I never really understood why Americans get their shorts all in a bunch when others speak Spanish in the country. Perhaps it’s just arrogance. Or maybe it’s fear. The United States is one of the “newer” countries in the large scheme of things. It was built (after a bit of theft) by a multitude of nationalities, races, religions. And allegedly, it’s one of the only countries that’s formal basis is tolerance.
I remember many years ago, my German uncle telling me a story about how there was a vote in America to select a language – German or English. I did a little research on this recently and found a story about the vote. Apparently my uncle’s version was a little off. “A long long time ago, the US voted on an official language. In events packed with drama, opinions were split between English and German. It all came down to the final vote: English won – by a single vote, because one German-favoring guy was sitting on the toilet. . . On January 13, 1795, Congress considered a proposal, not to give German any official status, but merely to print the federal laws in German as well as English. During the debate, a motion to adjourn failed by one vote. The final vote rejecting the translation of federal laws, which took place one month later, is not recorded.” You can read more about it at http://watzmann.net/scg/german-by-one-vote.html.
It seems to me that the language “difference” is dying on its own. Most children in the States learn to speak English. They are being raised in multi-cultural communities. And those that are raised in strictly Spanish-speaking neighborhoods, still have television and Sesame Street. Teenagers surely leave the neighborhoods to go to malls, movies, and doubtless make friends with non-Spanish speaking kids.
The issue really comes into play with the elderly who never learned the “beloved” English language. Do we prosecute them for this? Do we deny them a meal in a restaurant? Health care? The chance to be put on hold for hours by AT&T?
Once, when I was an up-to-no-good teenager, I walked into the McDonald’s on Gay St. in West Chester, PA. I noticed that the menu was in both Spanish and English. This was back before anyone cared that fellow Americans were not all speaking English. Back when we encouraged our children to learn other languages in school. Back when Sr. Edwardine taught us to sing the names of the South American countries and Sr. Patricia Michael taught us Peruvian dances.
At this McDonald’s, I decided to try my skills at ordering for two completely in Spanish. I thought I did a fairly good job – although I’m not sure my Puerto Rican and Columbian friends at the time would have agreed. When I was finished, the teenager behind the counter looked at me completely befuddled and told me she didn’t speak Spanish. Now, it was right up on the board behind her, and she could have read it at easily as I did. When I look back on this incident, it occurs to me that we have done a complete turnaround in let’s say, oh, just a couple of decades. Maybe a few. Then, it was the server who felt like she failed me. If I tried this now, well, we all know what would happen. It would be Geno’s all over again. You can read more on Geno’s here, http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,198757,00.html. Now, I’ve seen The Soprano’s and I’m not meaning to offend Italian Americans, but Fuhgetaboutit, that’s not ‘xactly English youse guys is speakin’, capiche?
I’ve seen Americans take their love for their language even farther — to foreign lands. While studying one summer in Austria, I had the opportunity to go on a day trip to Munich Germany with some newly made American acquaintances. One young woman was from Texas. We stopped a roadside stand where the Texan wanted to purchase a tourst item – a patch for her sweatshirt. She didn’t speak German, and the patch was located on the side of the stand, where the salesman couldn’t see it. To make matters worse, the stand was very busy, so he didn’t have time to step outside to see what my Texan friend wanted. As I see it, she had a couple of options, she could have patiently waited. Or she could have come and asked me to assist her since I spoke a little German. I also noticed later that those patches were numbered and she could have just held up a few fingers to indicate what she wanted. But my Texan friend had a way of thinking all her own. What she chose to do was stomp away angrily without her patch and exclaim, “That salesman didn’t speak a lick of English!”
English, whether right or wrong, has becoming the International language. After 8 months in Turkey, I have yet to find myself in a situation that I couldn’t handle, because there is always a Turk around that speaks a little English. English is everywhere, T-shirts, signs, websites. Websites – this is really pretty amazing to me. I can shop on Sahibinden.com, Turkey’s version of Craigslist, in Turkish or English. I can shop for furniture, order food, and research schools, all in English. My husband teaches at a local university, all in English. I can watch Desperate Housewives – in English with Turkish subtitles. I just can’t imagine what would happen in Turkey if they decided to outlaw English speaking!
The fact of the matter is that we are all on borrowed land and borrowed time. We waste our lives quibbling about things that just aren’t important. Is it so hard to simply press “1” for English?