Friday, November 02, 2012

The Complaint Department

It's all I can't stands, I can't stands no more! - Popeye
I'm sure you've encountered the whining.  Whether it's on Facebook or in person, some variant of, "Why should I have to press '1' for English when I make a phone call?"  Of all the things to get on my last nerve, it's this.  The answer is simple: Because not everyone speaks English.  Businesses get more business when they accommodate as many people as possible.  There are millions of Americans for whom English is not even a third language.  Since you don't have to listen to menus or instructions in any other language, press "1" and shut the hell up.

The same goes for people I hear complaining about laws requiring election ballots in Spanish.  Or signage in Spanish.  Or anything in Spanish.  Last time I checked, the United States didn't have an official language.  If you don't read Spanish, you don't need to pick up a ballot in Spanish or do anything in Spanish.  Having our public institutions function to serve the millions of Americans who are far more comfortable using Spanish than English is a good thing; it demonstrates that we can be a bit more broad-minded than the "If English was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me!" crowd.

Sure, English is the de facto  language for getting along in the United States.  That doesn't mean either that it should be or always will be.  And there's nothing wrong with that.  Of all the things wrong with our country, moving toward including non-English speakers more fully in our common life doesn't even come close to being on the list.

In the tradition of complaining about complainers, and with the holidays rushing toward us, may I just put in a word to every single person who bitches about people saying "Happy Holidays"?



I worked for Walmart for five years, until just about a year ago, in fact.  I was never instructed how to speak to customers during the holidays.  I never saw a memo.  No manager came to me and told me what to say and what not to say.  Yet, from just before Thanksgiving until after the first of the year, I always said, "Happy Holidays" to customers.  Because I'm polite.  Looking at someone, I have no idea if they celebrate any of the holidays, let alone which ones they might celebrate while others they pass over in silence.  For some reason, being rude, insisting others accept our demand they have a merry Christmas, even if they don't celebrate it, somehow makes us more Christian or something?  Really?  Because, see, I always figured being polite, not pushy, respecting other people were all things that we should do.  You want me to wish you a merry Christmas, well, for crying out loud, "Happy Holidays!" kind of includes that, last time I checked the English language.  If some folks say, "Merry Christmas!" that's OK, too.  It just isn't anything to get upset about.

Which brings me to another thing.  Before Hurricane Sandy arrived in New Jersey, it passed over Haiti.  Now, Haiti has some experience with natural disasters.  There are still hundreds of thousands of Haitians who have no homes as a result of the earthquake over two years ago.  After the earthquake, and partly a result of the Haitians forced to live in squalid camps because rebuilding and recovery efforts have been slow, cholera ran rampant through the country, and still lingers.  On top of the AIDS pandemic that still lingers.  Sandy managed to take what rickety structures were still there and destroy them.  54 people died.

If I read people complaining because they had to wait two days or three days for their electricity and - horrors! - internet connections to return, I think I'll have a brain hemorrhage.  For all the death and destruction Sandy left in its wake, in no small part thanks to the wisdom of various Congresses and Administrations we have an emergency management infrastructure that can respond.  Before the storm hit, we had public officials making clear what steps needed to be taken to prepare.  We had various agencies putting the pieces in place so that once the storm passed, they could get to work rebuilding.  It isn't so much that Haiti doesn't have the desire to create such things; ravaged by neo-colonialism and the kleptocracy of pirate governments, it doesn't have the basic resources to build such institutions.  Combined with a history of corruption, and despite the best efforts of various NGOs, it is difficult to create the kind of institutions capable of responding to a crisis if there just isn't the money and Administrative competence present to do so.  So, you know, when you toss a buck or two in the kitty for relief efforts here in the States, why not give up that second latte from Starbucks and give to relief efforts in Haiti, too.

Finally, for reporters out there who moan about the internet and what it's done to newspapers, journalism, and the professional prerogatives of an entire group: I have no tissues for you.  Considering the largest news outlet in the United States is almost pathologically dedicated to presenting falsehoods, why should I have sympathy for a profession willing to tolerate fundamental incompetence and professional failure?  While some shed a tear or two when newspapers shut their doors, either completely or switch to online services, one would think by now it's obvious that all that "market" stuff that so many in this country seem to love is working quite well.  When the public editor at what is arguably America's national newspaper can chastise one of her employees for "making the paper look bad", all the while carrying the preposterous fraud David Brooks' columns two days a week says everything anyone needs to know about what's wrong with journalism in America today.

I feel so much better getting this off my chest.  Thanks.

Virtual Tin Cup

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