Wednesday, April 30, 2008

No habla Ingles

Two of my best friends are of Asian descent. One of Japanese descent (let’s call her S1) and other Dutch-Indonesian (let’s call her S2). Both are US-born, S1 a 4th generation American speaks only a few Japanese words while S2 is a 2nd generation American and speaks Dutch.

Once in a while when I’m around S2’s family I hear them speak Dutch when they think I’m not within earshot. But they switch to English as soon as they see me even at the periphery of their vision. S2’s family speaks English in public and if you didn’t know they speak Dutch you’ll think they only speak English.

When I’m around S1’s family the older generation speaks English; come to think of it even if I’m around their US-born and US-raised Japanese friends they all speak English even though I know the older generation speaks Japanese (Nippongo) and the younger generation wishes the former taught them the language.

I have my own guess as to why this is – something to do with World War II, Relocation, Internment Camps, and assimilation. But this is a topic for another day.

When in public I most often observed that Filipino-Americans tend to speak their own
Philippine native languages in clear hearing of others. You even hear them yell to their friends across the store in their native language. Just an observation, I am myself a Filipino-American and am an immigrant having been in the US since 1980.

Herein lays the question, why? I have been raised to think that it is rude to converse in a language within earshot of a third party who does not understand that language. Why do most Filipinos do this rude action? I try to speak English when there is a non-Tagalog speaking third party and would receive snide comments from some Filipino-Americans, even nasty comments such as “Ang yabang mo naman, bakit ka Ingles nang Ingles?” (You’re so snobbish, why do you keep speaking English?) for my effort.

Even my housekeeper who is from Mexico speaks in her broken English while in my house while talking to her kids on the phone. As soon as she’s out the door I hear her switch to Spanish. (Even though I do understand Castillian Spanish, I don't let on. Naughty, I know.)

Come to think of it, this is such a common occurrence on manicure/pedicure places run by Vietnamese or Thai nail professionals. I understand it could be a language barrier but they could minimize it by not talking to the next manicurist for the next half-hour in just their language. I’ve always felt like they were talking about me, “Oh you should see her feet, she’s got bunions!” “My, what big feet she’s got” or worse “What an ugly, smelly person.”