Goo Morneen! Have the nice day!

**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.


6 thoughts on “Goo Morneen! Have the nice day!

  1. The Julie I know would never, ever be unkind or intolerant! Yet, when I read the title of this article, and the description of the conversation with the woman at Dunkin Donuts, it sounded to me like you were making fun of people who have difficulty with English. Did I misunderstand you?”

  2. Thanks so much for your comment, Cathy. I absolutely do not want people left with the impression that I’m making fun. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. The post is meant in general to encourage tolerance and appreciation of people (of any background or in any situation) and specifically to celebrate the fact that this woman puts herself in harm’s way (in terms of others’ lack of tolerance) as she learns a language while learning her job. It also asks people on both sides of the issue – whether they are the ones struggling to perform or the ones struggling with the performance – to take a step back and appreciate the hard work it takes on both sides. In terms of laying out the conversation the way I did, the fact of the matter is that when someone tries to speak another language, it can come out wrong. That’s not a judgment, it’s a fact. It’s also a fact that sometimes it’s hard to understand people. The unproductive thing to do is to get angry, to not give feedback, to make fun (no matter which side of the equation you’re on). The productive thing to do is to respectfully ask for clarification, ask for help or provide guidance – whether it’s an employee not performing up to par, a manager who’s damaging morale or someone you can’t understand. Okay, Uncommon Readers, what do YOU think?

  3. Loved the article. I studied for a brief time in Mexico and had the pleasure of living with a family there. I was quickly immersed in the language and culture, both of which I thought I knew before coming to the country. While helping with the family business of bartering cheese for other goods, I was amazed at how tolerant many people were of my lack of skill, and yet was sometimes shocked at those that told me to ‘go home’. I hear that so much here in America; “learn the language before you get here”. Reminder, Americans – it is not easy for most of us to go from one part of the country to another without our accent or slang to be questioned. Yet we have these expectations that only those that are ‘up to par’ can come here and work? Really??
    Cudos to you Julie for pointing this out. And double-cudos for inspiring the Dunkin Donuts employee!

  4. Thanks for your comment, Sue! We are all so very busy and overwhelmed in our life and work that it can be hard to take that step back. Customers of any type or level of service can choose to respond productively. Managers dealing with troublesome employee performance can choose to handle it openly and supportively. Employees who struggle with a challenging environment can choose to constructively seek out help. We’ve all got choices and I’ll choose to have the nice day, thank you very much!

  5. I absolutely LOVED this piece. It was so completely refreshing to see what has become such a sound-bite lightening rod (speak English only) covered in an actually meaningful way. And so simply in your story, yet right to the jugular of what we should be thinking about and focusing on in this topic. Tolerance. Trying to understand, or even just see from another’s perspective. Thank you, Julie!

  6. Thanks for your comment, Jacqueline! You’re right on target when you say “lightening rod”. We all have “triggers” or “hot buttons” and when they are pressed it’s easy to make assumptions and react. Thankfully I’ve got a wonderful community of Uncommon Readers who react to people being made to feel small – a few actually reacted to this post. I hope to encourage real dialogue about real issues because that’s the only way we come to understanding.

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