Monday, September 24, 2018

No Food or Beverage

by sojourner (writer), Los Angeles, April 12, 2007


The rules are simple, or so I thought. There are signs posted everywhere to inform us of the rules governing the places we visit. Some of the most common in LA inform us which side of the street to park on and when, how fast to drive and if you are lucky enough to live by the ocean: glass, dogs, fireworks, campfires, trash, percussion instruments, undressing and motor vehicles on or near the beach are banned and might generate a hefty ticket. A full list of Santa Monica beach guidelines can be found at Personality is one thing that helps define how easy it is for us to follow the many posted and written rules we encounter.

What about the unspoken rules? I will pose a question and allow you to answer it for yourself. Should employees in the United States speak English, unless by request, while addressing customers? In addition, should an employer be able to request that English is spoken while they are present?

These questions were generated today following my entrance into a store with a beverage in hand. As I walked by the clerks at the front counter I smiled and offered a silent salutation with a nod of my head. One of the employees spoke to me in a language other than English. Ironically, I was listening to a language lesson low enough to hear the chatter around me. When I was addressed in a foreign tongue (not the language I’ve been studying unfortunately) I stopped in a bit of a confused daze. I wasn't clear on what was being asked of me and responded with, "Excuse me". After silencing my lesson the employee used sign language to replicate the motion of drinking and then signaled it wasn't acceptable. I repeated what I deduced from the sign language in English accompanied by a shake of my cup and received an emphatic nod of the employee's head, prompting my exit from the store and the beginnings of this article. To be fair, they may have offered the hand signals believing I couldn't hear. The question lingered so I went to a valuable source.

Amendment I of the Constitution prohibits congress from abridging the freedom of speech. Language being synonymous with speech cannot be deprived either. Amendment X gives all powers not delegated to the United States by the constitution or prohibited by it to the states, to the states respectively or to the people. It doesn't get much clearer than that. Based on the rules, employees can't be forced to speak English solely, but there's a catch.

Employers can request that employees speak whatever language is necessary to communicate effectively with them and their clientele. Careers in public safety and law enforcement aside, the language you speak while on the job is up to you and your employer. Choose the language best suited for your life, liberty and pursuit of the answers to life’s biggest questions. Let the rules of economics and human sensibility do the rest.

I would be remiss if I didn't express the incredible value lingual diversity has to our country as a whole and to me personally. Language is a fundamental aspect of who we are and thus should be defended vigorously. In my own broken tongue I’ve poised the question not claiming to fully understand the answer or all the nuances of the language I call my own, not expecting you to either.

As I exited the store I asked myself how I could have missed the sign warning me beverages weren't allowed inside. There underneath the huge OPEN sign were the tiny cursive letters written in plain old bad.

About the Writer

sojourner is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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