Saturday, June 14, 2008

Oprima el numero dos

I have an issue. And it's probably a common issue around these parts, probably in a lot of parts of the US. But the reason it is an issue for me is probably not the popular reason for the masses around here. My issue? Why is everything in English and Spanish?

I was reading ol' Mexico Way's recent post concerning her culture shock up north there, and one of the things she mentions is that as of this moment the packaging on products for which she is shopping is all written in English (and French, because, you know, it's Canada and all that), and it confuses her somewhat due to the fact that for the last five or so years she has been shopping, she has been in Mexico. She's looking for the Spanish, because she's used to it, and sometimes you run into words that in English are one thing but in Spanish are another (example: Hay). So I thought I would give you my perspective, being as how I haven't lived full time in Mexico in like 2 1/2 years (well, 9 months really, but let's just pretend last year's 3 month "break" never happened, shall we?).

I was at the Target the other night with that Marsha, mostly because I haven't darkened the Target's doorstep in months, and whenever I am there I pretty much search for things I just might need to stock up on. Most of my time is spent in Health & Beauty Aids, just because it's there that you find stuff you should stock up on, right? So anyway, I was looking for some Pantene Shampoo + Conditioner (I spend exhorbitant amounts of money on my shampoo and conditioner, but my hair is weird - it needs shaking up in the week. So if I use the same shampoo and conditioner every day, it gets lax, weak, flat. I have three different brands in my shower right now, and I alternate. I use the shampoo + conditioner all-in-one situation perhaps twice a week. Now get off my back.) because I am just about out of it at home.

When I found the Pantene section (Target has like 2 full aisles of shampoo and conditioner - talk about choices), I searched for the all-in-one, and while reading the labels, I found that they are in English and Spanish. Same font, right there on the bottle. In a throw back to my time in Cancun, my eyes will automatically hit straight on the Spanish - I don't know why. It's the same for every product, instruction manual, whatever. I have to make a conscious effort to avert my eyes to the English. And I realized something. When I first moved to Cancun and needed shampoo, I had a somewhat difficult time finding the right kind for my hair. Yes they sold same and similar brands (Pantene was one), but the labels are not in English at all. So I had to figure out, in my limited, just-moved-to-the-country-and-not-quite-aware-of-all-vocabulary Spanish, what the heck these things meant. Liso and Sedoso stuck out. I asked Laura, my neighbor who drove me around and pretty much made my transition a smooth one, and even she didn't know. I found myself reading the back and trying to find familiar words that might lead me in the direction of what exactly this particular shampoo was all about. It was trial and error, and eventually, I figured it out.

So now, here in the Target, and the Fred Meyer, the Haggen and the Safeway and the Albertsons, just about every package out there is in English and Spanish - frozen foods give you cooking direction in both languages, body lotion, hairspray, Raid, Drano. Name it. If you don't have any English but you have plenty of Spanish, you will not find yourself lingering for any particularly long period of time trying to figure out what "daily hidration" means in your native tongue.

I'm not bitter that they are in both languages because I think we are catering to the illegals (which is I am sure why other people are - I mean, if every single person from south of the border came up here legally, it wouldn't be an issue to the US, would it?). I'm bitter that they are in both languages because I certainly didn't have that luxury when I moved down there. If I had to call Cablemas or CFE I couldn't oprima el numero dos for English. I had to suck it up and wonder why the hell I didn't have internet or TV or why my electric bill went through the roof when my a/c had broken and the power was out for 3/4 of the billing cycle.

I'm all for being nice and considerate and all that, but isn't there some kind of line? I mean, you have people protesting the illegals and patrolling the borders, but the US just keeps on making it easier - the services we provide like healthcare and all that, and now this labeling. If you want English to remain the primary language of the United States, make people learn it. I had to learn the primary language of the country I moved to, why shouldn't they?

And what about the Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, whatever. What about them? They don't get any help with the language? What's that about?

