Spanish Derangement Syndrome

I have written several times about the phenomena of certain nativist Americans who get absolutely freaked out whenever they even encounter Spanish in the good old USA.  Here is another example of what I have started calling Spanish Derangement Syndrome:

A Spanish-language billboard promoting iced coffee is getting a chilly reception from some Bogota officials.

Mayor Steve Lonegan said the McDonald's billboard on River Road near
Elm Avenue and the railroad overpass is offensive because it sends the
message that Spanish speakers and immigrants do not need to learn how
to speak English.

Boy would this guy ever blow a gasket here in Phoenix!  So I have a counter proposal.  Everywhere that Steve Lonegan travels overseas, I think they should remove their English signs and everyone should refuse to speak English.  No English signs in airports, no English-speaking people at the hotel desk, no International Herald Tribune on the newsstand.   After all, having English signs and English-speaking customer contact people all over, say, Germany, just sends the message that Americans don't have to learn German to travel there.

I am reminded that nearly every country in the world has an "American School" where expats send their kids to learn in English and avoid as much contact and assimilation as possible with the local populous.  For example, I had several business associates in Singapore who all sent their kids to the local American School.  Can you imagine what a hissy-fit nativists in the US would throw if there were similar Mexican schools in the US?

Update:  By the way, I don't have any particular problem with English as a criteria for citizenship, but not for mere presence in the country.  Note that I don't consider citizenship the restrictive license that nativists do, as I explained here, among other places.

Also, one would be hard-pressed to argue that the Constitution somehow restricts first amendment speech protections to speech made in English.

Update #2:  Formatting has wigged out a couple of times with this post, with the word "English" formatted out on separate lines each time it appears.  Weird.  Hacker?


  1. KipEsquire:

    Regarding Germany, try replacing "English" with "Turkish" throughout your post and suddenly you're your own worst counterexample.

    There are some of us who recognize the absurdity of the McDonald's billboard outrage, but who still insist that all government business in the U.S. should be conducted exclusively in English.

    In other words, there are still some of us who know the difference between "private" and "public."

  2. Jody:

    /*After all, having English signs and English-speaking customer contact people all over, say, Germany, just sends the message that Americans don't have to learn German to travel there.*/

    No one begrudges a traveler who doesn't know the language. The immigrant who doesn't is a different matter.

    Personally, I have no problem with the billboard per se. McDonald's has gotta do what it has to to make a buck. However, its existence is indicative of a large unassimilated population which I view as a *bad* thing.

  3. AP:

    I have seen American schools in various places around the world. Americans do send their kids to these schools. There are a couple of differences that you should keep in mind: all these schools are private and most Americans are expats (they have every intention to return).

  4. TC:

    Big difference between catering the to bucks of tourisim and codeling an invasive force which desires to kick your butt outta what they call "their" land!

    This may help a bit.

  5. T J Sawyer:

    Hey, give me a Spanish-speaker behind the counter at McDonalds anytime versus the anglo-speaking kid at my local hardware store who wears a big lip-ring. He not only looks like he's from another planet, you can't understand a word he says!

  6. Bob Smith:

    There *are* such schools in the US, at least in LA. Spanish-language, not ESL. The problem with them is that they're not for Mexican ex-pats, they're for Mexicans living here permanently (and a few illegals too)!

  7. Rob:

    When I went to school in France, I had to speak French. When I was getting my student visa (carte de sejour), all my documents had to be translated into French before they would accept them. I had to speak French to the person at the counter reviewing my application. But... this is a big BUT... USA has not officially defined a national language. Once we do that, then people can start complaining.

  8. Dan:

    Having lived overseas for a number of years in Europe and the Middle East, I can say that Americans do not send their children to American schools so they can avoid the local color. Very often they do send them to the local schools when they are young so they *can* experience the local culture and learn the language. When the kids start getting into the higher grades (about 7+) they usually switch to American schools so they will not fall behind their US counterparts. They usually have are going to send the kids to college in the US, so they need to be prepared by learning US history, English skills, and other US culturally-centered skills that they will need to be successful in a US college.

    As someone else mentioned, the signs in English in other countries are for tourists. The Americans who live overseas *do* make an effort to learn the language and at least become proficient enough in it to get by. The signs in Spanish in the US are for immigrants who are planning on staying here.

    US expats are the *last* people you should accuse of US-centrism. No other US citizens have such an all-embracing world view.

  9. Colleen:

    I am a middle aged, middle class white woman who used to be strongly in favor of the "CLOSE THE BORDERS NOW!" approach. When I would hear folks speaking Spanish, I would want to scream "SPEAK ENGLISH, DAMMIT!" But I've changed my mind because of what I have observed about the Spanish-speaking immigrants in my rural Virginia area, to wit: They work hard--every morning of the week, you can see Hispanic laborers lined up in a nearby town who WANT to work. Hispanic families that I see shopping are by and large clean and neatly dressed. Most importantly, I have YET to see a single Hispanic family pay for their food with food stamps or welfare cards. I am sure some probably do but I see people paying in cash or with bank cards. More power to THEM...even if they're illegals who aren't paying taxes, at least they aren't sitting on their asses getting paid with MY tax dollars. And if my taxes are supporting their children going to school, so what? If that results in more kids who can read and succeed, it's money well spent. Considering population trends in the U.S. it occurred to me that in the not distant future, my neighbors may be Hispanic and perhaps my co-workers. So I decided to learn Spanish. After a couple of months of listening to Spanish language tapes and studying how-to books, I discovered that learning Spanish is EASY and enjoyable, and more importantly, I now enjoy hearing it spoken and appreciate seeing it in public places so that I can practice my new language skills. A study of Spanish has given me new appreciation for Hispanic culture, as well. Therefore, my advice is this: Si usted no puede batirlos, ensámblelos. Usted puede ser que aprenda algo en el proceso.

  10. nonrepresentational:

    un frente helado se aproxima. nuevo café helado.

    Those stand-up guys at Language Log, tirelessly working against linguistic injustice, have done quite a little series of posts about the mayor of a New Jersey town who doesnt like having McDonalds billboards advertise in Spanish.  My fav...

  11. Robin Lionheart:

    "...and avoid as much contact and assimilation as possible with the local populous."

    {pedant}That sentence is missing a noun. The local populous what?{/pedant}

  12. david tiley:

    Does anyone else notice the irony of the mayor of a town called Bogota objecting to a single sign in Spanish?