Other Languages Are Scary, Used Primarily To Mock Me
I took French instead of Spanish in high school. Though my French teacher was great, and I had good friends in the class, I have to admit that Spanish would have been more useful in my career. I have to use translators with some clients, which is inconvenient. I am frequently gripped by suspicion that I am not getting an exact translation, and not getting useful nuance.
I am not, however, gripped with paranoia that people speaking Spanish are mocking me. While they may be on occasion, that fear strikes me as stuck someone on the bleak landscape between narcissistic and delusional.
Whitten took over a hotel in Taos and immediately began a War on Spanish:
The tough-talking former Marine immediately laid down some new rules. Among them, he forbade the Hispanic workers at the run-down, Southwestern adobe-style hotel from speaking Spanish in his presence (he thought they'd be talking about him), and ordered some to Anglicize their names.
No more Martin (Mahr-TEEN). It was plain-old Martin. No more Marcos. Now it would be Mark.
Now, this may not be against the law (though I suspect a clever lawyer could forge an anti-discrimination lawsuit out of it). But it seems a little ham-fisted and premised on (1) rampant paranoia and (2) a low opinion of customers:
Whitten says it's a routine practice at his hotels to change first names of employees who work the front desk phones or deal directly with guests if their names are difficult to understand or pronounce.
"It has nothing to do with racism. I'm not doing it for any reason other than for the satisfaction of my guests, because people calling from all over America don't know the Spanish accents or the Spanish culture or Spanish anything," Whitten says.
It seems to me that people who are put off by the prospect of pronouncing "Marcos" are unlikely to be traveling to Taos, New Mexico, and highly unlikely to enjoy it if they do venture there. Also, speaking only for myself, I hate it when companies gratuitously Anglicize employee names. When I call customer support and speak with some poor bastard in Mumbai who has been forced to ditch the name his parents gave him in favor of "Wayne" or "Billy-Bob," I feel as if it's deeply humiliating for both of us: humiliating to the man in Mumbai because he has to pretend to be someone he is not, and humiliating for me because the transaction is premised on artifice and on the presumption that I'm a narrow-minded xenophobic dick. It really doesn't make me any happier to have someone named William, rather than someone named Anupam, ask me whether I have tried rebooting.
So I'm not a fan of Whitten's policies. Moreover, I think they represent a poisonous hostility towards other languages that I've seen too often lately. Whether it's Texas cops ticketing drivers who don't speak English (even though there's no such law) or political commentators arguing that it's unnatural and unreasonable to pronounce names like "Sotomayor" correctly, too many people seem freaked out just because other people talk differently. I think English can survive some people not speaking it.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
- Follow-Up: U.C. Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks Gets Free Speech Right This Time - September 12th, 2014
- The Quality of Mercy Is Not Strained, But It May Have A Litmus Test - September 11th, 2014
- [Rerun from 2011] Ten Things I Want My Kids To Learn From 9/11 - September 11th, 2014
- Yale Might Want To Look Into Some Sort of Basic Civic Literacy Course - September 10th, 2014
- U.C. Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks Gets Free Speech Very Wrong - September 6th, 2014