So all I am saying is that part of the challenges of living in a foreign country are acclimating to their cultures, and it really does enrich the experience and make the immigrant a stronger individual. Which means that the US clearly would rather the Spanish speaking immigrants just be more comfortable here. Comfort is good, but so is learning how to live in the country you choose


At 1:38 PM, June 14, 2008, Anonymous RiverGirl said...

Oh that's a nice thorny issue isn't it? (BTW I do the same with my hair, I go back and forth between Paul Mitchell and Pantene 2x1, if I don't switch my hair gets weird.)

I think the packaging issue is simply marketing. The marketing execs know that some % of consumers for a product are likely to have better Spanish than English, so they put the product in both languages hoping to get that business.

It's just capitalism.

In Mexico you don't get such intelligent and efficient capitalism! But also gringos in Mexico are a much smaller % of the economy than are Mexicans in the US.

I noticed that the DMV back home in the US has signs in Spanish and English. You could make the argument that Gov't agencies should not cater to non-English speakers. OTOH you get less compliance to laws if things are not in Spanish. The authorities there realized that if they wanted the Mexicans to comply with laws they needed regs in Spanish. And it's better for public safety if everyone registers their car and has insurance and tows the legal line, but many of them won't do that if they don't understand. So you put the signs in Spanish and you get fewer hit and runs and fewer people driving without insurance and fewer people driving without knowing the local traffic laws.

I think your problem is that the US is (in certain ways) more welcoming of immigrants and more adaptable than Mexico is. The US certainly has more finely polished rules of marketing anyway...

Oh fuck, I miss Target...

At 4:11 PM, June 14, 2008, Blogger JJ said...

RG - Capitalism or not, the point is it irritates me because native Spanish speakers have it way easier than I ever had it. The reality of it doesn't make it any less irritating to me. And as far as governmental agencies having things in both languages, perhaps it does help (though I don't care who is driving, they all suck out there) but in that case, cover every thing in ALL languages, not just Spanish. The Vietnamese population in Oregon here in Oregon is enormous, but the only thing you ever see in Vietnamese are restaurant signs. Same with Russian and Iranian. If the country is trying to make the larger masses all get the same message, then they are missing a huge demographic.

I guess I just wonder why people in the US are so anti-Spanish-speaking immigrants (I won't just say Mexicans) and yet nobody complains about the catering to them. If you want people to adapt to the "American" culture, give them a challenge. Or quit bitching about them.

By the way I am in no way against anyone coming to this country to better themselves, I am not anti-immigration and for that matter, it doesn't really bother me when people enter illegally. What bothers me is that it is such a big deal here for so many people, but those same people just don't seem to mind making it so easy for immigrants when they get here. Does that make any sense?

At 5:07 PM, June 14, 2008, Anonymous RiverGirl said...

That does make sense to me. And you are the last person anyone would think was anti-immigrant. And I agree, it's hard here in Mexico where next to nothing is in English except badly translated menus. The US is both rolling out the red carpet for Latinos and trying to keep them out. It's a bit two-faced.

At 8:10 PM, June 14, 2008, Blogger Items For Sale said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 8:27 PM, June 14, 2008, Blogger Mexico "Way" said...

Oh I love a blog that makes people think and have an opinion.

What's really interesting is that in Canada, only about 23% (yes I looked it up) of Canadians actually use and speak French. My guess is that the majority of those that Speak French, and only French are located in Quebec. So why all the drama over French on labels? Why not just have English and French in Quebec? Heck, why not only French labels in Quebec? It's really not necessary to know how to speak French in any other province, besides Quebec and maybe Ottawa. So whats with all the hub-bub?

Apparently, 22% of people in Canada are able to speak a language other than English or French. So going back to what Joyce says, why not have packaging in all languages to make it fair? 22% Is pretty close to 23%, so I'm not too far off my rocker by asking this as well.

I'm bitter I took French instead of Spanish in high school, thinking that perhaps one day I might use it. I've NEVER had to. Had I known I would move to Mexico I would have picked more wisely.


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