Monday, May 4, 2009

The Hotel of Babel

We just returned from two weeks vacation in Florida. We arrived at Miami International early evening and caught the shuttle to our hotel. The guy driving the hotel shuttle from the airport didn’t speak English very well, but then he didn’t really need to – he got us to the hotel, no problem. I tipped him $2.

English didn’t seem to be the native language of the desk clerk either, nor the bellman who showed us to our room… but I tipped him $2 also. There was a blinking “message” light on the phone on the night stand next to the bed. I figured I might have forgotten something downstairs at check-in or maybe it was some canned welcome message from the hotel. As there were no instructions on how to retrieve voice messages, I rang the operator – she answered the phone in Spanish.

Now normally when my wife and I travel to Mexico (or any foreign country, for that matter) I like to try and use a little bit of their language. I make a point of saying “Gracias” or “Merci” or “Arigato”. After all, it’s their country; I’m just a guest.

But I was aware that I didn’t feel particularly compelled to say Gracias to the limo driver, nor to the desk clerk, the bellman or the hotel operator. And it wasn't until after I listened to my hotel voicemail message that I realized why - you see, the last time I checked, Miami was still located in the USA. The message left on my hotel voicemail was in Spanish; completely unintelligible to me.

I feel a bit like Ricky Gervais when I say this, but “It’s not racist”. Different nationalities have their native languages; I think that’s cool. I love that the French speak French and the Japanese speak Japanese… I don’t know what the f*#k is going on up in Canada? But I don’t think it is an unreasonable expectation that, when I am within the borders of the United States of America, that when I speak English to someone, we can understand each other.

I heard a statistic that the number of English speakers in China now outnumbers the entire population of the United States. Damn are those Chinese folks going to have one hell of a surprise when they try to check into a hotel over here!!


kara said...

they're preparing for that earthquake that will separate the peninsula from the rest of the country and it will float out into the gulf and become bebe cuba. one for fidel and one for raul.

Rachel Noy said...

Welcome back!!

You are so racist.

Nah, I know what you mean. Hope you had a good time. All I serve all day are Eastern Europeans, I wouldn't mind if they tried to speak to me in broken English, but there are some that have been here for at least a year, and yet they still point as if their life depends on it.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Rachel: Unfortunately my command of any foreign language is extremely limited. Years back, Kara gave me a book called "Point It" with pictures of food, toilets, taxis, etc. So I guess pointing still holds a significant purpose in international communication.

Rachel Noy said...

Haha, that's brilliant! I want one!