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Don’t Assume if You Don’t Know the Language

When my immigrant parents arrived in New York City in 1951 they were all ready to perfect their English language since they had to set up a new life and would have to go to work in Manhattan. My mom used to tell me that at this time practically everyone they met came from someplace in Europe. On the streets, there was a variety of languages which you could hear because like my parents spoke their own language among themselves and English everywhere else. My mom also said that in order to be able to learn English well she and my dad tried hard to turn a deaf ear to the other languages which could be heard all about.

However, since they came from Latvia and spoke Latvian they were also sympathetic to the plight of other immigrants struggling with English. Unfortunately, immigrants soon discovered that there were native New Yorkers who looked with disdain upon them and didn’t tolerate their poor English or even lack of it. Just this kind of situation occurred one day upon a crowded bus in Manhattan.

Over the years when mom, related this story there would be amused chuckles but I can imagine at that time how mortified and upset the poor Frenchman involved was. My mom was sitting opposite this Frenchman on a crowded bus when a plump woman with lots of shopping bags squeezed in. She had this incredible sneer of disdain on her face and mom said you could tell that she thought the foreigners around her could contaminate her in some way. Well, she stood right near this Frenchman and he very politely got up and said to her pardon (French for excuse me) and showed her the seat he had just vacated.

Well, this woman started yelling at him in verbal abuse which went as follows – you yourself are a pardon, your wife is a pardon, and all of your children are pardons. My mom was having a difficult time not to laugh. She said if she had but chuckled she would have been afraid that this woman might just attack her as well. Luckily at that moment, the bus came to a stop and the poor Frenchman quickly pushed through the crowd and got out. Who knows if it was his stop but he certainly wanted to get away from that woman. After he was gone she calmly sat down in his place with a very loud humph! I wonder if her reaction was just due to the fact that he spoke to her in an unknown language or if she thought pardon was an insult.

That is a photo of NYC in 1951 as the center Manhattan looked to my parents

  • Question of

    Are there many foreigners where you live?

    • Yes
    • No
  • Question of

    Do you do your best to help people who have difficulty with language?

    • Yes
    • No

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