Habla Ingles or You Ain't Getting No Cheesesteak
March 20, 2008 5:43 AM   Subscribe

"Speak English" sign at cheesesteak shop not discriminatory. A split three-member panel of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations ruled that a sign in Genos Steaks the South Philadelphia cheesesteak shop did not convey a message that service would be refused to non-English speakers.

University of Pennsylvania professor Camille Charles likened it to "white only" signs from the Jim Crow era. Owner Joey Vento vowed to shut down Geno's Steaks rather than take the sign down. Rudy "We should make certain that they can read English, write English and speak English" Guliani offered his support.

The story was
covered by the BBC. Obama missed his chance to discuss race with Geno's owner Vento who challenged both the the Democratic presidential candidates to come down for a cheesesteak during their recent visit to Philly. That's an encounter I would have liked to have seen.
posted by three blind mice (194 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well, it prompted me and friends to boycott Genos.
posted by ob at 5:48 AM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Those goddamn Italians are at it again! Damn immigrants!
posted by Pollomacho at 5:49 AM on March 20, 2008 [6 favorites]


Considering that ordering at Genos usually consists of two words, e.g. "Provalone with" or "Whiz without," it seems that this was more a test case than a substantive one. That barely counts as English.
posted by valkyryn at 5:51 AM on March 20, 2008


PS - that was a sarcastic comment. I should probably make that clear. I was pointing out the stark irony of an Italian restauranteur discriminating against recent immigrants when only a generation prior people would have been putting up signs reading "No Italians" in their shop windows.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:51 AM on March 20, 2008


I've read two of these articles now and nowhere is anyone asking what seems to me to be a most fundamental question: DID he refuse service to any non-English speakers? If so, and especially considering the placement of the signs, his defense holds no water.
posted by DU at 5:54 AM on March 20, 2008


In this documentary called Sandwiches that You Will Like, Geno's restaurant makes an appearance. If I recall correctly, it looked like an unpleasant place to order a sandwich anyway. There are other signs with "rules" of how to order, like what valkryn mentioned above.

This sign just strikes me as another of those.
posted by King Bee at 5:56 AM on March 20, 2008 [3 favorites]


Also, I wonder what he'd think if two well-dressed Italian-speaking men came to the window. Or does "English-only" really mean "No Mexicans"?
posted by DU at 5:56 AM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


You shouldn't eat at Geno's not because Joey Vento is an ass-ignorant Sout' Philly bigot, but because his cheesesteaks fucking suck.
posted by The Straightener at 5:59 AM on March 20, 2008 [17 favorites]


Does anyone know what the intent of putting the sign up really was? Maybe they felt that people coming in trying to order in Italian made other people uncomfortable or something? What languages do the staff speak? Would they have minded if I ordered in English, but maintained a conversation in some other language with the people I was waiting in line with, and after I had gotten my food? Because that would be pretty lame if they did.

Maybe they should have said, "please place your orders in English for the sake of accuracy in the assembly of your sandwich, unless of course you can pantomime your toppings, but feel free to carry on a conversation in your native tongue as long as it doesn't come off as a terrorist threat to any xenophobes in the vicinity, which, you know, is pretty likely, so maybe just shut your pie hole, except to eat."
posted by tosteka at 6:04 AM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


In the Department of Tastiness:

Pat's is waaaay better than Geno's, but Jim's trumps all.

In the Department of Bigotry:

Geno's--- rude to everybody. Ate there once in '87. Arrived with a non-white female. The stares. The churlishness. Never again.
posted by Dizzy at 6:05 AM on March 20, 2008 [5 favorites]


Oh, also, there's another cheesesteak vendor from the city's notoriously enlightened northeast section called "Chink's Steaks" that will be moving into the same general neighborhood as Geno's soon, despite outcries from the Asian community that has come to make up a large part of South Philly's population. From a local news item:

"Chink's Steaks (6030 Torresdale) is taking over Tugboat Annie's (901 S. Columbus) and opening a smaller take-out-only Chink's Steaks there in late March, says Chink's owner Joseph Groh. He takes over the property March 1 and says he will be up and running by the beginning of Phillies season. He may put in some outside tables. Groh says he's not too worried about any backlash about the shop's name, which had drawn ire from Asian-Americans several years back.

Chink's was the childhood nickname given to the restaurant's late former owner Samuel Sherman."

Chink's defenders claim, "it's not racist, it's just his childhood nickname," but generally fail to point out that Sherman's nickname was Chink because of his almond shaped eyes.
posted by The Straightener at 6:06 AM on March 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


does "quisiera un cheesesteak, motherfucker" count as english?
posted by pyramid termite at 6:13 AM on March 20, 2008 [3 favorites]


Does anyone know what the intent of putting the sign up really was?

From the article in the FPP's first link:
"'The bottom line is that I didn't do anything wrong,' said Vento, 68, who maintained that the sign was a political statement....'This is America. When ordering, please speak English.'

The millionaire businessman said the commission's action was an attempt to infringe on his freedom of speech - he refused to remove the sign, and put a second one on the bumper of his orange Hummer. Some commentators and Web sites portrayed Vento as the heroic victim of an overreaching government's attempt to impose political correctness.'"
posted by ericb at 6:13 AM on March 20, 2008


Pat's is waaaay better than Geno's, but Jim's trumps all.

The cheesesteak debate for Philadelphians comes down to neighborhood allegiance more than anything else. If you're a proud Pat's or Geno's person you're telling people you at least identify with the South Philly Italian "Yo" culture if you weren't actually born and raised there. As a kid I lived on 63rd Street in West Philly, around the corner from the original Jim's that few tourists venture to any more because the neighborhood is so bleak. Even after we left the neighborhood my dad and I always went back to the original Jim's because we were West Philly, not South Philly, and my dad basically let me know that if he ever saw me with a Pat's steak in my hand he would beat me senseless with it. So these alliances for Philadelphians tend to run a little deeper than the food itself and can go as far as physical violence.
posted by The Straightener at 6:17 AM on March 20, 2008 [7 favorites]


Also ... from the article in the FPP's "vowed to shut down" link:
"Critics charged that Vento had put up the signs because an increasing number of Mexicans had moved into the neighborhood around the steak shop.

Vento said that he was disturbed only by 'illegals,' who were taking jobs from Americans.

Vento acknowledged that his grandparents were Italian immigrants, but said that the family was forced to learn English when they came here."
posted by ericb at 6:17 AM on March 20, 2008


Considering that ordering at Genos usually consists of two words, e.g. "Provalone with" or "Whiz without," it seems that this was more a test case than a substantive one. That barely counts as English.

Just a slight correction to make the irony more clear. In Philadelphia English one grunts "wiz wit" which as valkyryn correctly observed barely counts as English.
posted by three blind mice at 6:19 AM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


I love the quotes.

I’ve been meaning to post this to AskMe, and maybe I still should, but I think this might be a good place for it:

In America, what’s a good response when somebody complains about an immigrant’s inability to speak English?

In many situations, for example when I go to lunch with a coworker, the person I’m with will make a big deal out of the fact that the person working the register can’t speak English, or that ATMs and signs are bilingual, or generally complain that America shouldn’t make allowances for people who can’t speak English. “Can you believe that guy? He couldn’t even speak English! Learn the language or go home is what I say!”

I usually tell them that there’s no official language of America, that people have the right to speak whatever language they want, and that it takes years to become fluent in a language as difficult as English. However, I’m not entirely sure this is true. Is there anything in the books about an official language, or even a preferred language?

They’ll then argue that when their ancestors came to America, their ancestors learned to speak English. Ignoring the fact that many people who say this are of Irish or English decent, I suspect that this wasn’t the case, that only the children of their ancestors learned English. Again, I don’t know that this is true. Did immigrants back in the day tend to learn English faster than immigrants do now? I know my great-grandmother couldn’t read or write, though I don’t think she could read or write Italian either.

I will admit to being frustrated myself when there’s a language barrier but most of the time I wish I was the one who could speak the other language. I know I’ve certainly pissed off my share of Quebecers when I go North. “Ehhhh… ummm…. How do you say ‘I’m an American with a sense of entitlement’ in French?” Fortunately for me, most of them can speak English.
posted by bondcliff at 6:20 AM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


If I owned a store or restaurant in the US, I would put up a "All orders and requests must be in Spanish" sign and a "No Mexicans served here" sign just for the confusion and publicity.
posted by moonbiter at 6:21 AM on March 20, 2008 [6 favorites]


Plus, I'd only speak to the reporters in German.
posted by moonbiter at 6:22 AM on March 20, 2008


bondcliff: "In America, what’s a good response when somebody complains about an immigrant’s inability to speak English?"

In this case, I'd reply, Vafanculo!
posted by notsnot at 6:23 AM on March 20, 2008 [4 favorites]


(for those of you that don't know what that means, it's literally, go up the ass, in Italian. AN usually accompanied by the "I scratch my chin at you" gesture.
posted by notsnot at 6:25 AM on March 20, 2008


Private enterprise. Free speech. His business, his livelihood.
posted by davidmsc at 6:29 AM on March 20, 2008


Public responsibilty. Hate not protected. Every citizen's concern, his peril.
posted by Dizzy at 6:30 AM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


They’ll then argue that when their ancestors came to America, their ancestors learned to speak English.

Which argues against them. When their ancestors came to America, they should really have learned to speak Cherokee, Cheyenne, Sioux, etc.

I have complained about non-English speakers as support line reps or cashiers and such, but only insofar as I'm unable to decipher their accents (I think I must have a low-level hearing problem or something). If they wish me a good day in Spanish or are having their own conversation in Indian or whatever, who the hell cares?
posted by DU at 6:31 AM on March 20, 2008 [5 favorites]


When their ancestors came to America, they should really have learned to speak Cherokee, Cheyenne, Sioux, etc.

Quote of the day. Fantastic, DU.

...having their own conversation in Indian or whatever...

I'm assuming you know that "Indian" is not a language. At any rate, even if you don't, you still win my personal "quote of the day" award.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:37 AM on March 20, 2008


However, I’m not entirely sure this is true. Is there anything in the books about an official language, or even a preferred language?

The United States has no official language. I can't answer the question to whether immigrants in ye olden days learned the language faster. I would guess that there is no reason that they would have.

In fact, I would suggest that there may have been a tendency to learn the language less quickly, given how modern American media saturates the culture. But that's simply speculation, and I can think of several mitigating factors that argue against such a theory.
posted by moonbiter at 6:43 AM on March 20, 2008


Well, regardless of the legality of his sign, it demonstrates that he's an asshole racist. Whether his sign is a form of protected speech is an interesting question but ultimately less important to me than the fact that I wouldn't want to have anything to do with the slimy jerk.

