“That would never happen in the U.S.”Me, All the time
I have nearly completed three years abroad and I STILL find myself saying it. This really could be a whole blog series. She said when she went to the hospital. She said when she went to the restaurant. She said when she went to the grocery store. A commenter once said that I made a mistake in trying to assimilate into the culture rather than just being myself in a new land. They’re not wrong, but they’re not right either.
From the American side, I have never in my life understood the mentality that people who move to the US should just learn English and assimilate, and by assimilate they mean be as close to the Republican white male version of an American as possible. And now from the “foreigner” side, I FEEL the frustration of trying to learn another language and understand another culture. I can’t tell you how shitty it feels when someone just WILL NOT work with you because you are struggling to communicate or understand. Ugh, the faces of disgust you have to endure…
Customer service is generally not a thing here. I mean, in the US it is incentivized due to the lack of living wages. We HAVE to hustle for the extra cash so we can keep the lights on. But here, they make a living wage, so you’re not getting anything more than the minimum. Forget ever seeing your waiter again after they’ve brought your bitterballen. But I’m getting used to it, plus it makes visiting home a little extra pleasant.
I say I’m getting used to it, but this past weekend I had a moment at the grocery store. International Boyfriend and I were annoyed by a clerk and the service and the manager was called. It was annoying and I would have let it go EXCEPT I overheard her say over her radio “Engels.” I didn’t hear the rest but I heard THAT and I KNEW she was talking about us. “English.” And I was set off.
I felt attacked. I go to this store nearly every day and even have a rapport with a couple of the clerks. I always speak Dutch when I can to them and if I have to ask in English I try to ask them to tell me in Dutch what I’ve just asked for so I can learn. Some days I struggle more than others. It’s like my brain just won’t operate in another language so sometimes I tell them that. “I’m sorry but I’m learning and today I’m forgetting everything.” They usually are fine because I’m trying. I’m TRYING. This is my neighborhood. This is my daily life. I don’t necessarily want to assimilate, but I want to respect their language and culture. So being called out like that felt SO PERSONAL.
Nothing was resolved by the manager. They just don’t care about the customer experience like most American companies do (I said most, I get it, not all. But trust me, our standards are HIGH). However, there was a clerk who was trying to help. She recognized me. Told me I wasn’t actually wrong. And she gave me roses to make up for the negative experience. And it’s those little gestures. I felt seen.
The moral of this story is: no matter where you live, don’t be an asshole, be the rose lady. You have no idea how hard people are trying to learn your language and fit into your society. Trust me, they ARE trying. They chose to be there, they want to be there. Be patient and kind and help them learn. And if you can, give them the roses.