More than ever before, we are becoming a global community. That doesn’t automatically mean that I can solve a real-world problem on the other side of the world, but it is a real possibility. The fact that it might be an option is already evidence that in the future, we will connect with and rely on people from all corners of the earth, and we will demand it instanteously. It also means that it won’t be as simple as looking out the window to engage people in conversation about the weather. They could only be on the other side of a mountain from you and their weather could be drastically different. Stale conversation like that is best left for person-to-person interaction. Or just left. I’m in Wisconsin; no, I don’t want to talk about snow.
One of the bitter struggles of the typical American has long been the difficulty of calling customer service and having to communicate your problem to someone that struggles to speak English. To be clear, I’m not trying to claim this to be some kind of dire problem; I’m simply stating that it’s something commonly complained about. Even by me. But then something changed.
I had to place an order with a place that I didn’t think would be open at that time of night. I intended to leave a message and have my order filled the next morning…perfectly acceptable to me. I love any opportunity to get something done without having to partake in social niceties that I don’t really mean. That may sound a bit blunt, but when I need a quick answer on something, I’m not interested in how you’re doing. In general, I do care how you’re doing, and I would love to talk later after I solve my problem, but for now, this is a two-sentence transaction…question from me, answer from you. I might throw in a thank you. This is why I love text messaging and email.
Anyway, *ring ring* come on, voice mail! But someone answered, and that familiar feeling washed over me. This phone call was going to take awhile, because I could barely understand her.
We both suffered through the call, me trying to explain my situation to her in a noticeably frustrated tone, and her getting annoyed at my frustration as she was trying to make sure she does her job accurately. At some point, we hit a moment of clarity. I figured out how to put my message in the best way for her to understand, and she worked hard to follow my line of thinking. Quickly, she knew what I wanted and where to find it. Then she asked if she could get my phone number so she could pull all the information and call me back. I accepted and provided it for her, and then we hung up.
As I put my phone down, I got a feeling that I seem to be getting more lately as I’m apparently in the reflective and philosophical stage of life. The feeling was of me being wrong about this, my original feeling when I heard her answer, and I need to fix it. Not by writing this blog post or giving money to charity or patting myself on the back or something something free puppies something. I need to fix it by trying harder. As I went back over that first call in my head, my frustration and the time it took to get to the end of the conversation were directly proportional. The more frustrated I got, the more pressure she felt, the longer the phone call. So maybe it’s time for a new tactic, because this is a lose-lose.
About ten minutes later she called back, and I had spent that ten minutes fixing my attitude. I immediately felt the tone of her voice go from defensive to relaxed, and all it took was a polite greeting in a friendly voice. Incredible. We began from an implied truce, and immediately the lines of communication sprang open. I got my order in and gave her my credit card number. We both patiently read numbers back to each other to verify. In fact, we were both so conscious of our effort that I felt more comfortable with the accuracy of this order than an order with an “American English” speaker. Which brings me to my next point…
English is not the national language!
Actually, funny story. Remember where we got English from? It was from the English. So, like, the people we just dropped the hammer on and declared our freedom. Americans only spoke English because the colonists came from England, so after Mel Gibson laid the smack down on Colonel Tavington and Lord General Cornwallis, there were more than a few people not interested in carrying on with English as the common language. Several people suggested Hebrew, considered the “first” language. Others said Greek, though part of that suggestion was to keep us speaking English and make the English speak Greek. I’m sure there are more than a few Native Americans that find this entire conversation silly and insulting.
Honestly, I think this whole “English as the national language” movement could get some more traction if the people fighting for it knew how to speak English.
Here’s my point. A key aspect of language is that it should always be conducted so as to relay your message as effectively as possible. This is why we have punctuation and grammar rules. You can’t just say or write something and assume the other person understands it the way it is going through your head, especially if you ignore all rules of grammar. It is the burden of the speaker/writer to properly convey the message. If they fail, there can be some significant consequences.
Back to my phone call. This woman could have been on the other side of the world. She could have been in the building down the street. It doesn’t matter, because we are both intelligent beings and at some point in the history of mankind, people from different places learned to communicate despite any language barrier. It takes listening, understanding, and most of all, patience. Stop worrying about how many people might be coming into America not knowing how to speak fluent English. Honestly, in my experience, a huge majority are further along in English than I am with any other language. Now, you might say, “But travo, they came into our country, not the other way around.” You’re right. How fortunate that I was born here into a middle class family in a safe community. How dare they try to escape poverty and not get shot by stray bullets from the gang fight down the street by coming to a country where they don’t speak the right language!
That was called “satire.” You’re not actually right; you’re very, very wrong. My place of birth was luck. I didn’t work hard to be born here. My parents worked hard for me to be born in a safe home, but I don’t get to take credit for that. But see how I said things I didn’t mean as a form of mockery to the views people like this truly advocate? Satire is becoming a pretty common form of communication in America.
Maybe you should learn it.