Speak English and just bring us the damned gelati
Imagine our disgust the other night when we went to the Marconi Italian Club only to discover the joint has been overrun by wogs.
“Table for four, signore?” the lippy waiter asked incomprehensibly, so I shot back: “Don’t signore me champ, this is Australia and I didn’t come here to be insulted with your jibber-jabber.”
Speaking slowly and a little bit more loudly to help him understand, I explained that all we wanted was a quick tea - nuggets and chips for the kids, a steak for me and a bowl of spaghetti bolognese for my lady wife.
And he starts up again using his hands and telling me about something called bistecca alla fiorentina, and I’m saying “mate just a steak alright, how hard is it?”, then he’s rabbiting on about patate frite for the kids, and the poor little buggers have got no idea going on, they’re clearly confused, and finally the cheeky bastard flashes a latin grin at my missus, even though she’s already asked for bolognese, and says that he’s going to give her something called a ragu.
Not on my watch.
We were back in the car within minutes and grabbed some Dolmio on the way home - and really, it was just as good if not better than anything you could get in a restaurant, and without the language lesson.
Are some people still this backward and insecure in this country of ours?
The answer - in Italian, just to irritate them further - is obviously si.
Daily Telegraph reporter Nick Tabakoff - who in passing should be commended for the clarity of his prose given his exotic ancestry - revealed this week that Sydney’s Marconi Club, of all places, had instructed all staff, not just those in front-of-house positions, that they are no longer allowed to speak languages other than English while working.
This hysterically confused rule - implemented at a place where you’d presume both the patrons and the punters are comfortable with cultural diversity - has now unleashed quite a furore, which itself is an interloping latin word translating roughly into Australian as “stink”, “ruckus” or “barney”.
Much of the commentary has been derisory, saying it is only right that a club specifically designed to celebrate Italian heritage should threaten staff with sanction if they start carrying on like foreigners, and while we’re at it, perhaps all the menus should be changed so as to not offend our rich Anglo-Saxon heritage. You can keep your carbonara mate, I’ll be having the wheat noodles with egg, cheese and bacon. Sounds so much more evocative, doesn’t it?
But many others have been remarkably gung-ho in their support for the Marconi club, saying it’s about time someone stood up for the primacy of English and the rights of Anglo-Australians, even if they do happen to be called Guido and hail from Sicily.
Some have argued - and it’s not so much an argument as a diagnosable mental illness - that people who aren’t speaking English are possibly talking about them.
It’s such a wacky old 1950s view, probably one which we inherited in part from our English forbears with their historic mistrust of the continentals and their flash polyglotted ways, and it’s staggering that these days people are even prepared to put their name to such a comment without fear of ridicule.
Deep down it reflects a basic insecurity about your own intellect - namely the very real risk that if someone can speak not one but two languages, they might be smarter than you. This is because they probably are.
At the nub of this whole issue is what should really be a separate question - the failure of some migrants to learn English, and the reluctance of government to compel them to do so by tying proficiency in our national language to citizenship or employment.
People have a right to jack up about that.
The current row over the standard of taxi drivers is a case in point. You could put up with the Bollywood hits or the chanting of the Koran being blasted out of the stereo if the bloke behind the wheel could a.) muster the linguistic wherewithal to say please, hello, thank you and have a nice day, and b.) knew where the Opera House was.
Proficiency in the national language is the entry point for all of these communities into broader society. It has always been undesirable for communities to remain cut off, to only mix with their own number. Blame for failure to do so must rest largely with them, as it shows a self-absorbed and disengaged approach to settlement in a new land.
But the parallel of this conceit and disengagement has been demonstrated by the “we grew here you flew here” set which thinks that its own artless brand of English should be the lingua franca of our wide white land, to the exclusion of all others.
Not just in the context of the Marconi Club story, but even more alarmingly in the backlash to the NSW Government’s terrific proposal, applauded by The Daily Telegraph in its editorial last week, to teach primary school students Asian languages such as Mandarin and Bahasa Indonesian.
Setting aside the mild qualifier that people are more likely to vote in a poll when they’re angry than happy, it is still massively depressing that 55 per cent of people have said that there should be no bilingual primary schools in NSW.
People should really think this through a bit more. One of the key reasons our nation is doing so well economically isn’t the size of Howard’s surplus or Rudd’s stimulus, but the fact that we are surrounded by the new powerhouse economies of the 21st century, not just in Asia but to our east in Latin America. Even the most unreconstructed hillbilly should recognise that there’s an economic imperative for being able to deal with these nations.
There’s also a human imperative. It makes life more interesting. You might learn something you didn’t know, meet someone you would otherwise not have met, have a conversation you might never have had.
Unless of course your idea of fun is sitting in the Italian Club eating bangers and mash and listening to Barnesy rather than that warbling Andrew Bocelli bloke, or anyone else for that matter who can’t speak proper.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…