And, of course, we can't forget this person's siblings in arms who are offended by Spanish language advertising.
posted by sotonohito at 6:44 AM on March 20, 2008


Private enterprise. Free speech. His business, his livelihood.

Public responsibilty. Hate not protected. Every citizen's concern, his peril.


It's not a public facility.

Hate IS protected.

His peril? What the heck does that even mean? That he should be beaten or something?

I always come down on the side of free speech. Boycotts and pickets are vastly preferable to the gummint swooping down and telling me what I may or may not say.
posted by Scoo at 6:57 AM on March 20, 2008 [5 favorites]


What's the wop going to do?

You're not helping.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:01 AM on March 20, 2008 [3 favorites]


I don't like the sign or the attitude involved in it. I don't think it is actually stupid to compare the sign to segragationist signs. But I think there is a difference, first of all there is a practical dimension to it; businesses advertise specifically that they speak spanish this business is warning that it doesn't. I think Geno is a jerk and would never support his business but let the idiot baby have the idiot sign.
posted by I Foody at 7:04 AM on March 20, 2008


Never been to genos or any cheesesteak place for that matter... See ya next football season when the brownies come in tho. Anyways couple points:

1). Can a business put up a No - English/Spanish only sign now?

2). Are the cheesesteaks there worth the effort?

3). Is the owner that big of a jerk?

4). Mexicans don't eat cheesesteaks... taco bell is down the road.

5). Why not put up a "we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason thx mngt" sign instead?

Now my stance on this is: If you live in this country you should speak English and not another language. I don't mind if you keep your heritage but learn to speak English
posted by Mastercheddaar at 7:04 AM on March 20, 2008


More publicity for what is arguably an "Ok" steak.
The general phialdelphia reaction to the sign is "Yeah, whatever, one wit."

(When we're not at Tony Luke's, the best steak in town. I mean, it's under the freeway in a mobile home bulding, what's more authentic that that???)
posted by djrock3k at 7:05 AM on March 20, 2008


Incidentally, if people think that making English the official language will help make immigrants learn the language more quickly or cashiers better at interpreting their wishes, they are sorely mistaken. Anyone who has spent time in a country with an official language and an immigrant population will be able to attest to this.

An official language is two things: a potential cost-reducing measure for the government and a club by which a native speakers can use to beat their fellow would-be citizens with. The first is questionable, and the second is odius.
posted by moonbiter at 7:05 AM on March 20, 2008 [3 favorites]


I don't intend to insult anyone but let me just say that 2 of the 3 folks I know from philly fail basic tests of goodness. Their common traits- swerve to hit cats and dogs, are assholes who don't listen - have been claimed by these 2 to be their personal self definition. 1 also claims that the thing he hates most about Santa Fe is that everyone is so friendly he "feels like an asshole when he's an asshole." My tolerance for asshole behavior is well above the Santa Fe average so we can still party on weekends, but my generalized point is that philadelphia seem to bring out the worst in us. Cuz I am an invariably an asshole when I hang with these two... but I will NEVER swerve to hit an animal.
posted by MNDZ at 7:07 AM on March 20, 2008


In America, what’s a good response when somebody complains about an immigrant’s inability to speak English?

"that's nothing - the other day i was criticized by a couple of people because i was in their country and i couldn't speak pottawatomi"
posted by pyramid termite at 7:08 AM on March 20, 2008


I think here "his peril" is the community backlash is going to harm his business. (not that I want to speak for Diz). Witness the local folks up-thread who stated they would never eat there.

I agree, however, that the restaurant owner has the legal right to be an asshole.

He also has the privilege of suffering the social fallout that may come from that behavior.

If I lived in the area I'd be sorely tempted to learn just enough Spanish to go in and order and see the reaction.
posted by device55 at 7:09 AM on March 20, 2008


Some commentators and Web sites portrayed Vento as the heroic victim of an overreaching government's attempt to impose political correctness.

Is "political correctness" even an actual entity anymore, or has it just become a strawman keyword for those who can't come up with a better boogeyman term when they need one? I thought the movement became archaic in the late 90s or so.
posted by Spatch at 7:11 AM on March 20, 2008 [4 favorites]


Just to add to the discussion. Seven of the eight grandparents of my wife and I were not English speakers when they immigrated to the US. They all learned to at least speak passible English. One grandmother was teaching English to other immigrants within a year of her arrival in the US. It was quite common for the head of household of newly arrived to ban speaking anything other than English in the home. "Vee are Americans now, Vee speak English!!.
posted by Jumpin Jack Flash at 7:15 AM on March 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


Also, I am really ashamed to be monolingual. My spanish is is probably above average for americans but is still pretty infantile. I know that elementary schools in european countries require at least one foreign language from an early age. Speaking only english limits us. So, I think it is OK for this store owner to insist that orders be placed in the only language he can understand, but his tone should be apologetic.
posted by MNDZ at 7:16 AM on March 20, 2008


Jumpin Jack Flash - likewise my Grandfather moved here from spain, but neither I nor my father are fluent in spanish
posted by MNDZ at 7:18 AM on March 20, 2008


It's really just a sign of the Italian-American/New Mexican/New Vietnamese culture wars going on in South Philadelphia these days.
Explanation: Genos and Pats are located at the southernmost end of the "Italian Market", a 5 or 6 block long section of 9th Street in Philadelphia, which is basically an open market (you might remember Sylvester Stallone running through it in the first Rocky movie). The Italian Market had been all Italian run since it's inception, with many of the businesses having been passed down through the family for generations. It is in what was at one time a predominantly Italian neighborhood. In recent years however, the old-school Italians have moved to the suburbs, and new immigrants have moved in. The Italian Market has been in slow decline for the past 10 years, and many of the old Italian-American run businesses have closed, and have been replaced with new immigrant Mexican and Asian businesses. South Philly isn't Italian anymore. It's Mexican-Vietnamese-Korean-Italian now.

This is where Joey Vento is coming from. He's angry that things aren't the way they've always been, and he's having trouble coping with the new paradigm.
And so, he put up his sign.
posted by SPUTNIK at 7:24 AM on March 20, 2008 [6 favorites]


You shouldn't eat at Geno's not because Joey Vento is an ass-ignorant Sout' Philly bigot, but because his cheesesteaks fucking suck.

Hear hear. I'm with djrock on Tony Luke's, and in fact there are many places that blow Pat's or Geno's away. If I'm on 9th street looking for chow, I'm going to La Lupe, where I can order in any language I want!

The hubbub here is that this guy's upset because we've finally got a Mexican community in South Philly, meaning we finally have some decent taquerias. It's all about Mexicans, and this guy's deluded nonsensical notions that they're stealing jobs or what have you. He's an idiot.

MNDZ, your friends are idiots, and you are an idiot for being friends with them. Have you seen these guys actually run over animals? Perhaps they are jerking your chain? Maybe these guys are just playing tough because they're out of their element, most likely, and if not, you are an awful, awful person and an enabler of their horrible behavior.
posted by Mister_A at 7:26 AM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


It attracted national attention to Vento and his sign: "This is America. When ordering, please speak English."

That's not what his sign says. You can see the sign right in the photo. What it says, verbatim with punctuation, is

This Is
AMERICA

WHEN ORDERING
"SPEAK ENGLISH"

Which only proves some rule that comes before Rule 34 or Godwin's Law: Any language-realted complaint will have its own grotesque language problem.

Come the revolution, there will be reeducation camps full of grocer's-apostrophizers and quoters-for-emphasis.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:28 AM on March 20, 2008 [11 favorites]


Is Geno's the one where the Fry Mumia t-shirts are part of the employee uniform? Because those guys are assholes.
posted by electroboy at 7:28 AM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wow, now people are automatically racist against the predominant speakers of any language they refuse to provide customer service in? That's ridiculous. I only know English and a little Spanish, and the fact that I can't help you in French doesn't mean I harbor racist feelings toward French people, it just means I can't speak French. The fact that I find the phrase "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" hilarious is what means I harbor racist feelings toward French people.
posted by roystgnr at 7:32 AM on March 20, 2008 [3 favorites]


Is the owner that big of a jerk?

Yes. Here's Joey Vento's speech at an anti-immigrant rally in Harrisburg that had some neo-Nazis present. He's not only an "an ass-ignorant Sout' Philly bigot," he goes out of his way to be an ass-ignorant bigot.
posted by jonp72 at 7:32 AM on March 20, 2008


That's the one, electroboy. I want to elaborate on something SPUTNIK said. The Italian Market area is actually a thriving and desirable area to live now; the decline he mentions is a decline in the Italianicity of the area. The neighborhood, the market, and its businesses are doing fine, it's just different. SPUTNIK mentioned that but I wanted to make it loud and clear. That neighborhood is much more attractive (and expensive) than when Vento opened his grease factory; we're not talking about a neighborhood gone to seed at all.
posted by Mister_A at 7:32 AM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also, I wonder what he'd think if two well-dressed Italian-speaking men came to the window. Or does "English-only" really mean "No Mexicans"?

Yup, that's exactly what he means. They're fucking racists.
posted by ob at 7:34 AM on March 20, 2008


There is always a large Hummer H2 (like there's any other kind than large) parked at Geno's; I assume it is Vento's. Yes, I am saying that driving an H2 correlates strongly with being an asshole.
posted by Mister_A at 7:34 AM on March 20, 2008 [3 favorites]


I will admit to being frustrated myself when there’s a language barrier but most of the time I wish I was the one who could speak the other language.

People speaking a different language behind the counter is one thing -- at least you expect not to be able to understand each other well, and there's no shame in using pidgin Spanglish or whatever.

The biggest problems I've had have been with other native speakers of English.

We get to Buffalo and make our first trip to Wegman's, peace be upon it. Make our purchase, use the ATM card, and the high-school girl running the register says "Zyagtameown?" So I say, "Excuse me?" and she repeats, "Zyagtameown?" And we look at each other like the other has nine heads, until she finally says "Cyash byack?" and I realize that she was saying "Exact amount?"
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:34 AM on March 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


Scoo---
I would never advocate violence.
I meant "his business would suffer if more people knew what an ass he is."
And "the gunmint"?
The government is you and me, dear Scoo.
(Thank you for clarifying my post, device55!)
posted by Dizzy at 7:34 AM on March 20, 2008


(Oh. And I said "public responsibility" NOT "facility", i.e. we all need to find the kindness in daily interaction, including commerce.)
posted by Dizzy at 7:36 AM on March 20, 2008


Christ I want a cheesesteak right now.
posted by Divine_Wino at 7:37 AM on March 20, 2008


Go to Pat's.
posted by Mister_A at 7:38 AM on March 20, 2008


Divine_W---
"High Steaks" over on Flatbush Ave should be open at 11:00 I think...
posted by Dizzy at 7:40 AM on March 20, 2008


Is Geno's the one where the Fry Mumia t-shirts are part of the employee uniform? Because those guys are assholes.

