Saturday, March 15, 2008

What's wrong with speaking Spanish?

A few days ago, the Providence Journal ran a story about David C. Richardson, the owner of Rhode Island Refrigeration in Providence, who demanded that a couple of his customers show him their Social Security cards to prove they were in the country legally after he heard them talking to each other in Spanish. Needless to say, this is one of the things that's going to happen when you start demagogueing some issue, like claiming that immigrants are a bunch of diseased criminals: people like Richardson feel justified when they discriminate against immigrants.

I'm aware that there are some people who just get really really really freaked out when they hear strangers conversing in a foreign language. It seems to be a visceral reaction that's beyond their conscious control. I have three words of advice for these people: get over it. You do not have an inalienable right to understand everything that's said around you.

I frankly don't understand why somebody would have a problem with hearing other people speaking a foreign language. I don't mind it at all. In fact, I'd like to have it happen more often. I'd love to have the people around me to switch to some other language when they start talking about their gall bladders or their latest diet. Even the most banal conversations (and most conversations are dreadfully dull) sound magical when they're conducted in some language you don't understand.

So, if you're out shopping or dining with someone and both of you are fluent in some language other than English, I encourage you to speak that language with them. It'll add to the ambience of your location, and it'll annoy people like David C. Richardson.
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