What's your answer to 'This is America, speak English'? Here's mine.

I'm signed up with a worldwide questions-and-answers board named Quora, which sends me daily digests of its content in the categories I've chosen: history, culture, and languages.  Most of the time, the posts are informative and a pleasure to read, but once in a while, they seem to be designed by trolls with an agenda to sow discord in society, just like what the active measures were designed to do in the pre-internet era.  That pretty much describes today's social media anyway — one has to take it or leave it.

Today's digest contained just such a leading question with over a hundred answers that read like a smug, virtue-signaling hate-fest.  As an immigrant in this country, I just had to answer it, if not the way the author had intended.  I thought the readers of the American Thinker would like to see it as well.

The following is the question and my answer to it.

Q: You are sitting in an American restaurant speaking with a friend in Spanish. Somebody at the next table takes offense and shouts "This is America, speak English!"  What is the best way of dealing with this situation?

This is a loaded and dishonest question.  In my almost 30 years in America (and I've traveled almost everywhere from New York to California), I've never seen this happen.  I speak three different languages fluently, and when I'm with people whose first language is Russian or Ukrainian, it's only natural that we communicate in their mother tongue.  If we have an English-speaker at our table, we naturally switch to English.  No one has ever been stressed about this very normal behavior.  The only memory that comes to mind is the opposite of what the question implies, but more on that later.

No one cares what language you speak at a table in a restaurant, unless you are being too loud or obnoxious in other ways.  An exception from this rule would be if you want to start a fight, but then any excuse would do, not just the language.  Or if you're Jussie Smollett, trying to perpetrate another "racist" hoax.  (If racism were so commonplace in America, why would one have to fake it?)

A frustrated request to speak English may still happen if one is trying to get a service and everybody around speaks another language.  Please note that someone's inability to speak English is frustrating not only to the natural-born Americans, but to immigrants from dozens of countries as well, for whom English is the only way to communicate with all the other immigrants, and who often have trouble understanding unusual accents.  But even then, most people would try to help with the words rather than chide, which is a mark of a sociopath.

The only time an English-speaking stranger discussed my accent with me was in a New York subway, and it was the opposite of a request to learn English.  I was sitting in my seat, reading the cover of a videotape I had just borrowed from the library, which said, "How to improve your English."  A young black man with a bass guitar, probably a college student, who was sitting next to me, looked at the cover and asked me, in a yet hard for me to understand accent, why I would want to improve my English and be a conformist to the establishment instead of keeping my cultural identity.  He seemed to resent that whole notion, which didn't jive with the artificial concept of multiculturalist utopia they probably taught him at college.

I said I was trying to improve my English so he could understand me better.  He said he already understood me just fine.  I said he wouldn't be able to understand me today if I hadn't spent years earlier in my life trying to improve my English.  Why stop now?  Where is the cut-off point in learning to speak a language?

Years have passed, and no one uses videotapes anymore, but I still remember that conversation.  I hope that young man remembers it, too, and that it made him think.  I know I was right, and the proof is in the pudding: I wouldn't be able to tell you this story if I hadn't extended some serious effort to learn the language.

* * *

If the question in the title was a jab meant to reinforce a stereotype about the supposedly "xenophobic" American conservatives, I can assure you that in my experience, conservatives are more likely to extend grace, patience, and love to a stranger.  It is the "liberals," especially those in big cities like New York (where I've lived for 18 years), who are more likely to snap, always living their lives on the edge of a nervous breakdown due to never-ending anxieties, real or imaginary.

What do I mean by imaginary anxieties?  Exactly what the above loaded question illustrates: wallowing in fictional negative stereotypes and hating half of the world because of it.

Image: Thijs Paanakker via Flickr.

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