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Speaking English at Geno's

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June 13, 2006

Speaking English at Geno's

Stephen Baker

Geno's, the legendary cheesesteak shop in my hometown of Philadelphia, is now being sued for a sign demanding that patrons order in English. Read the hundreds of comments, and you can see that Philly's bursting with staunch defenders of the language of Dickens and Shakespeare, not to mention Rizzo.

I've lived in foreign countries and struggled with foreign languages. It's a very difficult moment to order something in your native language when you're not sure it will be understood, or to piece together a sentence in a language you barely know how to pronounce. You take time to pick places that look hospitable and friendly. So unless Geno's hires a lot of Spanish speakers to man its counters, I don't think'll face a rush of Mexicans ordering their sandwiches in Spanish. Mexicans don't need to read a sign to know where they're not welcome.

06:25 PM

international, society

i wish people would lighten up about this stuff. the english language is so rich, and pretty fun, precisely because the rules are made to be broken. (you writer types may disagree.) there's no l'academy protecting it in a glass vitrine.

if my name was geno and i had a cheesesteak shop, i would put up a sign that says, "please order in italian." prendiamo una grande keessteak con peperoni e cipole!! italenglish, spanglish, it's all part of the fun. enjoy it.

Posted by: schadenfreudisch at June 14, 2006 11:26 AM

This Geno's place, I should have mentioned, is a big tourist attraction and is designed to process customers in a hurry. They actually have instructions to read while you're in line so that you can order a sandwich as efficiently as possible. It's as if industrial engineers turned their attention from assembly lines to cheeze whiz hoagies. The result--and I'm sure I'll make myself unpopular in Philadelphia saying this--has about as much character, and as much grease, as a crankcase.

Despite Geno's heritage, I'd bet the people there would consider a dose of Italian in the check out line as a major problem. Not as grievous as Spanish, of course..

Posted by: steve baker at June 14, 2006 08:48 PM

This isn't a very funny story.

Xenophobia isn't amusing.

Spanish is also an American language. The role of business is to serve the public. For that they receive the support of public services, the infrastructure of police and utilities, and access to our financial system.

Discriminating against people who speak Spanish isn't amusing or entertaining. If not illegal, it is certainly unethical.

If we permit this type of activity to persist, we might as well go back to the white's only luncheon counters.

Posted by: Robert Freedland at June 15, 2006 12:57 PM

I firmly agree with that sign. I wish I could hang it up at my place of work. I work not too far out of Philadelphia and also work in the retail field. As a manager for a retail store it is frustrating, at the least, to have someone come in to my store, and not speak any English. I went to college, and learned Spanish, but there is no reason that they cannot learn English. I am not proficient in Spanish, nor to I wish to play translator while I am trying to run a store. It comes down to the point where I say "No comprende" and I walk away. I don't ask that the language be spoken proficiently, but try. Our students these days are most often not given the option of whether they learn Spanish. It is a MANDATORY. I think it should be mandatory that anyone who lives in our country should have to learn our language. I don't have patience for those who do not try.

Posted by: shannon at June 18, 2006 07:09 PM

Actually, Spanish is not an American language...not sure where you pulled that one from...and if you go to Italy and go to a small town place to eat and they don't speak English you probably won't be served cause no one will have a clue what you are trying to say...

Regardless of the reason whether to order a sandwich or get a job people in America need to learn and speak English...whether you starve to death doing it or not that is your choice...

Posted by: Melissa B. at June 22, 2006 01:24 PM

In Toronto, Canada an East European bus driver got irritated when he didn't understand what I was saying IN A PURE CANADIAN ACCENT- I wish there were people in Canada who did what Geno's has done...Speak English, Understand English or LEAVE.

Posted by: Vic at July 12, 2006 05:24 PM

If Spanish was an American language, why isn't the Constitution written in it? Why are laws written in English? When my Great Grandparents and Grandparents immigrated from Italy they had to learn English. It isn't xenophobia, English is the language of the United States. Speak it. While we are on the subject, there were some people that recently marched on Washington to protest immigration reform while chanting Spanish slogans. Here's a clue: you are in Washington D.C... at least protest in English!

Posted by: MB at September 20, 2006 12:10 AM

I wish the two co-workers who approached me on my first day of work, and all the other Spanish-speaking Latinos who look down upon me for being English-only, knew all the feelings and history that lie behind my simple response to their attempts at conversation -- "No habla Espa?ol."

Posted by: angel at October 23, 2006 11:57 PM

People need to lighten up.

I'm sure Geno's grandparents, now probably buried in Sicily, would be proud of his grandson speaking like an Alabama american.

Hey Geno! Dame un sandwich de carne con queso.

America needs to embrace latinos and spanish speaking people. En espa?ol.

Posted by: Latinchat at December 11, 2006 05:31 PM

This is ridiculous. If you live here, speak the language! This has become such a prominent problem because Mexicans can now illegally immigrate here, and be completely surrounded in a latino community where they never have to learn or even speak english. Immigrants - legal or otherwise are getting lazy. My forefathers learned the language when they came here. This is just further proof that we need a 20 foot concrete wall with razor wire along the mexican border, and fast.

As for Geno's, I appluad the sign, but "freedom fries?" Comon, hating the French for not joining us in the Iraq war would be like calling someone a coward for not joining you on a sinking ship.

Posted by: patssteaks at February 3, 2007 02:23 AM

Living in South Florida you are more likely to land a job if you speak Spanish than English. Go to Miami and try to order food in English and you will be amazed at the looks you get. Any kind of construction/labor job now pays less than it did 15 years ago. Even the billboards and signs are in Spanish. I think English speaking Americans should boycott the companies that employ illegals. Theodore Roosevelt had the right idea "In the first place we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the man's becoming in very fact an American, and nothing but an American...There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn't an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag, and this excludes the red flag, which symbolizes all wars against liberty and civilization, just as much as it excludes any foreign flag of a nation to which we are hostile...We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language...and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people."

Posted by: SB at March 23, 2007 07:13 PM

Geno has every right to keep the sign up. A removal of the sign would be unconstitutional by viaolating the first amendment.

In Reading PA EVERYTHING is in spanish and English WHY! There are bilboards the are in Spanish and I don't Know what they mean. I wish some people had signs like him in Reading.

Posted by: silence Dogood at April 27, 2007 10:30 AM

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