Sunday, March 18, 2007

At the mall

Yesterday The Wife and I spent a bit of time at the mall (the Galleria, for you Buffalo readers). Not much excitement there -- my days of happy mall-shopping are now long over, and I'm content to visit the mall two or three times a year just to see what's up -- but I did note at one point, while we were standing in line at Sears (The Wife was buying a new spring jacket), a family behind us was conversing away in a language other than English.

I notice this more and more these days around the area, and I'm wondering if the Buffalo region is becoming more international in character or if it's mainly people from other cultures living in Canada and then coming over here to do some shopping.

But I thought back to conversations I've had with people who are insistent that "If you're gonna live here, you'd better speak English", and frankly, I've heard nothing to change my opinion that it's a free country and that means you should be able to conduct your lives in whatever damn language you want.

One guy I knew once insisted that it's rude to converse in another language -- Spanish, say -- when you're in a primarily English-speaking country, and I always wondered, "Why?" Of what possible use is it to me that some family of complete strangers speak English as opposed to Arabic or Italian or Hindi or whatever? What they're talking about is still none of my business.

It seems to me that the "They should speak English!" impulse springs from one of two mindsets: either "Everybody's conversations are my business and I should be able to listen to them", or "I don't trust those swarthy people to have their own conversations". I find either mindset ugly and disrespectful.

So, as far as I'm concerned, go ahead and speak whatever language you want. It's all part of the price of maintaining a free country: we don't get to assume any longer that the people around us are all white, English-speaking Christians. And personally, I think we're all the better for that.


Anonymous said...

But knowing a bit of English, I think, is essential if you live in an English-speaking country. Just as an American needs to know some French when living in France. In case of emergencies, medical and otherwise. Speaking it shouldn't be mandated of course. :-)

Kelly Sedinger said...

I agree with that. I'm not suggesting that people should feel free to know no English at all, but that people who think that they should keep their native languages to their own homes and nowhere else are, well, being dumb.

Anonymous said...

Dumb indeed. It staggers the mind how people can be threatened by a different language. The English language isn't going to be phased out any time soon. Is that what they're afraid of?

Call me Paul said...

Being from Canada, the home of "multi-culturalism," I have no problem with people speaking another language. I was raised in an environment where that is very common. In fact, I very strongly support the efforts of people to preserve their cultural traditions and languages within their own families and communities. That being said, I also believe very strongly that new immigrants should make exceptional efforts to learn the language and customs of their adopted home.