Well I don't recall t-shirts but I do remember signs to that effect. And yes, they are assholes.
posted by ob at 7:42 AM on March 20, 2008


It is significant that Rocky orders from Pat's and not Geno's. As we all know, Rocky knows what's what.
posted by ob at 7:43 AM on March 20, 2008 [4 favorites]


Cheebuggah cheebuggah cheebuggah Pepsi Pepsi Pepsi.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:44 AM on March 20, 2008


During the late 1800s and early 20th Century, Italian Americans were the second most likely group (next to African Americans) to be lynched. One of the largest lynchings in US history occurred in New Orleans in 1891, when eleven Italians were violently murdered in the streets by a large lynch mob. Riots and lynchings against Italian Americans continued into the twentieth century in the South as well as in New York City, New York, Chicago, and Boston.

Unbelievable. I stopped reading before he compared it to the Holocaust. This guy is a piece of work. Thanks for throwing the link to his speech into the thread jonp72.
posted by three blind mice at 7:45 AM on March 20, 2008


I agree with Mister_A's clarification, with the exception that the area WAS in a general decline - socioeconomically - until the influx of Vietnamese and Mexican families in the 90's. Now, it's pretty vibrant.
posted by SPUTNIK at 7:50 AM on March 20, 2008


Yes, good point SPUTNIK. It was getting gross and moribund til them ferrners came in and provided goods and services at reasonable prices.
posted by Mister_A at 7:53 AM on March 20, 2008


ZenMasterThis - hear hear, and I'll be hitting up the Billy Goat for lunch today (D.C. location, sadly.)
posted by Navelgazer at 7:53 AM on March 20, 2008


4). Mexicans don't eat cheesesteaks... taco bell is down the road.

Oh, Christ...do you think a Mexican would look at the offerings from Taco Bell and actually see them as Mexican food? Oh, man. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!! If, in your world, Taco Bell = Mexican food, I feel very, very sorry for you. I've lived in a place where that was pretty much the case, and I felt sorry for myself at that time. I also suffered from massive withdrawal.
posted by LionIndex at 7:55 AM on March 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


Divine_W---
"High Steaks" over on Flatbush Ave should be open at 11:00 I think...


Sadly I'm at work in Tribecca and the nearest Cheesesteak place, instead of serving an even passable not made in Philly jawn serves what you give to someone who wanted a cheesesteak if you hated them and wanted them to be pissed about having to eat a bad lunch. Such is life, I think I'll have Halal chicken and rice and salad and falafel with white sauce and double hot sauce for five dollars from the Syrian brothers cart up on Hudson instead. Maybe get a root beer.
posted by Divine_Wino at 7:55 AM on March 20, 2008


God, I hate this English-only shit. The United States is one of the last monolingual nations on Earth. It's almost as embarrassing as our rejection of the metric system - why are these folks so unwilling to be citizens of the world as well as their country? Is it really so difficult to pick up a few basic Spanish phrases? Isn't it bad business practice to close your shop to a growing portion of your potential customer base?
posted by EatTheWeak at 7:55 AM on March 20, 2008


Don't forget extra napkins, Div_W!
posted by Dizzy at 7:57 AM on March 20, 2008


I'm sure (in fact positive, by reading comments in the thread) that this guy's a complete asshole, but I really do agree with the "speak English" sentiment. Not because I hate immigrants or am xenophobic, simply because I think it's inexcusable laziness to live in a country you don't speak the mother tongue of.
I'm an American, born in Michigan, who's studied Japanese for over half a decade in order to live in the land whose culture and history and language I love. I live in Tokyo now, and I couldn't possibly hope to catalogue all the numbers of hours I've pored over bizarre manuscripts and tomes of squiggly characters. My learning Japanese is a sign of respect for the country, but more to the point, it's a basic tool of survival. I look with scorn upon those chumps with thick accents I watch saying "dawburu chiizubawguru own-eh-guy-she-mawsu" at the golden arches. Learn how to order yourself a decent bowl of ramen, without the accent, says I.
I'm irritated that such a (to me) basic and necessary imperative as "learn the language of the country you live in" is associated with utter racist cry-baby wankers like this one.
I agree with the notion that one must certainly be able to carry on a conversation in one's native language with a companion of same status, and I vehemently disagree with the notion that bilingual ATMs should be taken as anything other than positive. The natives of every country should extend a helpful hand to their immigrating brothers at every chance possible, but the same must be true of those who are immigrating. Ordering food is an incredibly simple process, and if you can't do that in the language of the land you live in, then you should move out.
Of course, that's not the issue here. The issue here is that this guy is a twat and doesn't actually care about bungled sammich orders so much as his tiny little world changing 'afore his eyes.
Screw him.
posted by GoingToShopping at 7:57 AM on March 20, 2008 [10 favorites]


You shouldn't eat at Geno's not because Joey Vento is an ass-ignorant Sout' Philly bigot, but because his cheesesteaks fucking suck.
posted by The Straightener at 8:59 AM on March 20


God I love the City of Brotherly Love! It reminds me of the daily love beatings my brother gave me growing up to show me how much he cared!
posted by Pollomacho at 7:58 AM on March 20, 2008


4). Mexicans don't eat cheesesteaks... taco bell is down the road.

I'm speechless.
posted by Avenger at 7:59 AM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


4). Mexicans don't eat cheesesteaks... taco bell is down the road.

I’ve always wanted to visit China but I think I’d get sick of eating chicken fingers and crab Rangoon all the time.
posted by bondcliff at 8:03 AM on March 20, 2008 [3 favorites]


It's his place -- he can post signs requiring Medieval Swedish if he wants. I don't care. We have a local shopkeeper here who (as a joke) put up a sign that said: "We speek Inglish!" That lasted about a day and a half. People need to lighten up.
posted by RavinDave at 8:03 AM on March 20, 2008


4). Mexicans don't eat cheesesteaks... taco bell is down the road.

I'm speechless.
posted by Avenger at 9:59 AM


Apparently not.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:03 AM on March 20, 2008


a Providence, RI store owner revealed his attitude towards immigrants last week
posted by needsnoprosecutor at 8:04 AM on March 20, 2008


I used to work with a Costa Rican guy down here in Florida, traveling around between New Orleans, Southport, North Carolina, and Key West. This guy was FOB, and spoke broken English. Everywhere we went he would conduct as much business as he could in Spanish (which becomes easier to do as you head south, of course). By the end of my time working with him I had become fluent enough in Spanish to have short conversations with people. Worked out well for me.

But it always bugged me that he didn't try harder to speak English. He seemed to regard it as some kind of ugsome duty rather than something he genuinely wanted to do. He was married to a Costa Rican, had mostly Spanish-speaking friends and was able to conduct about half his business in Spanish, so his learning to speak English better wasn't exactly a pressing issue, but the times it caused me to have to perform the same task four times because a word didn't mean what he thought it meant was frustrating. I wished he'd just learn how to speak the local language, no?

So, asshole or no, I can feel this Geno guy's pain. No, English is not the official language, but come on; it's the language we speak here. Americans would be much better off to have official mandatory language programs in public schools, to be required to learn how to speak a couple of languages by ther time they graduate high-school, to try through more 'year abroad' programs and foreign exchange to allow people to see how people in other counties live and that their views are as vaid as ours, however different. That doesn't mean that there shouldn't be some kind of consensus regarding language in this country.
posted by Pecinpah at 8:09 AM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Pat's Cheesesteaks are better anyway.

(by the way, I wonder if Italian is acceptable at Geno's?)
posted by caddis at 8:10 AM on March 20, 2008


"Ordering food is an incredibly simple process, and if you can't do that in the language of the land you live in, then you should move out."

So in your world, immigrants should either (a) learn the language before they immigrate, or (b) immigrate, but avoid going out until they've learned the language.

"Learn how to order yourself a decent bowl of ramen, without the accent, says I."

Yeah, Vento's the twat.
posted by schoolgirl report at 8:19 AM on March 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


"Learn how to order yourself a decent bowl of ramen, without the accent, says I."

Yeah, Vento's the twat.


At least you're consistent. Rude, but consistent. Most of the people who speak out on the immigrants' behalf on issues like this seem to contradict themselves, though. On the one hand, how ignorant and entitled we are if we insist that immigrants learn English. On the other hand, if we go to a foreign country we'd better do our damndest to learn the language, otherwise how ignorant and entitled we are!
posted by adamdschneider at 8:30 AM on March 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


This thread made me hungry. I've never had a chesesteak but I've found a recipe and I'm off to buy the ingredients. At the risk of heresey, it's a steak sandwich, with cheese, no?

Thanks to SPUTNIK for local insight.
posted by dmt at 8:32 AM on March 20, 2008


Can I add that I've been amused to hear Americans calling each other 'wanker' and 'twat'. I thought that those were quixotically English insults.
posted by dmt at 8:34 AM on March 20, 2008


dmt---
DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.
(The secret is the roll. And the meat. And the crazy people standing around you in the open air.
You will be very disappointed...)
posted by Dizzy at 8:35 AM on March 20, 2008


I've worked in customer service for a decade and have never had someone try and order in a language other than English. Mangled English, sometimes, but nobody has ever walked up to me and just started talking in Thai, or German, or Spanish.

This seems like an anti-immigration political statement rather than a necessary statement of policy. Should it be fought out in the courts? Why bother? Just don't eat at a place that wears its hatefulness on its sleeves.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:36 AM on March 20, 2008


So, I'm a 'Mercun born and bred and all, but I grew up in Switzerland, where there are four official languages and a fifth lingua franca (that would be English). Population of 7 million, square mileage less than New York State, and depending on education, you can snatch two countrypeople, one from each side of the country (which you can drive across in a day), and not have them understand each other. But everyone gets along, mostly by having a giant complex vis-a-vis the rest of Europe.

All I'm saying is, whenever the whole "Should the United States have a second language?!" debate came up over there, the consensus attitude was a group shrug and the unspoken feeling that Americans are a bunch of wusses.
posted by bettafish at 8:39 AM on March 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


Yeah, Jumpin Jack Flash, used to be.

