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Why won't Mexicans speak Spanish with me?
July 8, 2014 4:31 AM   Subscribe

Almost every time I speak Spanish to a Mexican they answer right back in English.

I live in Colorado and speak Spanish fluently if not always grammatically correct. I first noticed this in a Chipotle when I was first learning when I heard the workers there all speaking Spanish and I asked for lechuga on my burrito when the person quickly answered back, "You want lettuce?" Now there are a few exceptions. At my favorite Mexican restaurant for example, the owner doesn't speak very good English and he always chats with me in Spanish, probably thinking in some kind of novelty. The waiters there, no. If I ask permission to speak Spanish it is normally OK.When I go to South American restaurants it's different. The other day I went to watch Uruguay play futbol in a different restaurant. They had the game on ESPN in English which just isn't like watching in Spanish so I asked, "Podemos ver el partido por Univision? Yo prefiero el comentario en español" and the bartender answered back, "Sure, let me get the remote." My assistant, a second generation Mexican tells me that sometimes in the clubs she gets the same thing.

So why is this? My theories have been that it is a class issue? Maybe they think it's condescending. I don't know. Thoughts?
posted by Che boludo! to Writing & Language (86 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm guessing it's one of two things:

Either (a) they're sick and tired of having people speak Spanish to them when they speak English just fine thankyouverymuch,

or (b) due to possible differences in dialect (between what they know and what you have learned) it's actually easier to speak English with you than Spanish. I say this because I learned Spanish from a Spanish woman; I was very successful when I went to Spain, but in Mexico the dialect difference made it pretty hard to communicate verbally.

Either way, in my view it's pretty damn rude to speak Spanish at people simply because they look hispanic. The implication is that they don't speak English or don't speak it well, and that seems pretty nasty. I'd cut this behavior out if I were you.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 4:38 AM on July 8 [67 favorites]


Unless I missed one, all of your examples are where employees of a business won't speak Spanish with you, the customer. Lots of places have corporate policies in place to protect their customer base from the scary notion that The Others are preparing and serving their food, so disallow anything but English to be spoken with customers.

There's a big window looking into the kitchen of the Sopraffina a block from my work. You can see the door to the dining area. On that door is a sign that says ABSOLUTELY NO SPANISH BEYOND THIS POINT!

It is absolutely not worth risking a minimum wage job just to converse with you in Spanish.


On the flip side of this, I live in a very Mexican neighborhood where I (a white person who does not speak Spanish) am a distinct and noticeable minority. Everyone here, neighbors, restaurant employees, grocery store employees, etc, speaks Spanish to me by default, since 90+% of their customer base is Spanish-speaking Mexican.
posted by phunniemee at 4:43 AM on July 8 [14 favorites]


Sometimes there is a "we hear you have an accent and will make things easier for you by speaking in your native language, which we are better at than you are in Spanish" aspect.
posted by jeather at 4:44 AM on July 8 [21 favorites]


I only do it when I have already heard them speak Spanish. I've lived in two Spanish speaking countries were I got used to doing everything in Spanish. But to your point and in my question I am wondering if it is considered rude or condescending.
posted by Che boludo! at 4:44 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]


You can ask first. "I'm learning Spanish. Do you mind if I practice?"
posted by chrchr at 4:47 AM on July 8 [25 favorites]




people who look Hispanic in the US face discrimination , even more so if they are perceived as not willing or able to speak English. Maybe they don't want you or customers to think prejudicial things about them and are showing they are fluent .

Also, as a someone who lived as a foreigner in another country, I used to find it really irritating when people spoke English to me even though I spoke the local language fine ( and this feeling was shared by other foreigners )
posted by bearette at 4:48 AM on July 8 [16 favorites]


In the Chipotle example: To you, it's "speaking Spanish." To them, it's the thousandth occurrence of "some idiot remembers two nouns and 'con' from high school Spanish and wants to look 'down con his Latin homeys'." The odds that you actually speak their language (and, as noted above, their dialect) seem to them to be vanishingly small and not worth the effort to engage.

