As an immigrant, I’ve somewhat experienced an ‘otherness’, due to my initial accent in English, while living here. It’s been pretty much eradicated over the years, but it never fails to remind me that I am straddled between two worlds — being an immigrant, and yet, being a sort-of-native all at the same time.
(Photograph I took while in Paris, having a hot chocolate)
The other day when I was buying TTC tokens, there was a Chinese lady in front of me. She asked the TTC operator a simple question in somewhat broken, but still understandable English:
I am going to go do X, will I be able to return and use my transfer to re-enter the station?
The answer to that is: No. TTC rides are one-way only.
(If you leave the station completely to do something personal, or you try and use your transfer to go back in the direction you came by using the buses or streetcars on the street, you have to pay a second time to take the trip back home. I have never heard of being able to get a free ride back into the station with a receipt from an office)
The operator, not understanding her question, told her to go upstairs and get a receipt (WTF?).
I was confused at the answer as well, because I knew that it was a one-way-one-ride rule for the transit.
The Chinese woman repeated her question again, obviously asking for clarification as she didn’t understand why she would need a receipt (??) to re-enter the station, and the operator repeated her same answer, but only louder in a more irritated tone.
Two ladies (well, I don’t really want to call one a ‘lady’, seeing as how she acted), came down and seeing the exchange, tried to physically push past me, to buy a tokens, saying to me:
LOOK, are you going to go through OR NOT?!!??
She was beyond rude.
Just that alone, made me want to turn and snap:
BACK OFF, and don’t you dare shove me again. *snarl* *hiss*
However, I was too involved in trying to make sure that Chinese lady knew where to go and what to do, even though I don’t speak a word of Chinese.
I tried to tell the lady that the answer to her question was ‘No’, and the operator started yelling at the Chinese lady again.
I almost wanted to tell the operator that speaking LOUDER was not going to help someone understand better (a common complaint amongst natives in other countries who don’t speak English).
(Photograph I took of a beach in Key West, Florida)
Then the rudest thing of all happened…..
The witch who was trying to push past me, said:
It’s so goddamn clear what she has to do. Why the hell can’t she just go and do it?
I turned to her and said:
I don’t think she spoke English very well.
Although to clarify, the Chinese lady understood what the operator was saying, but not the meaning of the words, because even I was confused, and English is my mother tongue.
Her friend behind her, repeated the same thing almost at the same time I did.
Then she snapped back:
Well she should go get a translator or someone who can goddamn speak English for her.
I turned and I wanted to basically give the witch a tongue lashing, but her friend stopped me with a glance saying:
I’ll take care of this.
Then her friend started to tell the witch off:
I would NEVER be so rude to someone like that, that is just INCREDIBLE.
We aren’t even late for anything, there’s not reason to be like that.
The witch had absolutely not remorse whatsoever, and kept saying:
WELL IT’S TRUE. If you come to this country, you should speak the language!
At this, I really wanted to say to her (and I regret I didn’t):
I’d like to see you go to any other country in the world [save for the obvious English-speaking countries] and be able to speak THEIR native language there perfectly.
Heck, just hop over to Quebec in Canada and see how you like it when you don’t know what is going on.
Oh, what? You don’t speak French? Or Spanish? Or Portuguese? Or Mandarin?
…and the natives of other countries should accomodate you by speaking English?
KNOWING THE LANGUAGE IS ESSENTIAL, BUT DON’T BE AN ASS
I may say a lot of things, like how I feel English is the language of business and that everyone should learn it to compete globally, but as an immigrant I am sensitive to such rudeness and ignorance, even though English is my mother tongue.
Furthermore, as a tourist for whom almost every foreign country except the English-or-French speaking ones is a country where I don’t know the language, I know first-hand what it’s like to NOT speak the language and to feel totally rejected by one or two bad apples who get mad because you don’t speak their language.
I am still in shock over what happened. I can’t believe people like that exist. I’d love to throw them into someplace really shocking like China or Japan and make them realize how ridiculous they are.
It can even go further than that. This Montreal STM (metro) operator beat up a woman because she was speaking in English, not in French. She told her to: Go back to her country.
Mina Barak, 23, told CBC News that Monday’s incident at the De La Savane métro station began when an Opus machine took her money but did not provide transit tickets.
Barak said she asked for help, in English, from the STM ticket-booth employee. A dispute erupted. The agent told her to “go back to your country” and “in Quebec, we can only speak French,” Barak said. [Presumably, the operator said all of this in English]
She said she immediately called the STM and filed a complaint, returning to the booth to advise the employee, who was knitting. She said she told the agent: “I’m going to make sure you’re going to lose your job for what you said to me.”
At that point, Barak said, the employee “got out of the booth and she literally had me in a headlock and she was just punching me.”
Jamie Salomon, who happened to be leaving the station when the incident occurred, said the ticket agent “came out of the kiosk, slammed the door and started wailing on” Barak, repeatedly punching her. Salomon said he called 911 and started pounding on a turnstile and yelling in an attempt to stop the fight.
Another man intervened, managing to pull Barak out of the grips of the agent, who was “completely enraged and acting like an insane, violent maniac,” Salomon added.
It is one thing to not know the language, and to not be able to literally answer someone who is speaking a language you don’t understand, but it’s wholly another to be bilingual and to REFUSE to help and be completely out of line by beating them up.
Or to make a poor little boy cry over $0.10 by threatening to call the police on him.
The French-speaking ticket-taker, a woman in her 50s, seemed frustrated with the boy as he was speaking English, he said.
He said she told him that “the next time you show up here with a bunch of coins, I’m going to call the police on you.”
At that point, the boy got upset and started to cry. Security guards watching nearby approached him and asked him if he was okay.
As an Anglophone, I definitely experience some lukewarm form of this in Quebec, but I am hoping I will get better and better at French as I practice, although I must say I’m concerned I will offend people by not being able to understand their Quebecois accent.
Not all Quebecois folk are like that. Look at Vanessa! She’s a Quebecoise, and is not at all like that.
Update: She says I’m assuming she’s nice, but I told her she’s MY kind of nice 🙂
NATIVE SPEAKERS ARE NOT NECESSARILY ABLE TO SPEAK THE LANGUAGE EITHER
Frankly, I am not even sure native speakers know their own language that well.
How many times have you read simple misspellings, or grammatical mistakes from people who are so-called college-educated?
There. Their. They’re.
Expected. Excepted. Accepted.
A lot. Not alot, it’s two words.
We’re all strangers who don’t know the language (perhaps even our own), somewhere in the world. A little tolerance would go a long way for immigrants who are trying.