“In America, what’s a good response when somebody complains about an immigrant’s inability to speak English?”

It’s not just the U.S. Lots of French folks bitch about people not speaking French. In Mexico - same deal. My uncle and I were down there a while back and my uncle ordered something (in Spanglish) and the guy said back in broken English “This is Mexico, you speak Spanish.”
My uncle held up several bills and said (parph. in spanish) “I’m the customer. You want my money? You understand me.”

Probably work here just as well.
posted by Smedleyman at 8:46 AM on March 20, 2008


AstroZombie, you hit the nail on the head.
posted by Mister_A at 8:47 AM on March 20, 2008


bondcliff "In America, what’s a good response when somebody complains about an immigrant’s inability to speak English?"

Excuse me, but osio Bondcliff dawado?
posted by yeolcoatl at 8:53 AM on March 20, 2008


At the risk of heresey, it's a steak sandwich, with cheese, no?

Cheese Whiz or Provalone if you're classy. If you really want to taste this properly and get the most out of your experience you should drink between 4-8 pints of beer (depending on your tolerance) before eating this.
posted by ob at 8:55 AM on March 20, 2008


Can I add that I've been amused to hear Americans calling each other 'wanker' and 'twat'. I thought that those were quixotically English insults.

I was just about to say that I'm English so I might have been using these terms, but I haven't. So yeah, it is odd...
posted by ob at 8:57 AM on March 20, 2008


No, you fools!

"To Serve Immigrants"... IT'S A COOKBOOK!
posted by Parasite Unseen at 9:00 AM on March 20, 2008 [4 favorites]


We just got a shiny new Lowe's store here in town, and all the signs are bilingual English/Spanish, even the Entrance/Entrada and Exit/Salida signs. Of course, this is Maine, and a lot of people around here speak French, and not a lot of people speak Spanish, but what the hey, it's sweet to know that the Lowe's corporation cares SO much.
posted by JanetLand at 9:09 AM on March 20, 2008


I think it's inexcusable laziness to live in a country you don't speak the mother tongue of.

Lazy people don't work fourteen hours a day clipping hedges and mulching flowerbeds; those who do manual labor may not have the time or money to study English. ESL classes are a luxury for many who come to America and find that survival depends on multiple jobs at exploitative pay rates.

Some people can learn a language on the fly, just by immersion. Most require classes and exposure. Many new immigrants can't afford classes and work in situations where language immersion is limited. It's very different from the way almost all native English speakers learn languages to go live abroad. There's usually the luxury of a college education involved (particularly for Japan, where most foreigners' ability to obtain legal employment hinges on a college degree).

I'm really not attacking the path that takes folks to other countries to learn languages and cultures -- I myself studied Japanese and lived there for years -- but the situations aren't really parallel at all. The economics and the basic reasons for immigration are different, not to mention the existence of communities where immigrants' native tongues are spoken, which help in acclimation to work and society, but hinder English language learning.
posted by breezeway at 9:14 AM on March 20, 2008 [15 favorites]


Dalessandro's and nothing else. Suck it, Geno.
posted by wemayfreeze at 9:14 AM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Isn't it bad business practice to close your shop to a growing portion of your potential customer base?

The fact that he's referred to as a millionaire businessman would indicate that he's not hurting for customer base. In fact, I'd imagine he has more than a few customers because of his policy.

Oh, and you can keep your cheesesteak, make mine a Chicago beef.
posted by SteveInMaine at 9:22 AM on March 20, 2008


As am immigrant myself, I agree with most of "GoingToShopping" says.
When my parents and I came to this country(to which we are grateful) we knew little to no English, (granted I was very young and barely knew the language of my parents). But in short order, my parents learned English.

We were happy to learn it, when we did go out to dinner/shopping we did not expect the person at the counter to know our language, nor did we expect them to even make and effort; we were happy to walk around with a phrase book, and look like tourists, because we wanted to, not because we had to.

A while back, I was at my local grocery store, and had bought a few items among which were some tomatoes. These were regular, non-organic kind, but the checker, mistakenly rang them up as the organic kind at 2x the price. I asked her to please recheck them and correct the price, I guess she did not understand what I was asking for and after a bit of back and forth, she called over her manager/supervisor, who proceeded to yell at me, for not speaking in Spanish to her because "it should have been clear to me that she did not speak English". I have never been back, not just to that location, but to any of that company, I now drive longer distances to another one, with better service, and am happy to do it.

I can see how this would comes off as racist, but I do not intend it in that way...

This is America, Please make the effort to speak English.

Photodegas
- Immigrant
- English speaker.

posted by photodegas at 9:30 AM on March 20, 2008 [3 favorites]


Wid, or widout?
posted by breezeway at 9:37 AM on March 20, 2008


Isn't it ironic that Mexicans and other immigrants are so looked down upon precisely for trying to integrate into mainstream America. In many cases they're merely copying previous immigrants who are now considered mainstream Americans. A very small percentage of Latin American immigrants cause problems in the states, yet people resent their presence over any other group. In contrast, Sicilians formed gangs and thrived on intimidation in bygone eras, and the rest of America was fascinated by them. From the Godfather to the Sopranos, and everything in between, the story of these immigrants has enthralled us. Yet when it comes to a browner group, who tend to be the hardest working people here, most Americans seem to see them as mere hoodlums. Why do Mob criminals fill seats, and Mexican criminals repulse? Racism!

I'm starting to think that white America is the problem here. It's like crime is OK, as long as the characters are sexy in a European way, and not in a Native American/Latino way. God it's depressingly shallow, isn't it? I've spent a lot of time in Latin America, and, with the notable exception of Salvadorians, whose whidespread gang activity is indeed unprecetented in it's barbarism, I haven't met a whole lot of Latinos whose values I wouldn't prefer to those of my own culture. Latin Americans on the whole are hard-working, humble, family-orientated, multicultural and multiethnic.

Let's open up the borders and let the Latinos have their due influence. Maybe they could teach us a thing or two. Convert us all to Catholicism and teach us how to dance and speak their beautiful, rich language. Wouldn't it be great?! Some day I'm going to move to Miami to mejorar la raza. My sign will say, "Se busca cubana o poriqua, culo respingon, carinyosa, y que le gustan los gringos. Soy bilingue, me gusta bailar, y me encantan las morenas!" Is that racist? Maybe so, everybody else is getting away with it!
posted by tosteka at 9:38 AM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


The picture is not too clear in the Inquirer article, but the sign actually reads as follows.

This Is
AMERICA

WHEN ORDERING

"SPEAK ENGLISH"

So it's got those extra stray quotation marks going for it and all.
posted by fixedgear at 9:43 AM on March 20, 2008


I guess I'm pretty tolerant of languages other than my own being spoken in the shops that I frequent; as I tend to find myself in Asian Marts and Hispanic Groceries and the like, looking for some strange and wonderful item that is hard to find in the big chain shops. Usually, if it's not the owner running the counter, it's some kid that barely speaks English, and since I barely speak their language, there is a lot of polite smiling and pointing at things with a questioning look.

It's actually a lot of fun.

I mean, I get that, when there is a huge line of people waiting, that it might not be the best time to be engaging in point-and-grin barely-verbal communications, but a blanket prohibition on a language other than your own seems pointlessly restrictive. (And fingers crossed that none of the places I go implement something similar. My Hmong is atrocious and would surely be more insulting to the nice shop owner up the road than my inability to ask for cinnamon in his language.)
posted by quin at 9:47 AM on March 20, 2008


Convert us all to Catholicism...Wouldn't it be great?!\

No.

In fact, fuck no.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:53 AM on March 20, 2008


I always come down on the side of free speech. Boycotts and pickets are vastly preferable to the gummint swooping down and telling me what I may or may not say.

Amen.

(I hope we can all take it as a given that I am not in favor of English-only policies.)
posted by languagehat at 9:54 AM on March 20, 2008


As am immigrant myself, I agree with most of "GoingToShopping" says.
When my parents and I came to this country(to which we are grateful) we knew little to no English, (granted I was very young and barely knew the language of my parents). But in short order, my parents learned English.


As an immigrant myself, I also agree. I've seen first hand how difficult it was for my mom to learn English, but I'm proud that she struggled through it and learned the language.

As an aside, since my family is Chinese, we often go to restaurants that have a separate Chinese-only menu apart from the regular menu. That seems more discriminatory than just having a "speak English" sign.
posted by gyc at 9:55 AM on March 20, 2008


I've always wondered if there were different items on that menu, or different prices. Care to illuminate? I've noticed the same thing at some middle eastern establishments in the area.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:59 AM on March 20, 2008


/I wonder if he groks that Mexico (et al) is in America too. Sign should probably be: "This is the USA ... " blah-blah-blah ...
posted by RavinDave at 10:09 AM on March 20, 2008




Convert us all to Catholicism and teach us how to dance and speak their beautiful, rich language.

erin go bragh!

oh - wrong catholics ...
posted by pyramid termite at 10:10 AM on March 20, 2008


Convert us all to Catholicism...Wouldn't it be great?!\

No.

In fact, fuck no.


adamdschnieder, you never know, you might like it. All that repression... makes the ladies go crazy... you know, in a good way. How much more passionate would illicit love be if you knew you were going to burn in hell for it? Yeah!

Maybe I take matters like this a little too lightly, and for that I should probably apologize. The concept of hell is just so funny to me, though, that I just can't take it seriously. To me, Catholicism could be quaint and fun, who knows? Maybe not if you actually believed any of it, like, literally. I believe it, just in a sort of allegorical way. Like any good story!
posted by tosteka at 10:13 AM on March 20, 2008


I would not move to Latvia and never learn Latvian. I would not move to Latvia and expect its government to spend money preparing and publishing English versions of documents which it required that I fill out. I would not move to Latvia and show dissatisfaction with people if they did not speak English. I would not move to Latvia and not, at the very least, be able to conduct basic financial and conversational transactions in Latvian. I would not expect ATMs to be in English. I would not expect Latvian programs to have English available on a Secondary Audio Programming (SAP) channel. I would not expect there to be an entirely English-language channel broadcast in Latvia. I would not expect Latvian employers to make English versions of job applications available. A country, or corporations within that country, shouldn't be expected to make it easier for those who don't speak that country's language to continue to easily get by without knowing that country's language.

That having been said, I don't support legislation making English the national language, I don't support actions against illegal immigrants (the U.S. makes a path to legitimate citizenship far too difficult), and I don't support people like the restaurateur described in the OP. I'm not saying that the above paragraph is grounds to show anyone anything but the utmost of courtesy.

