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2002-12-10 10:34 p.m.

Andie and I went to do a little shopping this evening in Redwood City and Woodside. We needed to get a few cheap long sleeve shirts for her, a santa costume for me for this weekend's Santa Rampage, and some Christmas cards.

So, we hit up the usual spots—Target, Michael's Arts and Crafts, Ross, Rite Aid. The stores were all quite close to one another, so visiting each one would be convenient.

In Target, I asked an employee if they sold santa costumes. She smiled kindly and sheepishly admitted that she didn't speak English. No problem, I will just ask someone else. Except Mr. Dude didn't speak English either. So, I asked a third person. She spoke broken English with a very thick accent. Luckily, even though we sort of spoke the same language, she didn't have any helpful information about whether or not they had santa costumes or where they might be.

Michael's Arts and Crafts should have had a sign that said, "We do not discriminate against people based on their ability to help customers or speak English or know where any single thing in the store is, ever." Damn it. This story is so stupid and predictable. PREPARE FOR A HUGE SURPRISE: The first person I asked about Santa costumes didn't speak any English. Oh, what a surprising discovery! JESUS GOD AND MOSES AND ART CARNEY, please give me the strength to keep squeezing my fucking sphincter closed! The second person I asked spoke only a very small amount of English, but not enough to understand Santa costume. He understood the word Santa, though, and sent me to the aisle full of low–grade, kitschy Santa figurines.

It was hard to keep my spirits up, but I agreed that we should check at Ross. Amazingly, all of their employees spoke perfect English! Ok, not really. They could speak English about as well as they could cure the sick, shoot lasers out of their eyes, or levitate things using their psychic powers. I asked two employees, who, on a scale of one to ten, were definitely not English scholars from Stanford. When I asked for Santa Claus costumes, they became perfect caricature collisions of both confused and excited, then pointed me in multiple directions. It was like I got zapped into a Mexican Animaniacs cartoon. But, unlike the Animaniacs, these employees weren't trying to be funny.

Just to be clear, I used hand motions to make sure they understood I wanted Santa's clothes, not low–grade, kitschy Santa figurines.

Thank Allah, they must have known just what I meant, because the one woman's eyes lit up when I gestured that I wanted clothes. Excellent! She motioned me to follow her down to this one aisle. An aisle full of low–grade, kitschy Santa figurines, that is. I was so irritated and frustrated by this that I wanted to laugh out loud at the silliness of it all.

I get exhausted and frustrated thinking about this.

United States of America, Canada, Mexico, Sweden, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Austria, Italy, Greece, France, Spain, Germany, Denmark, Norway, England, Morocco, Kenya.

I have been in 18 countries that I can think of off the top of my head. The "United" States of America is the only place I have ever been, though, where it is accepted that someone working with the public—in a sales position, no less—does not speak the native tongue.

England—perfect example. Don't bother to try to get a job with the public in England if you don't speak English. In fact, you will also may be harshly discriminated against if your foreign accent makes you hard to understand. Even supposedly "low–brow", crap jobs—such as working carrying luggage in an airport or selling shoes—are staffed by first–generation immigrants who speak brilliant English with clear accents. Why don't follow suit?

I was in Denmark a week ago, and you better believe that the people in stores spoke Danish. I would gather that they were quite good at it, too. But, I wouldn't know because they were speaking English to me with such skill and eloquence that I felt quite embarrassed. I was a linguistic cave man in comparison.

Now, I am surely not patriotic. Nor am I convinced that English is the best language. And, I surely don't like the current trend in world language—the slow spread of English over the whole world as an international language. I hate the thought of a world where the many beautiful, specific languages would be replaced with one language. I sure wish I spoke more languages. I speak some Swedish, but not terribly well—I can speak like a young child or an impish, immature adult. I mostly wish I could speak Spanish, as it is a cool language and seems to be of great value when living in the USA.

Maybe I am crazy, but it seems a bit inconsiderate to move to a country and get a job there and not rush to learn the native language. No way would I move to France without working my ass off to speak French; No way would I move to Sweden without taking as many Swedish classes as I possibly could ahead of time.

Am I the only one who thinks like this?

Then again, it is unfair to judge others by the standards which I judge myself by. Maybe they are not able or not motivated to do the same sorts of things. Maybe this sort of thing just isn't important to them. Who knows? I want to be compassionate to their plight and their suffering. But, right now I mostly just want a Santa costume.


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