04 June 2006


Didja miss me? I went to Naples, Florida, to visit my grandmother and several cousins who live there. I had a wonderful time; took long solitary walks on Vanderbilt Beach each morning, shopped a bit, and had an unbelievable experience in a Target that has me reconsidering my views on the "English as the official language of America" debate. More about that in a second. There are a couple of topics I want to get to today.

First, I want to talk about this article that ran in the Naples Daily News, Gran's local paper. Can you say YUM? I'll be giving this very fussy recipe a shot soon and let you know how it goes. I'm not sure about being able to find banana leaves in Ohio, but I do mean to try.

I don't know if the Naples Daily is a conservative or liberal paper; I was down there for all of 4.5 days, and only read it twice, but since Florida in general is very conservative, I'll assume that the paper is too. That said, great heavens, how much better that paper is than my local rag. I was impressed with their balanced coverage of local news, and the first day I was there, there were about 10 foodie articles! Gotta love that.

It was hot there. F-ing hot. Really f-ing hot. Hot enough to remind me why I don't live there. Each day would start in the mid 70's (maybe 17 or 20 for you Celsius fans) and get to 90 or 91 (30C) by the middle of the day, with 100% humidity ALL THE TIME! Ugh. Too hot. I would get up each day around 6.30 and get to the beach by 7, but I'd be done there by 9 or 9.30, because by then it would be too hot. I'm very pale white, and I wore 30 SPF the whole time I was there, along with a big floppy white hat to keep the sun off my face. The dangers of skin cancer are very real, and I know I'm neurotic about it, but I don't care. I would rather be the palest girl at the party than making an appointment to have my 3rd melanoma removed. Ya know?

I managed to get all the way to Grandma's house without a bathing suit. I'm blonde. I know. I just forgot to pack one. So the first night I was there, we went to the Naples Target, located at 2322 Pine Ridge Road in Naples, Florida, United States of America, to get a cheapie suit, and I'm astonished (still) about what happened next.

There were a bunch of Isaac Mizrahi swimsuit separates right inside the front door that were selling for $17.99 for each piece. I'm a cheapskate and didn't want to spend $35 for a bathing suit that I would use for 3 days. I looked around for a salesperson, and there was a woman folding t-shirts sitting on the floor with the Target red polo shirt and a name tag on. Before I could open my mouth, Gran asked her where the fitting rooms were. She pointed to a HUGE sign on the wall that said, "fitting rooms" and while I thought that was a little rude, it wasn't uncalled for. I worked once upon a time in a dollar store, and people would come up to the cash register all the time and ask, "How much is this?" And I would answer in a monotone, "Everything in the store is a dollar." So I can understand being irritated that about 50 people a day ask you where the fitting room is when it is really clearly marked. But I didn't see any other bathing suits, so I asked her if the two racks by the front door were all the bathing suits they had, and she looked up at me and said, "¡No hablo ingles!"

Now since I was with my 86 year old grandmother, I did not do what I would have had I been alone, which was to say, "Are you fucking kidding me?" Instead, I smiled, nodded, said OK, and thanked her in Spanish. I looked around for someone else to ask, and Gran suggested I ask her in Spanish....I can't. I know enough Spanish to ask where the bathrooms are (important, no?) and to order a beer (also important), but my conversational skills are pretty limited. I told my Gran that I didn't know enough Spanish to do that, and another customer standing nearby offered to translate. So no big problem, and I did find a cute tankini in a wine color that only cost me $17, which means that the adventure ended well. The thing that astonishes me is that you can apparently work in the United States of America at a job that requires you to interact with the general public and not speak English. I'm still trying to get my head wrapped around that one. WTF? As I have said on this blog before, if you are going to live in a country that isn’t your native soil for 20 years, learn the $@%^$ language, dammmit.

Many European countries require that you take language classes as a prerequisite to getting the equivalent of a green card. As should we. When Gran and I got out to the car, I asked her if things like that happen all the time in Naples, and she told me that the last time she went to the grocery store that the check-out clerk hadn’t spoken any English either. Gave her the total of her grocery bill in Spanish, counted her change in Spanish, and told her “Thanks and have a nice day” in Spanish. When I told my cousins the above story, none of them reacted with any surprise. My aunt works in construction down there in FLA, and she told me that her company offered free English classes to their employees, with transportation provided, books paid for, and not one single person took the classes.

There’s a huge Hispanic population there, and I think part of the problem is that the communities enables them by staying pretty insular. There’s Spanish-language TV and radio stations, and I get that; I don’t object to folks holding on to their native culture, in fact I think it is a great thing that we no longer push people to subsume their foods and customs in an attempt to be “more American” as my great grandparents were. And please don’t mistake this as an anti-Hispanic rant. It isn’t. I want you to learn English if you come here from Germany, Indonesia, or Saudi Arabia.

I said above that my opinion about the official language thing has changed, and I’m contradicting myself a little bit by restating that everyone who lives here or intends to live here for 20 years should learn the language. I didn’t really have an opinion before, kind of thought that making English the official language of the US was really more than what we needed to do. Now I think we do need to take that step.

Here in O-hi-ia, the woman that I talked to at the Naples Target wouldn’t have gotten hired, because there isn’t anyone to do your interview in Spanish. We too have a sizable Hispanic population in my part of the state, and companies are thrilled if you’re able to speak Spanish. But they wouldn’t hire someone who couldn’t speak English. Is that prejudicial? I don't think so.


Gary said...

Your comments on the Hispanic population of your country struck a bit of a chord here in the UK.

Our main area of immigration has historically been from the Indian sub-continent but as many of those immigrants were traders or skilled workers they tended to learn English for their working hours and use their own language at home, although there are still pockets in most cities where some of the asian population have little knowlege of English as a first language

Our main problem with the asian population is now the third and fourth generation of young men who regard themselves as (and are) British but who live an asian lifestyle at home, there is a lot of resentment from them towards their elders when they try and impose traditional Indian values in the home and these youths are also getting a lot of anti-asian grief out on the streets from racist whites within their communities - these kids are getting it on both sides and of course react accordingly in anti-social ways.

We've also got another very interesting problem growing in the UK - as part of the EU (European Union) we are obliged to open our borders to any EU citizen who wishes to travel here and/or work. In recent years as the EU has spread its membership to former soviet bloc countries we are finding an influx of workers from these areas who are attracted by the mainstream european country's relatively high wage rates.

In the last twelve months we have seen thousands upon thousands of young Polish workers coming into the UK to take up minimum wage jobs many with only a basic grasp of English - I was at a customers recently where one of the Personnel staff was learning Polish in order to interview new workers and also progress his own career.

A united Europe is one good thing but a united language ?

Lucy Arin said...

Hi Gary-
Thanks so much for weighing in to the debate with a thoughtful response. I'm thrilled to hold a dialog that is reasoned and logical.

I think that one united language here in the States is essential. A quintessential part of our American identity is our bastardized version of the Queen's English. I dunno about the rest of the world, in fact I think it is a bad idea to try to have a "world" language, but I would think that at least in England, y'all would hold fast to that English language. It is very interesting to see that the same thing that is happening in Florida is happening in England.

Periodic listening to BBC World Service has not given me the insight that you did about the Indian and Eastern European immigrants in England, so thank you very much for that.