I'm just saying that I disagree with the sense that accommodation should be expected and is a right. It's your duty as a resident of a country to learn at least a survival-level knowledge of that country's predominant language. It's not the country's duty to eliminate your language barrier, or to learn your language. Any effort by its citizens, corporations, or government to meet you halfway to make the process easier is an admirable sign of goodwill and brotherhood, one that should be encouraged, but it's not their responsibility or obligation.
posted by WCityMike at 10:14 AM on March 20, 2008 [3 favorites]


Scoo---
I would never advocate violence.
I meant "his business would suffer if more people knew what an ass he is."
And "the gunmint"?
The government is you and me, dear Scoo.
(Thank you for clarifying my post, device55!)


Perhaps, but it's not there to tell me what I can and cannot say privately, or in my own place. I am unequivocally opposed to any and all attempts legislate expression. No other society on earth enjoys the right to speak one's mind to the extent that America does, and taking that right away from asshats like Joey Vento takes it away from me too.
posted by Scoo at 10:14 AM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


tosteka: I was raised Catholic. I went to Catholic school for 12 long years. I left, and I ain't goin' back. I know you're fooling around, but in my experience it does way more to harm sexuality than enhance it.
posted by adamdschneider at 10:18 AM on March 20, 2008


Have their been non-English questions on AskMe? Obviously besides translation questions.
posted by ODiV at 10:24 AM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


I speak two languages and have lived in two cultures, not by choice, but by upbringing. I've lived in the US half of my life, and I also have no related family (including my parents) who are American. I'm a semi-immigrant, in that sense.

I'm also sick and fucking tired of seeing immigrants* get here, learn English, have kids, then have those kids discriminate against immigrants who haven't learned English yet. It's this strange rite-of-passage thing, and the same incentive that drives hazing -- "I had to struggle to learn English, back in my day, so hurry up, you foreign fuck!" There's some intense self-colonization going on there, some sort of internalization of a dominating force. This doesn't make it right -- being an immigrant and having learned English does not necessarily give you the clearer voice to talk against English-speakers.

Whose gaze are you internalizing, here? gyc and photodegas -- I'm not bashing you guys, but to say that 'I'm an immigrant' and 'learn English' in a single breath is simultaneously putting forth your personal history as a badge, and also continuing the rhetorical attacks that you may have received because of your history, when you first immigrated to the US. This self-contradiction doesn't necessarily give you guys a better agency in speaking about English.

If only, its a further schism that's created within an immigrant population that's exists as a sort of class dynamic. English-fluent second-generation immigrants will discriminate and distinguish themselves from first-generation immigrants from the same country, who are not fluent in English, yet are of the same age. There's some sort of pride in proper assimilation -- or if 'assimilation' is a nasty word, then in proper 'integration'.

*because, after all, nearly all residents of the US are immigrants or descendants of immigrants
posted by suedehead at 10:25 AM on March 20, 2008 [5 favorites]


As an aside, since my family is Chinese, we often go to restaurants that have a separate Chinese-only menu apart from the regular menu. That seems more discriminatory than just having a "speak English" sign.

Does it really seem more discriminatory, if at all? Most of my non-Asian friends are awfully grateful for the "round-eye" menu, because it has photographs of the food. They want to be sure they're ordering steamed shrimp dumplings and not marinated whale anus.
posted by illiad at 10:31 AM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


pyramid termite:

go maith, craic augus ceili
posted by tosteka at 10:35 AM on March 20, 2008


I think it's inexcusable laziness to live in a country you don't speak the mother tongue of.

I'm looking at your use of prepositions, and I can't help but wonder whether or not you're parsing for irony.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 10:42 AM on March 20, 2008 [3 favorites]


God, I hate this English-only shit. The United States is one of the last monolingual nations on Earth.

I've visited many places where the majority of the folks only spoke the native language. Most of the countries in Europe didn't have bi-lingual forms, menus, signs or shop clerks.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:47 AM on March 20, 2008


adamdschneider:
I've always wondered if there were different items on that menu, or different prices. Care to illuminate?

Not in my experience for the most part. Prices are the same. You might find a slightly expanded menu for those who can read the language, but that's probably because the non-Asians don't order those items ever, or only order them very rarely.

If you can speak the language and ask for an item not on the menu, you'll likely get what you asked for with a smile.
posted by illiad at 10:52 AM on March 20, 2008


"I would not move to Latvia and never learn Latvian. I would not move to Latvia and expect its government to spend money preparing and publishing English versions of documents which it required that I fill out. I would not move to Latvia and show dissatisfaction with people if they did not speak English. etc etc....

If Latvia saw thousands upon thousands of English speaking immigrants and tourists entering their country, you can bet they'd do all you've said and more. Just because you don't have a right to or expectation of materials printed in your native language (and I don't believe anyone's arguing otherwise), doesn't mean it's a not a wise idea from a cultural and economic standpoint.

"It's your duty as a resident of a country to learn at least a survival-level knowledge of that country's predominant language.

Fine, but at what point should immigrants or tourists (don't forget the tourists in this equation) have this level of knowledge? Before they arrive? One month after they arrive? I think we can all agree that immersion is the fastest way to learn a language, at least at a conversational level. If so, then if we're going to welcome non native speakers into our country, why not make some accommodations while they're getting up to speed?
posted by schoolgirl report at 10:52 AM on March 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


Have their been non-English questions on AskMe? Obviously besides translation questions.
posted by ODiV at 1:24 PM on March 20 [+] [!]


Has there been anything stating that this would be somehow taboo?
posted by Pollomacho at 10:53 AM on March 20, 2008


I've always wondered if there were different items on that menu, or different prices. Care to illuminate? I've noticed the same thing at some middle eastern establishments in the area.

Usually it's just different, more authentic items.

Whose gaze are you internalizing, here? gyc and photodegas -- I'm not bashing you guys, but to say that 'I'm an immigrant' and 'learn English' in a single breath is simultaneously putting forth your personal history as a badge, and also continuing the rhetorical attacks that you may have received because of your history, when you first immigrated to the US. This self-contradiction doesn't necessarily give you guys a better agency in speaking about English.

I don't see it as an attack. I just personally think that part of the reason why Asian and Hispanic immigrants aren't see as "real" Americans is because some of them don't take the effort to learn English and integrate with American society.
posted by gyc at 10:54 AM on March 20, 2008


I would not move to Latvia and never learn Latvian.

That's a laudable assertion, but much of the "English-only" activism in the US seems to be directed at bilingual English/Spanish programs. This is somewhat troubling not just for the anti-immigrant sentiment, but for the fact that the US has, in the past, annexed large chunks of territory with Spanish-speaking populations. It's sort of like situations I would often see in France, where people who were French citizens, and whose families had formerly been colonial subjects of France, would be called "immigrants".
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:58 AM on March 20, 2008


I've traveled to more than 40 different countries, many of which I didn't speak the language at all (including Latvia, WCityMike. You can get by there pretty easily in English or Russian). At no point has anyone ever hassled me about not speaking the local language. Not even a bit. Sure, they might make fun of me after I leave, but no one ever turned down my business. We could usually muddle through with broken English and hand gestures. I would hand them money and they would hand me the product they were selling. Y'know, capitalism. Of course, none of these people were millionaires who owned Hummers bought with money from selling shitty cheesesteaks, so that might have had something to do with it.
posted by kalimotxero at 10:58 AM on March 20, 2008


I don't see it as an attack. I just personally think that part of the reason why Asian and Hispanic immigrants aren't see as "real" Americans is because some of them don't take the effort to learn English and integrate with American society.

Maybe they are too tired from working the jobs that English speaking Americans won't do?
posted by Pollomacho at 10:59 AM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


MNDZ: "Also, I am really ashamed to be monolingual."

Um...WTF?
posted by davidmsc at 11:01 AM on March 20, 2008


People interested in the assimilation of earlier immigrant populations should read Lizabeth Cohen's fantastic Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939 about the way the Great Depression broke down ethnic communities and forged a new working class consciousness.
posted by winna at 11:21 AM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Here's another photo of Geno's sign. Notice at the left a long quote from Theodore Roosevelt about the immigrant's duty to become American and "speak English".
posted by CCBC at 11:33 AM on March 20, 2008


Here's a study on English-speaking among immigrants to the U.S.
Among second-generation Hispanics, 92 percent speak English well or very well [...] English-only is the predominant pattern by the third generation. These children speak only English at home, making it highly unlikely they will be bilingual as adults. [...] The level of English monolingualism is lower among Hispanics, but, at 72 percent, it is still a clear majority. Sixty-eight percent of third-generation Cubans and 71 percent of third-generation Mexicans speak only English. Third-generation Dominicans are an exception, with just 44 percent monolingual in English at home.
Let me say that again -- that's 92% of the second generation speaking English well, and 72% of the third generation speaking English only (among Latinos.)

Even if you define people in the U.S. not speaking English as a problem, there isn't a problem here. There's no action item to be taken to prevent bilingual tyranny from conquering the nation -- the question here is whether you want to sound like a xenophobic moron in the meantime.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 11:36 AM on March 20, 2008 [4 favorites]


Learning English is hard: having television, commercial and government services in your non-English language reduces the incentive for you to learn English as it reduces the cost of not learning English: people are very good at doing hard things only when they have to.

There should therefore be no accommodation of non-English speakers, but the state should provide free English classes to everyone irrespective of age, nationality or immigration status.

This is tricky from a welfare point of view ("how can you not provide information on healthcare to pregnant women from immigrant communities?") and a political one ("those filthy immigrants come over here and get free English lessons!") but if you want everyone to speak English, well, that's the best way to do it.
posted by alasdair at 11:50 AM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Let's open up the borders and let the Latinos have their due influence. Maybe they could teach us a thing or two. Convert us all to Catholicism and teach us how to dance and speak their beautiful, rich language.

I'd just like to point out that a whole lot of us Latin Americans don't dance, are not 'passionate', and there are even some atheists among us. Please don't let your stereotypes run too far ahead of reality. Especially when you think they're 'positive' stereotypes.
posted by signal at 11:56 AM on March 20, 2008


winna, that book looks fascinating.

When the part of my family that arrived on a boat got here in the 1890s, they mostly landed in the Midwest, and mostly in Chicago. Cicero, to be exact. While my grandmother - the youngest of 11 - was born here, her oldest siblings were not. Many of them eventually acquired at least some English, but most of them really didn't have to: they lived and worked in Czech-speaking speaking communities, had Czech-language newspapers, patronized Czech restaurants. So when people say "My grandparents came here from [country X] and they learned English!", I say, yeah, those were your grandparents, and that was their experience, but that's not a universal for all late-19th or early-20th century immigrants. Many of them settled into native-language communities....just like they do now. And their kids, of course, came to speak perfect English. And no Czech, except for a few swear words.

