Sunday, January 10, 2010

When Babel Fell

No matter which bagel shop I walk into in this city, the routine is pretty much the same. It goes something like this:

Me: [white male, speaking plain English, ensuring eye contact with Latino or Indian behind the counter] Toasted sesame with butter, small regular, for here.

Them: [Latino or Indian behind the counter looking at me quizzically] Whaa you have?
Me: [enunciating deliberately] Toasted Sesame Seed Bagel With Butter; Small Regular Coffee; For Here.
Them: [nods]

After a moment:

Them: [holding up a sesame seed bagel] You wannn toass?
Me: That’s what I said. Toasted. Sesame. Seed. Bagel. With. Butter.
Them: [looking at me as if I have a bomb in my gym bag or something; knowing what I want, but determined to make me say it again anyway] Anything else?
Me: [slightly impatiently] Yes, a small regular coffee!
Them: You wannn sugar in?
Me: That’s what I said! That’s what a “regular” coffee is! Milk and sugar!
Them: [genuinely offended; chattering agitatedly amongst themselves behind the counter]
Me: Look, if you’re going to be in this business, shouldn’t you know what a “regular coffee” is?

Who needs to start his day with this kind of annoyance? Am I the one with the issues, because they are trying to sell me something but can’t understand my language? Today I told them to keep their bagel – not entirely because I was concerned what they might do to it back there, but at least partly so. I said, “You make a great bagel, but it’s just too much trouble to order it. Thank you.”

I think it’s curious that Indians have taken over the bagel business here, but I’m not necessarily against them being in that or any other business. I have no problem with Latino employees, I’ve had them in my own business. I have always said that America is a nation of immigrants, that’s what makes us strong, and I, believe it or not, am descended mostly from immigrants. But the immigrants of these days don’t really seem to be of the same character of the great waves of immigrants of the last two centuries.

Things have gotten ridiculous. I don’t think a guy walking around in his homeland ought to be the one that nobody understands. If you want to be here, if you want “the jobs Americans just don’t want to do,” if you want government vouchers for the medical care for your babies, if you want minority preferences in your business and residential activities, or even if all you want is a chance to make it, why don’t you at least learn the language? Because if you won’t do that, I think it says all that America needs to know about what you think of her (that is, of us), and that you should perhaps pack up your goodies and move somewhere else.

But if you’d rather stay and share the bounty of liberty, then assimilate. That begins with learning the language. And learning some manners wouldn’t hurt you, either.


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