Thursday, December 29, 2005

Archie Bunker's Bar and Grill...

Tom Ullum claims he doesn't discriminate and that the sign posted outside his bar is meant to be "tongue in cheek", but the Ohio Civil Rights commission doesn't think it's funny. The sign greeting potential customers as they visit the Pleasure Inn in Mason, Ohio reads: "For Service Speak English". Nice touch. Quite droll. If Ullum's tongue was in his cheek when he posted this sign it must have been to pack his wad of Skoal because I don't detect the wit. The Civil Rights Commission ruled that the sign was discriminatory and ordered Ullum to take it down but the stubborn barkeep can, and probably will, appeal the ruling. Don't be surprised if this one ends up in Washington before too long.

The sign reveals a level of ignorance that is actually quite comical. Some people equate this to the "Whites Only" signs that used to adorn businesses throughout the country before Civil Rights became a national priority, but I don't see it that way. Ullum's intent is to champion English as our national language, but the sign has little impact on those who don't speak English because it's unlikely that they would be able to read the sign. What kind of idiot puts up a sign written in English in hopes of discouraging non-English speaking people from seeking services? Does Ullum have a sign posted designating a Blind Only parking area? Hey everybody let’s all grab lances and pick fights with windmills!

The whole ordeal has sparked a lot of commentary amongst the good old white folks in Ohio. Redneck sensibility has reared its ugly head and people have talked about everything from how our country is being stolen from us right under our noses to the arrogance US tourist are subjected to overseas. One woman wrote a letter describing her recent trip to Mexico and how she was rebuffed time and time again with the expression "No Comprende". I think the editor who published it in the local paper had to wash the bullshit off his hands.

Americans are often treated like royalty overseas with business owners bending over backwards to learn our language and offer us all the assistance we require. It's not because they love us; they enjoy our money and it's only good business to make the people with money happy. Even the French go out of their way extending hospitality to Americans who visit their country. As much as we like to joke about their aloofness, the French are fantastic hosts and put up with a lot of American arrogance. In those rare instances where US tourist are treated badly it's often because the tourists in question are behaving like idiots. When you travel overseas it's OK to be a little ignorant of that country's customs, but one should never be rude. Americans are notorious for berating our hosts with great lines like “DO YOU REALIZE I AM AN AMERICAN CITIZEN!” During the Olympics in Barcelona, Spanish merchants talked about how Americans struggled with the tradition of Siesta by pounding on doors in the middle of the afternoon to demand service. That sort of thing doesn't go over well.

And nobody is stealing the country. We have been listening to ignorant people complain of this supposed conspiracy since 1789. Back in the 1850's the Irish were stealing America then in the 1900's it was the Poles. In the 1980's we fretted over the Japanese trying to sneak in and buy the country out from under us. It's funny how we never seem to remember that we're claiming ownership of stolen property in the first place.

What makes this country great isn't the people who are here, it's the people who come here. The homogenization of cultures and customs is what shapes our nation and makes the United States truly unique. Instead of taking the defensive and demanding that our newest American citizens master English we should be reaching out and making them feel welcome. If that means learning a dozen words in a foreign tongue, or keeping a translation guide handy, so be it.

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