On the other side of my family - well, they really didn't want to learn English. Unfortunately, due to cultural and military invasion, they weren't given much choice in the matter.
posted by rtha at 12:02 PM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


I was looking for that link Zed_Lopez. I do think the "problem" guys like this cheesesteak monger have is pure and simple zenophobia.

Every immigrant I know (legal and illegal) want to learn English and are trying as hard as they can. And they are making damn sure that their kids speak English.

I travel to Mexico often and when I'm chatting with everyday working class Mexicans like taxi drivers and bartenders, they will sometimes ask me about living in the US. I've been asked if it was true that there are racists that shoot Mexicans in the desert. They'll ask about if there is discrimination against Mexicans. I tell them, no they don't shoot Mexicans, but some want to and that there many in the US that are racists. They ask if they must learn English. I tell them in the places I've lived that could get by without knowing any English. But to prosper they must know English. They're struck by my candor and friendliness since I'm not like most of the turista gringos they encounter that don't know their language and don't take the time to really talk.

And I've never had a situation like Smedleyman and his uncle with a "this is Mexico, you must speak Spanish." Most people are apolgetic they can't speak in English because a good businessperson will try to help a customer in whatever language they speak. But perhaps Smedleyman found the Genos Steaks of Mexico.
posted by birdherder at 12:02 PM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


What a charming little place. Philly cheesesteak sandwiches are nasty anyways.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:03 PM on March 20, 2008


What pisses me off about this is that Genos is somewhat a Philly landmark, it's a recognizable and famous business. When they do something stupid like this is reflects poorly on the city as a whole. It also means that a boycott isn't going to get you anywhere, I've seen lines a block long at 2am.

Anyway, when I'm in the area I go to Pats because they have better steaks and aren't as huge assholes. Mainly though I just make my own now, and whoever said they aren't good home made is being silly. That recipe from about.com looks about right.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 12:08 PM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Philly cheesesteak sandwiches are nasty anyways.

Nastily delicious.
posted by Divine_Wino at 12:09 PM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Philly cheesesteak sandwiches are nasty anyways.

There's a place in Austin called Texadelphia that makes philly cheesetake-like sandwhiches with lots of jalapeno peppers and served with chips and salsa on the side, and washed down with a cold Mexican beer. There's no sign saying what language you have to speak.
posted by birdherder at 12:15 PM on March 20, 2008


JEez that sounds good birdherder.
posted by Mister_A at 12:27 PM on March 20, 2008


Philly cheesesteak sandwiches are nasty anyways.

Nah, you've just gotta keep on drinking 'til they're delicious.
posted by ob at 12:29 PM on March 20, 2008


I would not move to Latvia and never learn Latvian.

I'd rather do that than move to Latveria and not learn Latverian.
posted by chinese_fashion at 1:19 PM on March 20, 2008


> I'd rather do that than move to Latveria and not learn Latverian.

Not that I want to start a derail, c_f, but it does indeed appear to be Latvian and not Latverian.
posted by WCityMike at 1:27 PM on March 20, 2008


I used to get my Chinese BBQ pork (cha xiu) from a butcher in Oakland. On the board the butcher wrote the prices per pound in Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, ...) and Chinese numerals. The price written in Chinese numerals was $1 cheaper per pound. Horribly un-PC but I thought it was hilarious for how ridiculous it was.

restaurants that have a separate Chinese-only menu apart from the regular menu
I'm Chinese and I like looking at these. When you go to a new restaurant, you can never be sure that their interpretation of a particular dish is the same as what you're thinking. Chinese restaurants sometimes do really f'ed up things with classic dishes.
posted by junesix at 1:28 PM on March 20, 2008


WCityMike -- it was a joke. Not necessarily a funny one, or a good one, just an incredibly dorky, possibly ill-advised joke. The clock, it CRAWLS today.
posted by chinese_fashion at 1:29 PM on March 20, 2008


Well I moved to Liberia and learned Libertarian. RON PAUL MOTHERFUCKERS!!!!11!!
posted by Mister_A at 1:49 PM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


I used to get my Chinese BBQ pork (cha xiu) from a butcher in Oakland. On the board the butcher wrote the prices per pound in Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, ...) and Chinese numerals. The price written in Chinese numerals was $1 cheaper per pound. Horribly un-PC but I thought it was hilarious for how ridiculous it was.

There was an Arab guy who used to sell unbrellas and gloves and scarves and crap in downtown DC. One day when it was bitter cold and I was devoid of scarf I walked up to his stand. In front of me a young DC hipster asked him how much the black-and-white PLO style head scarf was. He was told, "scarf ten dollars" My turn came and I asked him how much for the thicker red kafia. He turned and said loudly to me, "scarf ten dollars, kafia five dollars."
posted by Pollomacho at 2:08 PM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


I love the quotes.

I’ve been meaning to post this to AskMe, and maybe I still should, but I think this might be a good place for it:

In America, what’s a good response when somebody complains about an immigrant’s inability to speak English?

In many situations, for example when I go to lunch with a coworker, the person I’m with will make a big deal out of the fact that the person working the register can’t speak English, or that ATMs and signs are bilingual, or generally complain that America shouldn’t make allowances for people who can’t speak English. “Can you believe that guy? He couldn’t even speak English! Learn the language or go home is what I say!”

I usually tell them that there’s no official language of America, that people have the right to speak whatever language they want, and that it takes years to become fluent in a language as difficult as English. However, I’m not entirely sure this is true. Is there anything in the books about an official language, or even a preferred language?

They’ll then argue that when their ancestors came to America, their ancestors learned to speak English. Ignoring the fact that many people who say this are of Irish or English decent, I suspect that this wasn’t the case, that only the children of their ancestors learned English. Again, I don’t know that this is true. Did immigrants back in the day tend to learn English faster than immigrants do now? I know my great-grandmother couldn’t read or write, though I don’t think she could read or write Italian either.

I will admit to being frustrated myself when there’s a language barrier but most of the time I wish I was the one who could speak the other language. I know I’ve certainly pissed off my share of Quebecers when I go North. “Ehhhh… ummm…. How do you say ‘I’m an American with a sense of entitlement’ in French?” Fortunately for me, most of them can speak English.


Que?
posted by ZaneJ. at 2:10 PM on March 20, 2008


Heh, love the big gold chain he's got there.

But you know, fuck him. If he doesn't want their money, there's plenty of places non-English speakers can get a sandwich.

I wonder what happens if someone that doesn't speak English all that well, just says, "Cheesesteak, please?" Is there a quiz to find out just how much English a customer speaks? Do I get better service if I speak English better than the other patrons?
posted by ignignokt at 2:17 PM on March 20, 2008


Why not put up a "we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason thx mngt" sign instead?

Oddly enough, if you follow the first link.... You don't even have to RTFA, just LATFP.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 2:29 PM on March 20, 2008


What Zed_Lopez said. This is a non-issue, and those crying about how immigrants BETTER LERN ENGLISH are basing their actions on xenophobia rather than, you know, the facts.
posted by jtron at 2:33 PM on March 20, 2008


This thread makes me uncomfortable.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:53 PM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


How was there even a controversy. From the article: A split three-member panel of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations ruled that a sign in the South Philadelphia cheesesteak shop did not convey a message that service would be refused to non-English speakers.

So, if I can't speak English, and the storekeeper doesn't speak my language, he has to serve me? How's he supposed to know what I want? How am I supposed to know how much it costs?
posted by vsync at 2:53 PM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'll tell you what infuriates me. When people move to Minnesota and don't learn the local accent. We don't speak YIPPEE HYUCK HYUCK Y'ALL, you fucking Texans. Learn to talk Minnesotan, or I will not serve you.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:12 PM on March 20, 2008


I'm a US national, immigrant to the UK.

Did you guys know that before you get your indefinite leave to remain here, you have to take a Life in the UK test and pass an English Spoken as a Second Language exam if English isn't your first language?

The test is full of new labour propaganda and the £10 book you have to study has an intro, with smirking photo, by John Fucking Reid. Oh and Scotland is a total sideline on the test. And most UK citizens born and raised couldn't pass it without studying.

Integration is the keyword here and people are constantly talking about ways to get immigrants to "integrate." Profoundly creepy.
posted by By The Grace of God at 3:16 PM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


By The Grace of God: I'd love to take that test. I haven't lived in the UK since 2000, so it should be even harder for me that your ordinary UK citizen. I might get something revoked!
posted by ob at 3:24 PM on March 20, 2008


I don't see it as an attack. I just personally think that part of the reason why Asian and Hispanic immigrants aren't see as "real" Americans is because some of them don't take the effort to learn English and integrate with American society.

Okay, but aren't Spanish-speaking Hispanic-Americans (pardon the tautology) still Americans? Aren't they participating in a Spanish-speaking American society? The same goes for Asian immigrants, as well. The US doesn't have an official language, and so 'USA' does not equal 'English-speaking', it just means that the first immigrants who got here happened to speak a certain language, and the other immigrants later who came here decided to learn the language to fight language and racial barriers.

If Joey Vento put up a sign saying "This is America. When Ordering, 'Speak American'", I'd have wholeheartedly supported him. In my opinion, the only remaining good thing about America lately seems to be its sticky polyglot melting-pot status (which it's now trying to undermine), and I'd have interpreted his sign positively, because the 'American' language is part Spanish/English/Chinese/Hebrew/Russian/Korean/Irish/Italian/Greek, etc, etc...
posted by suedehead at 3:54 PM on March 20, 2008


Is "political correctness" even an actual entity anymore, or has it just become a strawman keyword for those who can't come up with a better boogeyman term when they need one? I thought the movement became archaic in the late 90s or so.

I'm not sure that it ever was an entity. All it ever really was was a push by major media outlets in the early 90s to do things like say "international" instead of "foriegn" and things like that. It was never really a "movement" and never applied to anyone outside of television presenters and the like. However, conservative talk radio, then in its infancy, picked up on it, and the dipshit cadre was suddenly convinced that the thought police were trying to take away their Jebus-given right to use racial slurs. When someone whines about "political correctness", it's a good sign that they're probably a bigot. As demonstrated here, where people are up in arms over some ill-defined conspiracy to punish them for hating Mexicans.