And in all of your examples: If they speak to customers in Spanish, there is a nonzero chance they will get yelled at, either by the customer or management, for doing so. Yes, even if the customer started it. That is definitely a thing that happens in the U.S.
posted by Etrigan at 4:51 AM on July 8 [31 favorites]


I vote for some combination of "figuring out your accent is more difficult than just speaking English" and "it feels patronizing."
posted by mskyle at 4:57 AM on July 8 [5 favorites]


To elaborate , I used to feel annoyed when people insisted on English ( when I lived abroad) because it emphasized to me that I was thought of as a foreigner and didn't fit it in that country ( rightly or wrongly ).

Also, some people speak two languages but are still more comfortable with one. Maybe some of the people you heard speaking Spanish still don't speak it well or are more comfortable with English. ( they may have been speaking it only out f necessity)
posted by bearette at 4:59 AM on July 8 [5 favorites]


Yes, it's rude because the implication is that you're assuming they don't speak English well enough to serve you. Especially in a chain like Chipotle. Would you walk in to a Panda Express and try to order in Mandarin?
posted by hamsterdam at 5:01 AM on July 8 [23 favorites]


This is code-switching territory, which is not exactly a class thing, but operates in similar ways. Within the US, the "safe spaces" for Spanish in public or semi-public spaces are fairly tightly defined, and gaining entry to that space often requires more than conveying a first impression of being an enthusiastic anglophone with better-than-average Spanish.

I think phunniemee's answer gets to the heart of things: the places where you're greeted in Spanish are the places inviting you to reply in Spanish, and elsewhere, the dynamics are going to be weird and uncomfortable (and a little bit "language-colonial") unless and until you're invited to shift.
posted by holgate at 5:09 AM on July 8 [27 favorites]


My husband is tri-lingual with no noticeable accent in any of his languages and he definitely does not start speaking Spanish to people unless they start speaking it to him. He reads as white, US native (which he is not) and he says that people find it condescending if he just breaks out the Spanish - even when they are struggling to speak to him in English. He ALWAYS asks/says, "I speak Spanish, would you prefer that?".
posted by PorcineWithMe at 5:10 AM on July 8 [22 favorites]


I resent the implication that just because these people speak a language you find interesting, they are required to speak it to you. "Required" because you seem annoyed that they are denying you this opportunity. It ties in to all the other things immigrants and POC are expected to give as if others have a right to it: cheap labor, free restaurant recommendations, cultural items like costumes, songs etc., free language lessons.

Maybe you would feel honored if someone in a different country attempted to converse in your language with you. But for many other people who grew up in a non-racially privileged setting this is less a sign of respect than: "your language, it interests me. Speak to me on your tongue, exotic person."

Whereas when they speak to each other in their own language when they feel like it, instead of when prompted by others, they face reprimands and discrimination.

Not saying that this is what you intend, but unfortunately this is what the people you are talking to experience quite often, so they may simply not be interested in a mutual language exchange.
posted by Omnomnom at 5:14 AM on July 8 [41 favorites]


This is code-switching territory

This, exactly.

I speak ok Spanish (not fluent, but adequate) and when I meet someone who is clearly Spanish-dominant I'll usually indicate I can use either language and let them choose. When I've lived in other countries and was trying to practice the local language, it was always irritating to me when people would insist on English (especially when it was worse than my Spanish or whatever), so I'm careful to not do that to someone here.

Over and above fluency, people have all kinds of reasons to want to speak one language over the other -- identity, corporate policies, feeling of condescension, and so on -- and the polite thing is to meet them where they are and let them make the choices that they prefer. Sometimes the other language is reserved for friends and family and English is used for formal and business stuff, so you busting out the Spanish might seem oddly intimate -- there's no way to know without trying, but the polite thing is to let the other person decide and not to force a linguistic choice on them.

