Today I was reminded of a story that happened a few years back when my wife and I were in language school to learn Spanish.
Often you will find while living in a foreign country that some people just don’t try to understand you. I have seen it in the US as well. People who have an accent often get ignored, or the listener does not even try to make out what the person is saying.
One day while we were in Cuernavaca, Mexico learning Spanish we went to Burger King for lunch. I stepped up to the counter and wanted 2 Whopper Jr. combos for the wife and me. Our boy would just have a bag of our fries. Good healthy meal.
I ordered “Dos de combo nÃºmero cuatro. Sin cebolla.” (Two number four combos. Without onion.) My Spanish is not perfect, but I do pride myself on having pretty good pronunciation. Based on many of the people I work with, having better pronunciation than them is not too hard.
The girl behind the counter responded with. “No hablo inglÃ©s.” To which I just repeated my order in the best Spanish I could. She said again that she did not speak English and asked me to please speak Spanish with her. I told her that I was speaking Spanish and I repeated my order. She said again that she did not speak English.
At this point we were causing a scene. The lady behind me stepped up and repeated my order using exactly the same words I had used. The girl behind the counter thanked her for helping me and took my order through the lady behind me. I was a little embarrassed thinking that my pronunciation must not be as good as I thought.
After I paid and stepped down to the end of the counter I heard the lady behind me giving the counter girl “what for” because she refused to open her ears and listen. All she saw was that there was someone who was not a native Spanish speaker standing in front of her and she did not speak English. She never even tried to listen to what I was actually saying.
The lady then came down to where I was and apologized for the closed mindedness of some people. I don’t think that lady spoke any English either, but she said my Spanish was just fine and understandable. Being the foreigner, I did not want to make an issue of it. But this lady did not mind standing up for me.
So, next time you have trouble understanding someone who does not speak English just like you do, give them a bit of a break and be thankful that they are at least trying to learn to speak your language.