Anyone who gets indignant about people speaking some other language than English, besides the fact that it's likely they don't speak, write or read English very well themselves despite it being their native language, is probably a garden variety bigot and isn't worth listening to. If it bothers you to overhear people speaking in Spanish or Hindi or whatever, or you fly into a rage over the Aztlan invasion because you saw Spanish writing on your Pringles can (actually observed on LGF or FR or one of those) you're an asshole. It's not like it affects you in any way.
posted by DecemberBoy at 3:55 PM on March 20, 2008 [3 favorites]


I was pretty sure I thought Geno's pulled a bullshit move here. I'm just back from seeing Lou Dobb's and his huge pink face singing Geno's praises. Now I'm sure this prick is full of shit.
posted by EatTheWeak at 4:03 PM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Bei Moonbiters sprechen wir nur Spanisches, Sie Schweine!
posted by tkchrist at 4:10 PM on March 20, 2008


No xkcd link yet?
http://xkcd.com/84/
posted by martinrebas at 4:38 PM on March 20, 2008


Oh, Christ...do you think a Mexican would look at the offerings from Taco Bell and actually see them as Mexican food? Oh, man. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!! If, in your world, Taco Bell = Mexican food, I feel very, very sorry for you.

tangent: when I lived in Florida, one of my co-workers was from Mexico. She saw me eating Taco bell for lunch one day and noted that it was an insult to Mexican food. I don't disagree (but sometimes enjoy it anyway). However, a few weeks later we had a going away party for another co-worker at a Benningan's, and she said, 'You'll like this, an Irish Pub.' I said, 'This is Irish like Taco bell is Mexican.' 'Good point.' (I still like the soup, though).

Also, my brother-in-law is from Philly (and of Lebanese descent for what it's worth), and say's Pat's is better. There is a place in the west village run by Philly expats called Wogie's that make's a damn good one in my opinion and that of a Philly-bred MeFite I brought there.
posted by jonmc at 4:58 PM on March 20, 2008


Oh, Christ...do you think a Mexican would look at the offerings from Taco Bell and actually see them as Mexican food? Oh, man. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!! If, in your world, Taco Bell = Mexican food, I feel very, very sorry for you.

For the record, I lived in Odessa, TX decades ago. The population of Odessa is officially close to 50% honkey, 50% Mexican, and I say Mexican meaning folks who either themselves immigrated from the nation of Mexico or their immediate ancestry did and not as a generic term for Latino as is often bandied about. The reality was that Odessa was more like 75% Mexican and the census did not count a large portion of the population. Anyway, to make a long story shorter, despite numerous truly authentic Mexican establishments in town, the number one restaurant for sales was fucking Taco Bell.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:31 PM on March 20, 2008


despite numerous truly authentic Mexican establishments in town, the number one restaurant for sales was fucking Taco Bell.

That's because it's cheap and quick (and despite being inauthentic, dosen't taste so bad).

Also, I'm kind of confused when so-called conservatives get behind cases like this. Why let a little thing like language get in the way of the free market. The money's still green, right? What kinda capitalists are you people anyway?
posted by jonmc at 5:47 PM on March 20, 2008


the number one restaurant for sales was fucking Taco Bell

I know that you mean (the number one restaurant was) (fucking Taco Bell), but at first glance I read it as

(The number one restaurant) (was fucking) (Taco Bell), which gave me the image of a big west Texas steakhouse sneaking out late at night to have rough, dirty sex with poor, bedraggled Taco Bell.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:58 PM on March 20, 2008 [5 favorites]


Huhn.

"Speak English only"...

Since it's no longer possible to order the provolone cheesesteak, it's coming off the menu any day now, right?
posted by ShawnStruck at 6:02 PM on March 20, 2008 [3 favorites]



jonmc:

Yeah, I agree... it seems more emotionally-based than business based.
posted by ShawnStruck at 6:03 PM on March 20, 2008


Yeah. and as a first-generation Italian-American it makes me momentarily disappointed in my ethnic kin, but then I realize that most of us arent like that.
posted by jonmc at 6:06 PM on March 20, 2008


I am so stooopid:
I thought you were Scottish, what with "mc" after"jon".
Guess I really am "dizzy" after all...
posted by Dizzy at 6:17 PM on March 20, 2008


(I'm Irish Catholic on my father's side, Dizzy. The combo is known as a 'gaelic and garlic' or a 'gimmick')
posted by jonmc at 6:23 PM on March 20, 2008


I'm going to put aside the discussion of Geno and steak shops in Philly because I've heard all the arguments from friends about who has the better shop and who is a bigger jackass. Geno probably is a racist prick who fits the Sopranos stereotype. Unfortunately, he has hit a nerve that reverberates with a lot of people.

The point of the issue, however, is a frustration with immigrants who fail to even attempt learning English, the predominant language of commerce, education and government in the US. It's a frustration with how people are told to adapt to the language of the people versus the people adapting to their new country.

Now, as rough around the edges as that sentiment is, I can understand where he's coming from, if not the blatant and inherent racism in his tone and demeanor. My family, all immigrants, made it a point to learn English from day one in the US. Italian? Not taught to the children. German? Not taught to the children. English. ONLY.

For my grandparents it was an honor to come to the US and for them it was their duty to become what they saw as "American". They weren't forced to do it, they did it because they wanted to be American, and since language is a very strong factor in nationality, learning English became a cause. My grandparents refused to teach Italian to their kids and grandkids and made certain that all of their cousins, brothers, sisters and relatives who immigrated to the US learned to at least speak and understand basic English. In the Italian community in our area some people would speak Italian (Sicilian, I should say) at home, but never outside of the house.

My grandmother jokes about how "back in the day" in Cleveland the Italians all lived around the recently immigrated Poles, Czechs, Slovaks and Germans. When the ladies would go out in the street, everyone would laugh at each other as they tried to speak to each other in what little English they could speak - because lord knows, the Italians couldn't speak German and the Czechs couldn't speak Polish. It was a commonality for them to speak English.

So, I'm sure many in this discussion will mock the ritualistic American story I relay above, but this one is true. In fact, a few months ago we had a 90th birthday party for my grandmother with about 200 people, including some friends/relatives from Italy who hardly spoke any English. At the dinner table they forced out as much English as they could to the waiters and refused anyones' help to translate for them. In the words of one guest from Italy, in as broken English as you get, he said, "We here in America...we speak English, but none good".

I lived in Spain for a number of years and the linguistic divide is terrible there. Speak Spanish in Catalonia and you're ignored (literally, but a lot of people), speak Spanish in Valencia and you're treated as a second class citizen, speak Spanish in Pais Vasco and your scorned. But hey, we're all Spanish, right? Not on your life. My Spanish girlfriend at the time routinely had to smooth the way when we travelled by using what little Valenciano and Catalan she knew, because if I spoke Spanish first, and I speak fluently, the reception was not nearly as warm. Multilingual states can become very fractured, and Spain is an excellent example of that.
posted by tgrundke at 6:37 PM on March 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


That's because it's cheap and quick (and despite being inauthentic, dosen't taste so bad).

I think it tastes soooo bad, really beyond vile, but hey, maybe that is just me. You are still right though.

As for this whole parade of bigots who think it is the duty of all immigrants to assimilate by learning the language, you disgust me. People coming here for opportunity and failing to learn the language are nothing new. There were thousands of Italians in Vento's neighborhood 50 years ago who came over and never learned much beyond please, thank you, hello and goodbye. I still know many of these folk in the New Jersey and New York city areas, and you can throw a whole bunch of Chinese, Koreans and Brazilians into that mix. There are probably a lot of other Hispanics, but most of the ones I know have actually learned the language. Anyway, for many of these elder immigrants (over 30) I can only talk to them through their kids, who did assimilate. Why make the old dog learn new tricks? Who cares? They hold jobs, many of them run or have run businesses for Christ sake. Try that when you don't speak the language. That is accomplishment. They are not evil or a threat to society, and most are more patriotic than native born citizens as they know what they gave up to be here and why. They are committed. These are not flag burners, not that there is anything wrong with that. These are for the most part people who probably make Vento look treasonous, and that includes the new immigrants to his restaurant neighborhood.

It's a natural human emotion to distrust and fear difference, but most of us are able to move beyond that when we meet the people who are "different" and then find out they aren't actually that much different on most levels. This was in essence part of what Obama's amazing speech was all about. Their hopes, dreams and values are really quite similar. The God may be different, the skin color, the spice in the food, but really, that only makes the getting to know one another a bit more fun as it gives you more to talk about. If they don't speak your language I guess you won't be talking much, without a translator, but whether they make the effort or not is really their issue not yours. They are well aware of the price they pay, but the price of learning is stiff too.

One guy who lives near us, his father was a very wealthy Chinese businessman who was quite close to Chiang Kai-shek. His story of life in China and America is truly awesome and uplifting. He could not tell me. He was a professor in China, unbelievably brilliant, yet here a cook, and not an English speaker. His daughter relayed the story. His children are mostly doctors, and doctors in teaching hospitals. He couldn't order a cheesesteak at Geno's but Geno wouldn't be worthy to clean his bung. I know I am not. The immigrant story, and the immigrant decision to learn the language are difficult questions and those people who deign make it a rite of entry are missing something, are wallowing in a certain ignorance of the human condition and frankly of what it means to be free. If you are free, you are free to not know the language. Society might or might not accommodate you. When it is nice, and loving, and if they have read their Bibles, they will, but if not, you are probably tougher than the folks who refuse to accommodate you so who really cares.
posted by caddis at 6:44 PM on March 20, 2008 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: my dad basically let me know that if he ever saw me with a Pat's steak in my hand he would beat me senseless with it.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:48 PM on March 20, 2008


I'm really grateful for the "English only" buffoons. Once I started hearing about this idiocy, it really put a fire under my butt to learn Spanish. Now I can speak and read both. My attitude is that I will use "English only" as soon as the troglodytes pushing that agenda learn it.