This is also having a layer of complication because you are finding these conversations only in service interactions, where the person is forced to talk with you. The negotiations and options are different when the interactions are social, as equals, and perhaps that is what you should be seeking out, rather than making service staff code switch for you.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:21 AM on July 8 [14 favorites]


This is also having a layer of complication because you are finding these conversations only in service interactions, where the person is forced to talk with you. The negotiations and options are different when the interactions are social, as equals, and perhaps that is what you should be seeking out, rather than making service staff code switch for you.

I think this is important - to me, your question smacks a little of something similar to (not exactly the same as!) asking why the barrista at your local coffeehouse won't flirt with you even though you're good looking and are just trying to be friendly. You're asking someone to do something social-ish that really isn't part of their job, and that may signify a level of familiarity that isn't really there. This may also be a clue as to why the owner of your favorite Mexican restaurant will speak Spanish with you - the power differential doesn't seem to be quite as extreme there, and presumably you've been there enough to have struck up at least a casual acquaintance.
posted by DingoMutt at 5:34 AM on July 8 [20 favorites]


Make friends. Talking to people while they're working is just weird and uncomfortable. They are trying to do their job. Also, most people are going to speak to customers in English even if they speak to each other in Spanish. Unlesss you live in a Spansh speaking community, you aren't going to be speaking Spanish everywhere you go.
posted by Aranquis at 5:43 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]


I am wondering if it might be a combination of context (e.g. Chipotle versus small restaurant), dialect and accent.

Whenever we go eat at a local taqueria or pupuseria the person taking my order switches to Spanish or a mix of Spanish and English once they hear me pronounce the menu items - sometimes they are surprised when they look up and see that I am Asian. Having lived in Spanish-speaking countries, I do not have a noticeable accent. Perhaps you have more of a non-native speakers' accent than you think?

At Mexican restaurants that do not specifically cater to a Spanish-speaking clientele, the workers *never* speak to me in Spanish.

(From your profile information, I am also wondering if you learned Argentinian Spanish? Argentinian Spanish is rather distinctive and seems to be difficult to understand for people from Central American countries, such as Mexico).
posted by research monkey at 5:45 AM on July 8 [4 favorites]


As a non-native (but totally fluent) speaker of English and former food service worker, it would annoy the shit out of me if you decided to use my workplace as your language clinic and switch to a language of less mutual intelligibility for funsies. The last thing I would want to do is have to figure out what you want because you are speaking in a language you are not totally fluent in, and potentially waste time and money having to re-do your order because you mixed up the words for "onion" and "tomato" or whatever. If someone addresses you in English, don't make life harder for them to make the experience of ordering a burrito more interesting for yourself.
posted by griphus at 5:47 AM on July 8 [11 favorites]


all of your examples are where employees of a business won't speak Spanish with you

Here's a much more basic, practical question to ask: are there people in line behind you?

The person working the line at Chipotle may have had to deal with people "practicing their Spanish" before. Slows down the line, makes them look bad. The immediate motivation for switching to English is just to keep the line moving. Don't take it personally. And it's not rude. Just let the person running the line make the call.

I was in Québec City last week, and people do the exact same thing there, where the matrix of political, class and code-switching aspects are quite different.
posted by gimonca at 5:49 AM on July 8 [5 favorites]


"Why won't Mexicans speak Spanish with me?"

I think that yes, they may find it condescending.

And you might actually be saying things that are offensive without realizing it.

For example, in the title of the question you labeled all the Spanish speakers as Mexican. Many people are from all sorts of other countries, like Honduras, Guatemala, etc. And they don't take kindly to being called Mexican.
posted by misspony at 5:50 AM on July 8 [22 favorites]


For what it's worth -- I'm from Ottawa, where many if not most people are bilingual, and it is the experience of myself and every bilingual Anglophone I know that when you address somebody in French in a place of business, you will receive a reply in English.

The assumption (this is Canada, so...) is often that this is a politeness thing; once it has been picked up on that your native language is English, you are spoken to in English because you are...English. Very occasionally I'm in a conversation in a store or similar where the language slips back and forth a bit, but even that is so rare as to be worthy of comment and only seems to happen to me in Ottawa's more French-speaking neighbourhoods. If I drive far enough into Quebec and away from Ontario, getting a reply in French is less of a rarity.

