“I’m sorry?” the cashier says, clearly annoyed, for what seems like the hundredth time. The agitation on her face is obvious as two Chinese women try to explain their problem in heavily accented English.
“THIS. IS. NOT. ON. SALE.” she yells at them loudly and slowly as if they were mentally handicapped, while rolling her eyes. She becomes more and more condescending as the ladies try their hardest to communicate in a language they barely know.
Have you ever witnessed a situation like this? Have you ever been on the receiving end of this type of rude treatment? Demeaned and talked to like you were unintelligent because you had an accent or couldn’t speak a language.
The incident I described is one of many I have witnessed. I have not only seen this happen to other people but I have personally seen it happen to my parents.
“Don’t they deserve the same respect they have shown you?”
A cashier once got frustrated with my Dad because she couldn’t understand him. She looked at him with confusion and raised her voice, as he repeated that he wanted extra butter.
The noticeable touch of Korean on his English made him pronounce it “buh-tah”. She took her inability to understand him as permission to treat him with disrespect. Luckily, I was there to step in. I glared daggers in her direction as I clarified what he was trying to say.
Thinking about all of the times that this happens when I’m not there makes me infuriated.
My Dad graduated at the top of his class with a Master’s degree in Electronics Engineering and has published more than a dozen patents. Talk to him about any topic and he could school you in both English and Korean. My Mom advanced from an entry-level temp to the Director of an entire team in the federal government, while raising two kids.
Aside from their many accomplishments, they are extremely polite and kind to everyone. No matter your station in life (including disrespectful cashiers), they will treat you with the respect and dignity.
Don’t they deserve the same respect that they have shown you? When did having an accent or inability to speak English become an excuse to be rude? Or an indication of someone’s inferiority? Or stupidity?
An inability to speak English or having an accent only indicates that someone was never taught English or learned English as their second language. These people are not unintelligent or inferior to you in any way. You are not allowed to be condescending and you are certainly not allowed to treat them rudely. Remember, English is not the only language in the world. It is not better than any other language or superior to any other language. It is not even the most spoken language in the world. It actually comes in third.
You can’t understand them because of a mutual communication barrier.
Practice some empathy and put yourself in these people’s shoes. Imagine taking your high school level Spanish or French, going to the native country and trying to have a conversation. You will have an accent or lack of proper grammar that people may not be able to understand.
You’ll probably try and use as many universal hand gestures as you can to try to get your point across. You will look, sound, and feel stupid. I know if I went to Japan with my 3 years of high school Japanese, I would sound like a fool.
The native speakers would look at all of us, as if we were the problem. When you know you are a smart capable person. It’s just that they can’t understand what you are trying to say.
They may also treat you or look at you like you are somehow less intelligent than they are. Do you know how you will feel? You will feel bad. You may be embarrassed. You may never want to try and speak again.
Everyone knows what it feels like to be treated condescendingly or rudely over something they can not control. If you know what it’s like to feel this way, you should strive to never make anyone else feel like that.
I know that it can be frustrating but it is a common problem between both of you. Remember to be a little more patient and understanding.
Because an accent is not your excuse to be rude.
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