As for cheesesteaks....you could put up a sign in the restaurant saying "Swahili only" and I'd never know about it.
posted by telstar at 9:25 PM on March 20, 2008


Anyone who's lived in Philadelphia for any duration of time knows that anyone who buys a Pats or Genos steak is fucking brain damaged. Their steaks are shit. The uproar is about offending moneyed tourists.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:26 PM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Get a good cheesesteak at the Wawa, I tell you.
posted by breezeway at 9:44 PM on March 20, 2008


The point of the issue, however, is a frustration with immigrants who fail to even attempt learning English

where are all these immigrants who fail to even attempt learning english? - i've lived for 50 years and i've yet to meet one and i've met LOTS of immigrants

as far as i can tell they're an urban myth - and if they are out there, how come i never see any?
posted by pyramid termite at 9:50 PM on March 20, 2008


well, caddis, i guess you know some who don't know english - all the same, i don't run into any - and like you, i don't think it's something to get upset about, anyway
posted by pyramid termite at 9:54 PM on March 20, 2008


DecemberBoy:
I'm not sure that it ever was an entity. All it ever really was was a push by major media outlets in the early 90s to do things like say "international" instead of "foriegn" and things like that. It was never really a "movement" and never applied to anyone outside of television presenters and the like. However, conservative talk radio, then in its infancy, picked up on it, and the dipshit cadre was suddenly convinced that the thought police were trying to take away their Jebus-given right to use racial slurs. When someone whines about "political correctness", it's a good sign that they're probably a bigot.
Oh come on. You've never seen people get blasted for inadvertently using the latest "code word", on this very site even? Because I have.
posted by vsync at 10:08 PM on March 20, 2008


Give me a break, vsync. The point of political correctness is to call people by terms that they want to be called, not by terms that other, more powerful entities want to call them. It's basic cultural awareness and courtesy, not a boogeyman.
posted by bettafish at 10:48 PM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


"I would not move to Latvia and never learn Latvian. I would not move to Latvia and expect its government to spend money preparing and publishing English versions of documents which it required that I fill out. I would not move to Latvia and show dissatisfaction with people if they did not speak English. I would not move to Latvia and not, at the very least, be able to conduct basic financial and conversational transactions in Latvian."

As it happens my oldest friend moved to Latvia, he has learned quite a bit Russian, some Latvian. He still can't do most financial transactions in Latvian, even though he is a Chief Financial Officer or big corporation.

And he married Latvian. And feels quite at home there.
posted by zeikka at 12:26 AM on March 21, 2008


I see a lot of people in the thread mixing up immigrants and tourists. Sure, if you're an immigrant, you should learn the language of your new country. I immigrated to Taiwan and speak fluent Chinese, which I see as an obligation to society as well as to myself.

But for people just visiting a country, I doubt there's much point in expecting them to learn the local lingo just for a trip.
posted by Poagao at 12:33 AM on March 21, 2008


Read. Rinse. Repeat.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:18 AM on March 21, 2008


breezeway, why should countries accepting immigrants have to change themselves to fit with said immigrants, rather than the other way around? For the most part, the immigrants chose to move to other countries.

It's not the person who's ordering who ought to speak English, it's the person who's taking the order.

WCityMike understands the issue. Why do so many not?

nearly all residents of the US are immigrants or descendants of immigrants

This is a particularly boneheaded argument that gets trotted out all too frequently. The same can be said for anyone who doesn't live in Africa.
posted by oaf at 10:00 AM on March 21, 2008


Wow, the strawmen are sure getting a beating today. bettafish, did you not notice that the comment I was replying to — that I even quoted, even — posited that political correctness never applied to anyone but major media personalities? Which is an obvious falsehood, as you helped me prove. Thanks.
posted by vsync at 10:00 AM on March 21, 2008


Since it's no longer possible to order the provolone cheesesteak, it's coming off the menu any day now, right?

I don't understand. What do these words "possible" and "menu" mean? They aren't English.
posted by oaf at 10:06 AM on March 21, 2008


what kind of an english name is GENO, anyway? - and this PHILIDELPHIA place - isn't that some kind of greek?

damn foreigners need to use english
posted by pyramid termite at 10:48 AM on March 21, 2008


I think you're putting words in my mouth, oaf. It's always taken generations for many immigrants, particularly the neediest and the most industrious, to learn English. There have always been Americans who crow that we should change our way of life and institute an official language.

People come here most of all for the opportunity to take part in our economy. English isn't necessary for that, and we all benefit from the work done by millions of Americans who don't speak English.

Shutting immigrants who don't speak English out of the equation would be an injustice and a betrayal of what America still stands for. Freedom and light unto the world. Opportunity.

This English-only song and dance is an old and popular form of demagoguery that's blighted our nation for two centuries. It's unlikely to go away; more's the pity.
posted by breezeway at 10:08 PM on March 21, 2008


Let's see if I can add a new dimension to this conversation. I think it's important that immigrants learn English for an entirely pragmatic reason. I believe it is the job of _every_ US citizen to uphold the Constitution. Anyone who can't read English can only, at best, uphold someone else's interpretation of the Constitution.

breezeway, we come so close to agreeing, but one word brings us down on different sides of the issue:

People come here most of all for the opportunity to take part in our economy.

To me, the US is an idea. It's not only working hard, but being a defender of free speech and all the other ideas our founders laid out in the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, etc. I think there are a lot of well-meaning people in this thread who view "[t]his English-only song and dance" as nothing but a discrimination attempt, but I honestly believe that there are good reasons for immigrants to learn English and to be pressured if they don't. If fuckwads like Geno would stop using language as an excuse to be obliquely racist, it would be a lot easier for me to convince people of that idea. Of course, if it wasn't language it would be something else. In my experience, racist people always find a way to be racist.

P.S. I'm not saying immigrants learning English is a problem, just that I think the pressure is a good thing.
posted by systematic at 11:33 PM on March 21, 2008


People come here most of all for the opportunity to take part in our economy.

And in order to sell anything to the vast majority of Americans, myself included, they need to speak English.
posted by oaf at 11:36 PM on March 21, 2008


Strange that some greasy sandwich shop with dopey owners that like to have their pictures taken with celebrities is driving discourse (a charitable term here) about the state of language and immigration to the USA.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:09 AM on March 22, 2008


bondcliff: Did immigrants back in the day tend to learn English faster than immigrants do now? I know my great-grandmother couldn’t read or write, though I don’t think she could read or write Italian either.

In a state as tiny as mine (Nebraska) population-wise -- and allowing for the fact that it was a great deal tinier at the turn of the century -- I was always struck by the large number of foreign language newspapers it was able to support catering to the various immigrant communities. These were ubiquitous up through the early 1920's, when they suddenly dried up entirely. Obviously, there was not a great deal of concern about "assimilating"; it would happen in due course.
posted by RavinDave at 12:13 AM on March 22, 2008


I honestly believe that there are good reasons for immigrants to learn English and to be pressured if they don't. (emphasis added)

Why is it your business? Certainly it is better for them, and to that extent somewhat better for society, but mostly this is not about you, not about society but about them and their ability to easily interact. It's their business and stop sticking your nose in it. For all its talk about freedom, this country sure loves to tell everybody else how to live their lives.
posted by caddis at 4:52 AM on March 22, 2008


And in order to sell anything to the vast majority of Americans, myself included, they need to speak English.

No, they don't.
posted by breezeway at 6:55 AM on March 22, 2008


Sorry, that wasn't all that helpful. What I meant by "No, they don't" was, "You're wrong." There are plenty of purchases you make without English. Grunts would suffice, and probably sometimes do.

I noticed you didn't say English was necessary for someone to buy something from you (or this "majority" of Americans you seem to know). That's another part of the economy people come here to integrate themselves with.

What else? How do they get the money to buy things from you and enrich you and your mystery majority? That's right, they work, and their contributions to your till and others' help keep us all afloat.

They can do all this without speaking English, too. People can come here and work to get money to buy things from you and make you richer. They've done this for centuries, and they've done this without first learning English.

You'll take their money but you won't take their "gracias." Or their "shen shen," or their "grazie." Americans have done so for centuries, but you won't.

Because you believe that America shouldn't change for them. But you've got it turned around. It would be a change to forbid them their native language or exclude them until they're English-fluent. You would turn the USA into one of these other countries you hear about.

So by "No, they don't," I meant, more specifically, you're the one hell-bent on changing my country, and to that I say, "America: love it or leave it."
posted by breezeway at 7:53 AM on March 22, 2008


Wow, the strawmen are sure getting a beating today. bettafish, did you not notice that the comment I was replying to — that I even quoted, even — posited that political correctness never applied to anyone but major media personalities? Which is an obvious falsehood, as you helped me prove. Thanks.

Yes, vysync. I was disagreeing with them, but also telling you to stop whining.
posted by bettafish at 1:30 PM on March 22, 2008


Why is it your business?
To quote my original post: "I believe it is the job of _every_ US citizen to uphold the Constitution. Anyone who can't read English can only, at best, uphold someone else's interpretation of the Constitution." My point is specifically not about ease of interaction or cultural bias. It's about the fact that America has a set of core values, laid out in the English language documents I mentioned before, that aren't optional. America is only America as long as everyone does their part. If you can't read the Constitution, you can't do your part. If enough people don't know their rights, those rights can be taken away. That makes it my business, because I'm adversely affected by everyone who can't do their part.

Everything else, the culture, the language spoken on a daily basis, multilanguage media, etc. is irrelevant to what I'm talking about. If you want to live in a latino neighborhood, speak only Spanish, and buy goods from only latino proprietors, I don't care. I don't care if your accent is thicker than a brick wall and you price gouge people who don't know what a 'kafia' is. As long as you can read, understand, and defend the core values of America, that makes you an American. Let the market decide everything else.
posted by systematic at 2:44 PM on March 22, 2008


You know, that is pretty silly. You have to know English for the sole purpose of understanding the Constitution, and for this we should put pressure on immigrants to learn a difficult language, rather than suffer the fate of a poor translation, and then you think you are not pushing your nose into other people's business? I have nothing more to say.
posted by caddis at 4:48 PM on March 22, 2008


And in order to sell anything to the vast majority of Americans ... they need to speak English.
posted by oaf at 3:36 AM on March 22 [+] [!]


You've apparently never been to New York, Chicago, San Francisco, L.A., Miami, Dallas, etc.
posted by signal at 6:15 PM on March 22, 2008


You've apparently never been to New York, Chicago, San Francisco, L.A., Miami, Dallas, etc.

Actually, I've been to all of those, and live in one of them.

I stand by my previous statement—the majority of Americans do speak English, the majority of Americans don't speak anything else, and if you can't speak intelligible English, you will lose a lot of business. I have only so much patience for pointing, gesturing, and nodding to complete a business transaction, and it's somewhere on the level of completing the same transaction with gaffer tape over my mouth.
posted by oaf at 3:24 PM on March 24, 2008


In somewhat related news...

Pa. judge sentences 3 [Hispanic] men to learn English or go to jail.

The Luzerne County judge said the sentence "would help the men get a GED, and a job" ... which is good and all, but my initial gut reaction was, "Oh shit!"

Thoughts?
posted by the littlest brussels sprout at 7:25 AM on March 27, 2008


« Older Great free album   |   Scenes From Latcho Drom Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments