This is America, please order in English

Since 2005, a Philadelphia based cheese-steak bistro owner has been defending a signpost in his shop that said: “This is America, please order in English.” Not surprisingly, he was taken to court on grounds of discrimination, equating it to derogatory signs like “Whites Only”. No ruling has been given yet.

I wrote a post earlier about how surprising I found it that people barely speak English in a big, cosmopolitan capital city like Madrid. It triggered a debate over whether it’s necessary for big cities (where English isn’t the first language) to have basic knowledge of English, or not.

I think it is relative. In non-English speaking metropolises, as long as the tourists put in some effort, lack of basic English may not be an important day-to-day communication hindrance, but it is definitely a disadvantage in the larger scope of things. For example: Madrid is bidding to host the 2016 Olympics — surely the knowledge of English would play an important role there. How is China tackling that issue for next year’s games? Anyway, I digress.

What do you do in an English-speaking country when your customers don’t speak English? Do you put up a sign like our friend did? Hmmm, I don’t think so — it’s quite an insult. The sign reminded me of when the English ruled India and the “No Indians or Dogs” sign was not uncommon. Couldn’t they just be offered picture menus where they could point out what they wanted? Or what about bilingual menus?

There is an online poll on the article asking whether people approve this sign post. At this moment, of the 115,732 people who voted, 92% of them approve. Call me overly sensitive but I’m kinda shocked to see the response.

What do you think? Are signs like that acceptable?