Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How Can You Help Me if You Can't Understand Me?

If you read this blog even only occasionally you know that I'm basically a screaming liberal, especially when it comes to social issues. But I continually encounter one frustrating experience, and my reaction to that experience is a little less liberal than the rest of me.

I understand how hard it is for people relatively new to this country, especially those who don't speak English well (or at all), to find employment. And I realize that customer service positions, particularly in fast food restaurants, are fairly thankless jobs that don't pay much, so it seems like a natural match to place individuals with little English in these positions.

But stop and think about it. In the very position where English is needed most—people give you their orders and you input them into the cash register—more often than not these individuals lack that comprehension. It is tremendously frustrating for the customer to have to speak slowly, repeat themselves over and over again or correct someone who just doesn't understand.

For example, yesterday I stopped by McDonald's. I ordered a side salad and a large soda. The cashier looked at me like I had spoken in tongues. I repeated myself, a little slower, and then she said "a small drink?"

I can't tell you how many times this happens. You are working in America in an American restaurant. You must know how to speak English! I'm not saying you shouldn't respect your own culture or language, but if you are in a position in which you deal with English-speaking customers, it should be your responsibility to learn English, and employers shouldn't consider on-the-job training to be the primary method of instruction. Ultimately, since the establishment's first responsibility is to serve its customers, hiring people who understand what their customers are asking for should be paramount.

It just reminds me when I used to manage operations for a few nonprofit associations, and I had to hire a temp to fill in for our receptionist. The temp company would send me individuals who had trouble speaking English...to answer the phone!

Oh well, feel free to flame me at any time. I'll go back to my liberal ways now...

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