Or, Why I Carry a Pen and Paper, Even on a Date*

¿Habla Español?

I speak Spanish. Pretty fluently. Not natively, but I get along in a rusty kind of a way. Though my speech is a bit slow, the hearing works just fine, thanks.

Many of you are also bilingual (though not necessarily in Spanish), and you may be asking,

“What does this have to do with Customer Experience, Kelly?”

I may have forgotten to mention I don’t look Spanish, mainly due to the fact that I’m not. (Note author photo, at left. Nice Irish Experience Designer. Not Irish Experiences, mind you… well, yeah. We can do that.)

*cue story music, of the soft, lush, romantic type*

So I’m out on a date recently at a lovely Philadelphia restaurant. The type where you can not get “Beringer by the glass,” people, so don’t even bother to ask. Lucky me, it’s be-a-grownup-night and I’m doing just that.

My waitress, she speaks Spanish. I know this, because every time either of two other servers go by, they speak to her as she goes about her business. In Spanish. About various things including my date’s tie (good), my shoes (they disapprove), anyone who walks in to sit at the bar (dateable and not dateable and I’m not going to say any more about that subject), what’s going on in the kitchen (not all good), and their mothers.

You think I’m making this up but I’m not.

All in hushed tones. Not actually while speaking to us at the table. Very discreet if your hearing is impaired, or maybe it’s background noise if you don’t speak the language.

Note to readers: We will NOT discuss use of English generally (nor the favored language of your country/province) in the comments, as that is not the subject of this post. We will discuss the use of discretion.

Points on Language: Yours, Mine, and Foul

If these servers spoke English only, they would not have been having such vivid snippets of conversation right next to my table. If they suspected I understood most every word they said except some which I believe were foul language, ditto. So why did I have to listen to all this during my nice night out?

Because they made a judgment about our looks (and probably our accents, too), and decided the two of us did not require curbing their tongues, no matter how much we paid for our meals.

Point one: Do not let your staff gossip around customers in any language. Not even Klingon, because you never know. Seriously, gossip is just not cool.

Point two: Using your prejudices to guess whether I can understand you, at work or elsewhere in your life, is probably a bad idea. Friends used to love sitting with me on subway rides to “overhear” people who assumed no one else could understand them. My Mom thinks it’s something like a party trick. I’m sure at a fast food restaurant or a convenience store you may have experienced folks who took one look at you and continued their conversation, having decided you did not understand them. It’s not always so.

Point three: Lest you think this is about some other guy, English-speaking U.S. residents notoriously do this same thing when on holiday in other lands, only to have it blow up in their faces; many popular tourist destinations have large numbers of citizens who can speak English. If you think that doesn’t affect Customer Experience, since you’re the customer, think how annoyed the shopkeeper is with you. Your experience is going to be changed, by your own behavior.

No matter who you are or where, if you want a discreet, private conversation, have it privately. That’s discretion. Anything else is rude.

By the way, I have had staff wait on me while having their annoying conversations in English, without missing a beat to “help” me. Not in a nice restaurant, but in plenty of shops. This is not only about language.

However, when they know that we all know what’s being said, it’s not said about me, or my date, or the relative merits of the guy who just walked in versus last Friday’s hottie.

Point four: They were nice shoes.  🙂

You’d never let your staff or coworkers do this, so…. Have you ever had to listen in on an indiscreet conversation while shopping or dining? What did you do?

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

*Because you never know when your next post will appear!