In relation to my recent posts on the discrimination faced by Irish- and Welsh-speakers in their respective nations, where intolerance of the indigenous Celtic languages has been embraced by historically Celtic, though now thoroughly colonised, English-speaking peoples, there is this story from the Lebanon. Even globally significant languages can be challenged in their home territories by a type of commercially-driven linguistic chauvinism that regards the “other” as lesser, especially when anglophone interlopers are involved. The Lebanese blogger, Elie Fares, reports on a recent visit to a newly opened branch of the Cheesecake Factory, the somewhat middle-brow US restaurant chain, in the somewhat up-market Rachid Karami Street (Rue Verdun) district of Beirut:
“When your wait time is done and your buzzer vibrates for salvation, you get a very cheerful hostess – American style – take you to your seat. She gives you the menus, informs you in English that servers will be with you shortly and disappears.
So far so good. At that point, her English doesn’t feel out of place even though you’ve used only Arabic to communicate with all the employees, but no matter.
The server shows up. You ask them in Arabic about their recommendation, because the menu is barely readable with the super dim lighting in the place. They reply in English, sometimes borderline incomprehensible, but you try to maintain the conversation anyway. After taking your order, all forms of interactions with the server occur in English. That is you talk to them in Arabic and they reply in English.
When asked why they kept talking to me in English, their reply was that: this was the store’s policy. As I asked the manager about this, because it gets super annoying, and he said that the American head company has such a stipulation as a requirement to give customers the “American” experience.
Except we’re not American – sadly (unless the experience comes with a free passport) – and while many of us are bi- or trilingual, there is absolutely no need to use any other language than my native tongue at a restaurant in my home country unless I wish to do so, and in most cases I do not, and I sure as hell did not want to feel like I was being rendered stupid by talking Lebanese to a server and being replied to in English, à la “get your language up to standards, sir.”
Perhaps this rule works best in GCC countries where most of the Factor’s customers are not native Arabic-speakers, but they desperately need to re-check this policy over here.”
Indeed so! (Incidentally the entry on the Arabic language, An Araibis, in the Irish language version of Wikipedia must be one of the longest found in the Gaelic equivalent of the online encyclopaedia!)