I’ve been mulling this experience for a while, and since it still ticks me off, and since today seems like an especially provocative time to raise it, here it comes.
I was accompanying my wife as she went to a clinic for some early morning outpatient surgery, and as she waited in the one-chair-short reception room, I went next door to a McDonald’s to order breakfast. As usual, my wallet had moths flying out of it, so I knew it was going to be a debit card purchase. My apparently mute clerk took my order —remember when Ray Kroc insisted that every employee say “Hello!” and “Thank-you”? Now you are lucky to get eye contact and a grunt—the modest amount appeared, and I swiped my card. The machine told me that the card was rejected. I swiped again. Rejected again.
“OK, now what am I supposed to do?” I asked. : This is a good card, and there is plenty on money in the bank.”
My clerk said only, “Pay!”
“I can’t pay, because of your stupid machines. I want to buy my breakfast. This is my only means of payment. The card readers is malfunctioning!”
She said again, louder and with irritation, “PAY! PAY!”
“Don’t tell me pay pay, because I just told you, I tried to pay pay, and your equipment won’t let me pay pay! Find a way for me to pay!” I replied, with the delightful intensity for which I am well-known.
Now she started angrily shaking the receipt at me, shouting PAY three times and nothing else, apparently having reached the zenith of her language skills.
“LOOK!” I said. “This is your store. All I want to do is pay a lousy 7 bucks for a sausage biscuit and a coffee, and this machine is stopping me. I can’t pay if your lousy equipment isn’t maintained. FIND A WAY FOR ME TO PAY! That’s your job!”
You’ll never guess her response.
No, go ahead, guess.
She thrust the receipt into my hands and said, with an infuriating “You’re the idiot here” eye-roll, “PAY!”
I looked at the paper. The receipt showed a completed transaction! The machine had said DENIED, but the charge had gone through anyway.
“For future reference, ” I said to the red-face young woman, “the word you wanted was ‘PAID’, with a DEE on the end, not ‘PAY,’which means something entirely different.”
And I got my sausage biscuit.
It was yummy.
A citizen has an obligation to speak the language, and the language is English, sufficiently to perform the duties of that job efficiently and without making interactions with customers stressful and difficult. Employers have a duty not to place non-English speaking legal immigrants in jobs requiring levels of English proficiency that they can’t manage. (They also have an obligation not to hire illegal immigrants at all, even if they can speak English like Henry Higgins.)
I am kind, understanding and patient with new Americans with nearly impenetrable accents (unless they are on the drive-thru mic, in which case it is a case of intentionally torturing customers), people who stutter, and native citizens whose parents and the public school system never taught them how to speak properly for a business setting. (I am especially kind, understanding and patient if they smile, look me in the eye, and don’t behave as if they are doing me a favor.) However, people who can’t speak or understand English sufficiently to interact with an English-speaking public, like my incompetent clerk, get no sympathy from me, and should not be enabled by their employers, customers or society. Learn the damn language.
And when the new administration took down all but the English text on the White House web page, that McDonald’s breakfast was still on my mind.