November 28, 2007

English as a Common Language in a Chinese Restaurant

A conversation I overheard during lunch gave me pause for thought.

A man at the next table struck up a conversation with the young Chinese waitress. He allowed that he was from India, and made mention of India, Nippon, and China in a sentence I didn't quite comprehend as it was not my conversation, after all. They talked about how long they'd been here and how they liked Tallahassee. When he inquired as to where she lived, she made a point of saying, "I live nearby, with FAMILY."

She went to answer the phone and the conversation ended. What suddenly struck me was that while she chatted with her fellow waitress in their native tongue, the conversation with the patron was in English. While 'they' might pass laws requiring certain languages be spoken/understood/printed, there has to be one language that is primary so that we can all communicate without newcomers having to learn more than one tongue.

Imagine an ethnic waitress in a university town trying to remember the polyglot of dialects of customers from all over the globe!


ET said...

I can see having a waitress or waiter not knowing what the heck you are talking about bad for business.
At our favorite Korea restaurant are Korean waitresses and they wisely always has a resident redneck waitress on duty.
(the restaurant serves catfish, hushpuppies, an shrimp - which seem to be down-to-earth-people magnet).
And the Mexican restaurant we go to occasionally you order by the number - which I guess is ok too, if you don't want to ask the waiter details about the selections.

Jean said...

Taiwanese girls used to cut my hair in a Metro area barbershop. The elder of the sisters was very vocal. When I told her how short I wanted it, she said, "But you might not like that." I said, "Sue Chen, anything you can cut, I can grow back." After that, she would say, "I know, I know, cut off the bozos!" I doubt she knew about bozo the clown's little hair tufts, but she knew what I had indicated that first cut.

Her sister learned English by watching soap operas on the barbershop TV which was on all day. In a very few months, she went from virtually no comprehension to fluency.

ET said...

Having your hair done by Taiwanese girls and the language barrier reminds me of a Seinfield episode that Elaine was getting her hair done (or was it her nails?) done by a Koreans and they all mostly spoke in their homeland language and Elaine suspected they were talking about her and she was the blunt of their jokes (she was right).
To make the story even more interesting she had George's father to come alone with her - according to the story line he was stationed in South Korea and learned the language and there he had an unplanned reunion with his ex-lover who now owned the shop.
The plots just keep on spinning.

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