Friday, December 23, 2005

Listen, people, to what, I say

In 1972 I made my hippie pilgrimage to Europe. With a long departed ex, an acoustic guitar, and a back pack, I traveled through most of continental Europe.

I had taken 3 years of High School German, and had done well with it. I have some natural aptitude for languages, and after just a few days in Italy, I was able to count, ask directions, and generally get by. My ex, who had studied High School French, found her command of it had vaporized. It was no fault of her own, just different wiring.

With my basic German, a little Italian, and a few words of French, and with many Europeans speaking English, we got by just fine. And my German skills progressed as I picked up vocabulary and colloquialisms not taught in class. I considered that, as a visitor, speaking in a country's mother tongue was the least I could do.

We met my Grandparents in Italy, when they came over for a week's vacation. And sadly, we now had a minor version of The Ugly American. My Grandfather, a fairly taciturn and often gruff individual during the best of times, was frustrated by not being able to find American coffee. And why didn't everyone speak English? I didn't point out the obvious, that re: coffee, well, this wasn't America, and re: English, virtually everyone he came in contact with did, in fact, speak English.

Here, finally, is my point. I spent some time this evening in a large chain department store, picking up some last minute goodies. And I noticed that every sign in the store was in 2 languages: English and Spanish. And as I wandered the aisles, I heard many conversations in Spanish, as well as other, more exotic languages. Clearly, America is, and has always been, a nation of immigrants.

I may be going against what some perceive as the true spirit of Liberalism and multiculturalism, but I do have one request of our recent arrivals:

Learn the damn language.

I truly believe that heritage is precious, and that cultural uniqueness and languages should be passed on. My son in law, born of Hispanic parents, grew up speaking only English, such was the parent's drive to assimilate. He has had to learn Spanish as an adult. While I admire this effort of his parents to blend, he was deprived of a rich tradition that he's only now getting re-acquainted with.

A friend of mine and his Chinese descent wife recently adopted an orphan from China. And wife, with the help of her Chinese born parents is making sure that baby is learning both languages. This is the right approach, in my opinion.

Contrast this to many of the customers that came into Pam's store. It was situated in a part of the San Fernando Valley with many immigrants, primarily from Iran, Russia, and Israel. And regularly people complained that she didn't speak Farsi, or Hebrew. And these were people who in some cases had lived here for many years.

Pam traveled to Europe in July, and commented that while in Paris, a world class tourist destination, multi-lingual signage was very evident. But when she traveled down to Bordeaux, it was French only. And that makes perfect sense, as less tourists venture to Bordeaux.

But please tell me that Target, in the Valley, really needs bi-lingual signage. I understand capitalism, they want to reach all consumers. So be it. But people, if you're going to live here, please:

Learn the damn language.

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