Friday, April 10, 2009

I need to learn to speak English!

at least according to one deli worker.

This happened a few weeks ago and I didn't feel much like writing about it at the time, but on further reflection I think it's worth relating, if only so I can come off as a complete bastard!

I've related, a few times, the things that can happen when trying to communicate here. I speak, fairly obviously, with a strong Australian accent and, given that I was 48 when I moved to the US, I think it unlikely my accent is going to change. Partly that's stubbornness. I speak the way I speak because that's part of who and what I am, US citizenship notwithstanding.

I avoid certain words that are 'dangerous' due the possibility of misconstruction; I don't say can't for example, always using the full form of cannot, even if it's grammatically awkward.

I'll even, when necessary, pronounce the last letter of the alphabet as zee instead of zed.

So a few weeks ago it was time for the Sunday afternoon purchase of deli products for the forthcoming weeks lunch. I fronted up at the counter, grabbed the ticket[^] and awaited my turn. When it came I asked for 'a pound of Boars Head roast beef, sliced thick'. Got the usual non-comprehension. So I tried again. same non-comprehension. So far, par for the course. I don't really blame em either; I certainly wouldn't want to be standing for 8 hours dealing with the people who buy stuff at the deli counter, dickering over the thickness of beef and cheese. It's not as if the conversation we hold as part of the purchase is scintillating stuff.

I usually have to repeat myself thrice. *shrug*.

At the end of the third repeat, faced with the same non-comprehension, I'm wondering what I can do to make this easier? I have considered printing up the request and handing it over on a piece of paper, feigning muteness.

At the end of the fourth repeat the person behind the counter suggested that I 'should learn to speak english'.

Now I probably should have just ignored it. Nonetheless, this was rudeness beyond the acceptable. I've spoken English all my life and know no other natural language.

I asked for, and spoke with, the manager. He did a much better job of coping with my accent and offered to waive payment for my purchases. Nope, that's not the point and not the reason I'm complaining. This is America, the country so proud of it's melting pot immigration background. I completely understand that pride; we Australians are also proud of our immigration mix.

I insisted on paying for my lunch material. I fear he thought I was planning on suing but not a bit of it. Sue the company because of one ignorant person?

I've been back there once or twice and strangely, never seen that person behind the deli counter again. If they lost their job then I'm sorry about it, but I'm not going to apologise (much) for being offended.

Meanwhile, I've learned to appreciate it when the black girl, or the hispanic guy at the deli serves me; they actually listen and I never have to repeat myself more than once!


Ann oDyne said...

Because of film and TV culture embedded in us Down Under, we can all pretty much do a Bahston accent, California Valley Girl, New Joisey, and Southern Belle.
Some of us know a Sarf London accent from Dorset forelock tugger; and some of us can pick an Adelaide accent too.

so i feel sorry for poor deprived Septics, knowing nothing beyond their own village.

"You shur do tok funny. Ah kid lissen to you tok fer owhers" a guy said to me once.

Bravo calling the manager.
You should have taken the free deli as recompense for your humiliation.
Don't feel guilt over the sacking,
and finally -
maybe it was The Vegetarian God giving you a taste? (oh those poor boars).

Andy E. Wold said...

You should visit the deli often, and each time ask for anyone BUT the rude "American". ;)

Colin Angus Mackay said...

I got worse in Spain. This was years ago and my accent was probably just as incomprehensible so when I fronted up to the counter and asked in Spanish "Could I have ..." whatever it was, the response was a very sharp "Qué?".

It turns out what what I said was at a level of formality reserved for the monarchy. I should have said "Give me...", which just sounds rude when translated directly back into English as it is said in the imperative verb tense. Since that doesn't exist in English, I was taught it is used for issuing commands, with an example of a drill instructor.