Thursday, April 07, 2005

The language barrier

An interesting side effect of living in a largely Hispanic region is that there is a subset of the population that only speaks Spanish. These people often end up as low wage employees doing menial tasks. This isn't that big of a problem for most places of business as there are more than enough bilingual people to act as translators in both directions. So, they are given tasks that generally keep them out of contact with the clientele like night cleaning staff or washing dishes. Occasionally, they are in positions where they might have to interact with people they will not understand. I've found this to be problematic, but amusing, at restaraunts with salad bars.

Last night, we went to Sizzler for a quick and easy meal. My wife and I each got the salad bar. One of my favorite things from the salad bar is the fresh, warm rolls. So, I grabbed one with the tongs and found it to be surprisingly unyielding. It appeared to be a little less fresh than usual. How long does a roll have to sit in one of those closed warming dishes to dry out to its center from one side?

I talked to the first person I could find about the issue. She was restocking the chicken wings. She smiled at me as I started to talk and nodded. Then she turned back to the chicken. I hadn't finished talking, mind you. I continued to relate my tale. "The rolls," I said, "are all dry and stale." I pointed toward that end of the salad bar for emphasis. "I hate to be a pain, but could you get some fresh ones?" She turned back to me with a look of concern on her face. The concern was not for the stale bread. It was concern over the fact that I was still talking. She realized I wanted something and guided me over to someone who spoke English.

"What can I do for you, hon?" she asked me in a very motherly tone. I explained the problem while the other woman returned to her restocking. I had come to the right place. "I'll take care of it for you." Satisfied, I went to get some chicken wings while I waited. She followed me over there. Apparently, chicken wing was going to be assigned the task. Excellent, I thought. I'll pick up a bit more Spanish.

Mom addressed chicken wing. "The rolls." she said slowly. "We need more of them. Those are no good." Chicken wing looked at her with a puzzled expression. I rolled my eyes and walked away.