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March 30, 2009

As I mentioned last week, the air-conditioner in our apartment recently went on the fritz, and since we’re smart enough to rent rather than own, we simply called the front office and requested maintenance pay us a visit.

If only things were that simple. You always expect things to be easy, and are surprised when (for the thousandth time) complications ensue.

We didn’t realize the AC had entered its death throes until about 4:30 p.m., and the office closes at five. They assured us, however, that problems with the AC count as a “maintenance emergency”, so one of the guys would be knocking on our door shortly.

Needless to say, no one showed up.

I don’t tolerate the heat well, despite having grown up in Texas, and although our summer is just beginning to rev its engines, that night was miserable. During the winter, when it’s a balmy 48 degrees outside, my husband and I sleep with the bedroom window open and a small fan stuck in the opening so we can wring every last moment of blessed cold from the event.

Anyway, I didn’t sleep at all, but the maintenance guys arrived the next morning at 8:30 a.m., so I was pacified.

Two guys showed up, and here is what I learned:

The first guy, who is from El Salvador, has lived in this country for 8.5 years and is married to a German woman. They are thinking of moving back to El Salvador because it is beautiful and because they want to raise their children according to his cultural heritage.

The second guy, who is from Honduras, has worked for this apartment complex for the last 18 years. I know this because the first guy told me.

I know some Spanish because I used to work at stables and there is not a horse farm in Texas that doesn’t employ at least one or two Hispanic stable hands. Most of them are in this country illegally, but no one says anything because they work for pennies and don’t make a fuss.

Because of my experience at random barns, I can speak some Spanish—though, granted, my vocabulary is limited mostly to dirty words and equine jargon. None of which helps me when a maintenance guy is asking me something about my AC.

The first guy leaves for a few minutes to get something from the maintenance shed across the complex, and the second guy is tinkering with the thermostat. He turns to me and utters a few syllables of rapid Spanish, expecting me to understand what he’s said.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t understand a WORD OF ENGLISH.

Here’s the thing: I’ve got no problem with anyone moving to this country as long as they fill out the requisite paperwork and contribute to society. I’d venture to say that most people who live here are immigrants, even if their immigrant status might be ten times removed.

However, I do have a problem with people who move here from non-English-speaking countries and refuse to learn the language. Not only does this complicate everyone else’s life, but it can’t be easy for them.

Take a class? Watch American television. Buy a book. Whatever. Just learn the damn language—or at least enough of it to communicate effectively in public.

This first maintenance guys has lived here 8 years and is essentially fluent in English. He stumbles a couple of times, but when he doesn’t know a word, he asks what it might be and learns it right then and there.

But this second maintenance guy has lived here for nearly twenty years, yet he can’t speak a word of the language. And he works routinely with English-speaking people. And my AC DEPENDS ON HIM.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 30, 2009 10:10 am

    Oh the joys of being a renter 😉

    I am always amazed at people who flat-out refuse to speak the language of the country they live in. My sister (you know of whom I speak) married a Brit, and for years they lived in Germany. He refused to learn any German while they were there. Why am I not surprised? Maybe because he was married to the psycho-sister, I expect that sort of behavior from him.

    My guess is the longtime resident DOES speak English (how could he not and work there for 18 years?). I’ve seen people who only speak it when they feel like it, and choose to be irksome this way.

    I’m with you. No matter where you live, learn the language. It’s common courtesy and in most cases if you make any attempt to speak the local lingua, they will bend over backwards for you. Not to mention it will make your own life easier if you are able to communicate outside a small group. I spent 18 months in Okinawa when I was in the Navy many moons ago, and speaking even a couple words of Japanese to the locals did more for international relations than a roomful of diplomats.

  2. Sam Tamlyn permalink*
    March 30, 2009 11:05 am

    I didn’t know you were in the Navy. Thank you for your service.

    It has never made sense to me why people refuse to learn the language where they live. I would think it would be difficult–all rudeness to others aside. Ordering food, asking directions, visiting the doctor. I wouldn’t want to leave my house!

    And you might be right about the guy actually speaking English. If anything, that just irritates me further.

  3. Sam Tamlyn permalink*
    March 30, 2009 11:06 am

    And I can’t wait until we’re ready to buy a house. My husband and I suffer from this ridiculous fear that we’ll suddenly fall on economic hardship and lose our home once we buy one.

    It’s just like anything else, though–there never is a perfect time.

  4. March 30, 2009 12:21 pm

    And then you get to experience the joys of home-ownership! All the maintenance is up to you, no calling the super. Dishwasher dies, guess who gets to replace it; roof leaks, gutters fall off… 😉

    It’s a tradeoff, and my house will probably crumble around me but the idea of going into an apt. again makes my skin crawl. I’ve been a homeowner for 20 years now, and while it’s more work and responsibility, I HATE communal housing (apartments, condos, etc.). It’s been all up to me for the last 11 years since my divorce and at times I have thought life would be easier in an apartment but I don’t know if I could adjust to living like that again.

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