In some situations it feels correct to throw down one's badly accented French to offer it up as an option. It never feels correct to try to persist with the French after it has been heard and an English reply has been offered and I'm not sure why you'd want to push the issue.

At any rate, it's not a phenomenon limited to Colorado.
posted by kmennie at 5:51 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]


I will occasionally speak in spanish if the person in the shop very obviously doesn't understand English (like, is calling over their kid to translate.) Otherwise, it just feels a little wierd, like I don't trust that they speak English or like I want to show off.

I think the best way to do this is to just ask folks at places that you frequent if you can speak in spanish with them, after you've already established a chatty relationship with them (where appropriate and where welcome). If the place is busy or if they have something else to do, stick to English-- it will be easier for both of you. If they're not interested in being chatty, don't chat with them in either language.

Even better: Look into language exchange groups where you get paired up with a ESL learner and you chat in spanish and then in English. If there aren't any around you, do it online-- I belong to a group called Lengaujero on facebook that is full of Spanish speaking folks wanting to skype in both languages.
posted by geegollygosh at 5:55 AM on July 8


You're in an English speaking country; you're not in Mexico. I think it's rude, and maybe they're pushing back against that. It's awfully presumptive of you!

Maybe they also want or need to work on their English, have to speak English at their place of employment, don't want to be embarrassed by others assuming they don't speak English well, or don't want to deal with the hassle of your level of Spanish.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:57 AM on July 8 [6 favorites]


If he can pull it off with the accent and city (small town in spain) knowledge and wardrobe, have him try:

Perdón, estoy de vacaciones de España, qué les hablas español o catalán? Mi Inglés es limitado.


(although that's google translate and to be believable it'd need to be in the correct dialect and vernacular)
posted by sammyo at 5:58 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]


I'm an American Caucasian living in Taiwan. I speak Mandarin well enough and the same thing happens to me. I have a few theories. One is that if the person I'm talking to knows some English they may think it is more polite to speak in what they assume is my native language. If their English is far lower than my Chinese ability, they'll go with Chinese. One thing I used to do occasionally if someone switched to English when I was speaking Chinese is to say in Chinese that I don't understand English!
posted by rmmcclay at 6:01 AM on July 8


Sammyo, I doubt the people OP is encountering speak much if any Catalan - most Catalan speakers are in/from/near Catalonia, which is (geographically!) part of Spain. It's not common in Central and South America. If OP asks this question he/she is even more likely to be spoken to in English I think.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 6:08 AM on July 8 [7 favorites]


Yeah, this seems very much like a "build a relationship first, then ask permission" situation. There's an awful lot of stuff that comes up on metafilter - like asking people about their jobs or where they are from, asking about their gender, asking about childhood stuff - where it seems like the governing answer should be "if there is a possibility that talking about/doing [THING] is going to be uncomfortable or put a person at some kind of risk [of being outed, losing their job, etc] then wait until you have a relationship with someone".

I've had some really fun interactions with Spanish-speaking people in Minneapolis, where they realized that I spoke a teensy bit of Spanish and decided that they were willing to coach me in conversation. This has been, occasionally, in a work context - I actually had a family decide to coach me on this particular script that I'd been given when I was doing some community work - it was a really simple script because the project was so simple that it could be done by someone with very little Spanish, and they decided that they'd coach me on pronunciation and tweak a little of the phrasing because it was awkward. Underlyingly, we were in a position where we each had different kinds of social power - I was a random community worker (from a non-famous, non-wealthy organization), they had All The Language Skills. So basically we could interact as equals - partly because we weren't in an office, and partly because we'd sort of figured each other out a little bit and they could see that I am basically happy to take direction on this stuff.

I think that people will be more happy to speak Spanish with you if they know you a little first and if they're in a position where they clearly have some social power, because being a [probably white?] US-born person with English as a first language already accords you social power that they may not have. People feel most comfortable speaking to more-or-less social equals, although the "equality" may come from different sources of social power.
posted by Frowner at 6:13 AM on July 8 [5 favorites]


Why does it bother you that they speak to you in English? Perhaps it bothers them that you speak to them in Spanish for the same reason.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:21 AM on July 8 [5 favorites]


I work in a heavily Latino neighborhood, and my Spanish is... well, I'm working on it, but right now let's say it's around the level of a small child with a bad accent and an unusual level of interest in food.

