Thursday, January 03, 2013

New Tales from Old Navy: Melting Pot

I'm a big fan of the melting pot that is the United States. We're a country that was founded on the idea that anyone in the world can come here and become a citizen, seeking a better life than the one they may have had in the old country. I won't get political with this post, but I will say I lean more toward the idea that there's a proper way of doing these things. There's a system that was put in place that I don't fully understand. And so, in my ignorance, I believe that folks crossing our borders should do it legally. That's probably not an incredibly popular view these days, but it is what it is.

On the flip side of that, I couldn't care less what language our immigrant neighbors speak. I know there are a lot of folks out there who believe that if you come to America you should speak American. But here's the thing, 90% of all communication is non-verbal. True story. Yes, it's convenient when everyone you interact with on a daily basis speaks fluent English. But I ask, is it fair for us to expect every foreigner arriving on our shores to speak English, but for them to not expect us to speak their native language when we visit their home country? I once heard a kind of funny thing... If you speak three languages, you're trilingual. If you speak two, you're bilingual. If you speak one, you're an American.

That being said, I see a greatly diverse group of individuals where I work part time. It kind of blows my mind how many ethnicities and nationalities I've seen in the last couple months. And Christiansburg isn't exactly a bustling Metropolis. I worked at a bank in downtown Raleigh for three years and I don't think our clientele was as diverse as Old Navy's customers.

As I said, I'm all for it. And I'm cool with the multiple languages I hear on a regular basis. I just hope these customers are okay with the fact that I won't always understand them. Nor will I always recognize exactly what language they're speaking. Spanish is a pretty familiar one that I can pick out. I've heard Italian and French. I'd love to hear some Portuguese, but alas, I have not. Yet. I can't be sure, but I'm pretty sure I've heard conversations in Farsi, Hindi and German. I've also heard a language that has to have originated somewhere in Eastern Europe. Though I have no idea which language or dialect it may be.

I've decided that there are a number of foreign language speakers who have the same sort of sense of humor that I have. These are the folks who will waltz into a public place and ask questions of the naive American dude running the fitting room. But they don't just ask an average, every day question. They lay on the thick accent and ask in broken English. I don't want to be rude and ask, repeatedly, "Huh?" So I try to pretend I understood what they said and go with it. Then the practical jokester's spouse comes by and says, "He's trying to be funny..." At which point we all have a good laugh.

Laughter, by the way, is multi-national. Everyone understands a laugh. See? 90% non-verbal.

1 comment:

  1. If you speak three languages, you're trilingual. If you speak two, you're bilingual. If you speak one, you're an American.

    So sad.
    So true.