21 March, 2009
Fighting back in the Multiculture
And do they speak Sri Lankan at home?Perhaps the Isle of Serendip would be a less troubled place if everybody there did speak Sri Lankan, whatever that may be.
Wouldn't it also be jolly nice if we could insist that shop assistants and other customer-facing employees speak English to us? I have posted here passim about dealing with such people in London, who in too many instances speak an English so limited and/or distorted that any transaction beyond the simplest becomes an uphill struggle, or in extreme cases speak something which purports to be English but is actually incomprehensible to the point that the transaction cannot be completed without the intervention of an interpreter.
When I lived in Germany, half the people would insist on practising their English on me as soon as they heard my accent, but generally to get served in shops and post offices and the like, you had to make the effort to speak German.
I'm not for a moment suggesting that every casual visitor, tourist or even temporary "back office" worker in the UK must speak perfect idiomatic British English. I am quite willing to do my best to help them if I can. (I recall on one occasion giving directions out of the kindness of my heart to a group of "asylum seekers", my guess was from Albania, in central London. They were clutching a scrap of paper with the address of Lunar House on it. We communicated in a sort of pidgin Italian. I have to admit, though, that my contribution to international understanding was to point in the general direction of Croydon, say "venti chilometri, per treno da Victoria", and do a runner before the implications had time to sink in.)
But it is not unreasonable to expect those interacting with general-purpose public services such as shops and public authorities to either speak the language adequately or alternatively to accept the disadvantage they may suffer, or perhaps to deal with it by arranging for their own interpretation.
Equally it is not unreasonable to expect that customer-facing people can deal with us in the working language of the country, British English. (Stop that angry baaing at the back there, you Welsh buggers.)
Incidentally, dontcha think that The Admirable Deva Kumarasiri would make an excellent title for an Edwardian novel, penned perhaps by the likes of Wodehouse and treating of the adventures in fashionable London society of a Subcontinental of indeterminate birth but of noble bearing?