Friday, June 16, 2006

Geno's All American

"If you can't tell me what you want, I can't serve you. It's up to you. If you can't read, if you can't say the word cheese, how can I communicate with you - and why should I have to bend? I got a business to run." Joey Vento, owner, Geno's Steaks

My son was hungry yesterday so we headed for Pat's Steaks. Fluffians are typically loyalists when it comes to Sout' Philly's diagonally placed steak stands. You're either a Pat's person or a Geno's person.

I'm a Pat's girl, through and through. My son is that rare breed who just gets in the shortest line.

There you go, two things that make America great. Freedom of choice. Opportunity. There's another on display at that corner these days: Freedom of expression.

So we started discussing the latest Philly brouhaha -- the signs: This is AMERICA ... WHEN ORDERING SPEAK ENGLISH, put up by Geno's colorful owner, Joey Vento. Whose parents came from Italy and had trouble learning English. But at least they tried.

Now Philadelphia's Commission on Human Relations has filed a discrimination complaint against Geno's for those signs. As far as I know, Geno's hasn't turned anybody away. Joey Vento's simply expressing a widespread and growing frustration with immigrants--especially illegal ones--who can't or won't learn English.

I think the signs are a little too crude and over the top. But ... they do resonate with anyone who lives anywhere in America among a large foreign-born, foreign-speaking population.

My son agrees. The signs are tacky but the sentiment can be understood. Let's face it, this ain't rocket science, it's common sense: if you move to America and plan to live your life here, you should learn to speak English. Period.

On our many travels to foreign countries we've boned up on at least a few critical phrases. "Where's the bathroom?" "Can you help me?" "Excuse me." With the exception of Parisians, people in every country have been responsive and kind, have applauded and encouraged our efforts.

Even more germane to Joey V's point, I've lived in foreign countries. And wherever I've been, I made sure I knew how to say 'Pepsi with ice' and 'hamburger with fries.'

In fact, no matter how difficult or strange or embarrassing, I made an effort to learn the local language. Especially the words and phrases most relevant to my daily life and needs. If I can order 'Pepsi con ghiaccio' in Rome, a Mexican immigrant living in South Philly can surely learn to say "cheese wit" if he wants a steak sandwich with Cheese Whiz at Geno's.

Speaking of which, when Mike and I got to the corner yesterday, the whole area was packed. What the? Yeah, the signs are national news but it's 4pm on a Thursday afternoon. Then we caught on. New York and New Jersey license plates. Mets shirts. Phillies shirts. The game was over and the crowds wanted to eat and debate.

"It's a disgrace," one man said to my son ... after asking, "Which is the place with the sign?" then heading for Geno's long line.

"Yo, youse seen da sign? Dem people should learn howta speak Englitch," came, ironically, from another fine Philly American.

I'm beginning to think phone menus in Philadelphia should offer three options.

For Spanish, press one.
For English, press two.
For Sout' Philly English, press "tree."

One final note. I took a couple of quizzes from from on the subject.

Blogthings - What Kind of American English Do You Speak?

Your Linguistic Profile:
40% General American English
35% Yankee
15% Dixie
5% Upper Midwestern
0% Midwestern

Blogthings - How American Are You?

You Are 60% American
Most times you are proud to be an American. Though sometimes the good ole US of A makes you cringe.
Still, you know there's no place better suited to be your home.
You love your freedom and no one's going to take it away from you!

I wonder how Joey Vento would score.



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