage – to put themselves out there with that kind of – let’s face it – “disability”. Would you even consider it?
My Dunkin Donuts Lady
The woman who runs the drive thru at the local Dunkin Donuts where I get my coffee is one such brave soul. From Brazil, she started out at the drive thru with (I’ll admit it) maddeningly unintelligible English:
Her: “Egg Why? Beggy o dirk?”
Me: “I’m sorry?”
Her: “On your vlad. Beggy o dirk?”
Me: “I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you’re saying”
Her: “Beggy vlad o Dirk? ….Me o no me?”
Me: “OHHHHH! Egg white veggie flat bread please. No meat.” (Phew!)
And at the beginning, when I pulled up to the window she would only smile shyly as we made the transaction and I drove off congratulating myself on my interpretation skills.
Then there was a difference. She wasn’t struggling with “beggy vlad” anymore. And she was venturing out with a “Goo Morneen” instead of just the shy smile. I took a chance and let her know that her English was improving quickly. She smiled and this time it wasn’t a shy one – it was pride.
It’s been about a year or so now and she is fluent in the language of her job. Except for one small thing. The “the” in “have the nice day”. Now, I could take a moment over the eggwhite veggie flat and the $2.67 transaction to educate her about definite and indefinite articles but I actually prefer the “the”. It reminds me that we have a choice.
We can choose to have “the nice day” as opposed to something else. No matter what we’re facing, whether we’ve signed up for it or not, or whether other people think we should be doing it better or doing it at all. We can choose to work hard and be nice to people.