Learn English, You’re in America

We spent the weekend with my parents and my sister’s family – 6 adults, 7 children. Not a bad ratio, eh? My sister and I loved that all the kids could swim, none of them needed diapers or sippy cups, and we even managed a few moments to ourselves while everyone scattered at the water park. But I digress…

Elias and I were sitting on a double-innertube thingy waiting to go around the bend of a lazy river to go down a tube slide. The logjam we experienced was similar to the ones we endured on the Edens spur. However, the annoying thing was that this back-up was, in part, created by the many adults trying to bend the rules – rules that were posted on multiple signs throughout the park and along the lazy river.

The lifeguards were stopping riders who, instead of riding two to a tube, thought that maybe three could equal two. They also had to stop riders who wanted sit facing each other, hoping that they had misread the “face front” signs. The beauty of it all? Most of the lifeguards were students or folks younger than I who were from different countries – the Dominican Republic, Sweden, Spain. Here were “foreigners” politely asking “Americans” to read the signs posted in English.

Even Elias caught on pretty quickly as he saw people being switched around or asked to leave. We chatted about rules and respect, and how obeying the posted rules might have changed the situation. Elias then points to one of the signs and says, “Why didn’t they listen to the sign?”

I couldn’t help but laugh and think about the many times my parents or I have been told to “learn English, you’re in America!”. Some of those memories are just that – funny because we had made an honest mistake in the company of ignorant people who assumed that based on our appearance we couldn’t read/speak/understand English.

Or the time Peter and I were driving around a shopping mall looking for parking during the holidays when I spotted someone in another aisle. I hopped out of the car to “hold the spot” until Peter could swing around and wouldn’t budge when another irate driver came by. The driver and passenger started yelling at me about how “You can’t do that, you bleep-bleep! Where are you from, you bleep-bleep? Don’t you speak bleeping English? Go back to where you bleeping came from!” And since I grew up Chicago where we claim dibs on parking spots with lawn chairs and lumber, I didn’t think it was such a big deal. I stood there until Peter rounded the corner and parked the car. 

Other memories, like walking down the streets of Green Bay and having a pickup truck complete with a gun rack slow down and pull up alongside me with the driver and passengers yelling, “Go back to where you came from you bleeping chink!” still send chills down my spine.

So, we finally made it to the top of the slide, and the lifeguards were busy keeping us from getting stuck and helping the lady next to us get out and back in the tube because she ignored the signs (the ones that read “adults should ride in the back when riding with a small child”. The lifeguards – all three of them – looked completely frustrated and annoyed by the sense of entitlement some of the guests exhibited so I couldn’t help myself.

“Don’t you wish people would learn to read English?” I said to David from the Dominican Republic.

David from the Dominican Republic laughed out loud and nodded as he gave me and Elias a push down the slide.

2 Comments

  1. My 2 cents August 18, 2008

    I’ll bet David from the Dominican Republic can read English!

    Reply
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