I agree with other people who have pointed out that it's rude, or at least presumptuous, to assume that Latino-looking people, or even people who you hear speaking Spanish, do not speak English.

When people come into the library, or when I go into the taqueria, the panaderia, the supermercado, etc., I first try English. If that doesn't work well, I start introducing Spanish words. And if that doesn't work, I start smiling and shrugging and apologetically saying things like 'mi espanol es muy malo.' Communication has a balance-of-power element, and, at that point, I'm trying to give that power to the other person.
posted by box at 6:21 AM on July 8 [4 favorites]


One way to start conversations politely in settings like you describe is to speak in English but pronounce whatever you're ordering correctly (assuming you have a very good accent in Spanish). It's important to do it unostentatiously, with no "see how well I pronounce your words!" vibe. If your accent is decent you'll often get asked how come or where you're from and a conversation in Spanish usually ensues. The point is for it to be offered by the other speaker, not imposed by you. If you're at the same place later and the other person is there again, then again you should let them initiate the conversation in whatever language.

If your accent is pretty noticeable, I would work on that -- I think it would make a significant difference (far more than working on your grammar).
posted by egg drop at 6:21 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]


schroedingersgirl : yes, sorry I did not complete my thought, the "Catalan" is to imply foreignness, his spanish probably does not sound "right" to folks from the americas, but if he's not american he's less of a threat.
posted by sammyo at 6:28 AM on July 8


Here's another possibility: I live in Laredo, Texas, where most of the population is bilingual (98% Mexican American), and I hear people ask questions in Spanish and receive an answer in English all the time. In environments where most people can use both languages well, people move freely back and forth between the two, and most of the time the particular language they are using doesn't have any particular meaning in itself, unless someone makes a point of only using one or the other. There's a good chance that what you are seeing doesn't mean anything except that person is in the habit of speaking English to customers and your use of Spanish doesn't jolt them out of that routine.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:32 AM on July 8 [16 favorites]


I agree with others that assuming "brown person = Mexican = Spanish-speaking" is a problem, even when the assumption is correct, especially given all the right-wing rhetoric (VERY inflamed right now) about how "Mexicans" should all be deported.

I have also been at burrito places with white people who were fluent in Spanish, and I have seen (as others said) that when they order in English but with the Spanish words spoken correctly, staff will often switch into Spanish with them. I have never seen these particular people offended when the staff does not, nor have they ever (I don't think) initiated the language switch.

Basically, there are political/racial/class/discrimination issues that you're kind of just stomping all over. Those things matter, and I wouldn't feel safe leading with my potential-to-be-discriminated-against traits with someone who doesn't get the implications of asking me to do so, either.
posted by jaguar at 6:33 AM on July 8 [5 favorites]


We're past this now, but this is the sign in the Sopraffina that I mentioned. I remembered it slightly wrong, but the gist is the same.
posted by phunniemee at 6:38 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]


The Chipotle example: you say you were first learning; the staff was being kind in confirming you were asking for what you wanted. You say you were first learning. Class issues and corporate policies aside, they might just want to be sure what you're trying to say.
posted by RainyJay at 6:40 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]


Somewhat different context (different/less intense racial implications), but I grew up in a francophone community in Northern Alberta and while almost all francophones switched between English and French just as a matter of course.

My French is somewhat English accented (and at other moments franco-Alberta accented) and I had similar experiences when speaking French in Quebec City (which has a more "proper" accent). Sometimes hearing your own language with an accent is more difficult than hearing a second or third language in a widespread accent.
posted by Kurichina at 6:44 AM on July 8


In my heavily hispanic part of the US, there are second and third generation immigrant parents that barely speak English and refuse to let their children speak Spanish. This creates very personal family and community dynamics that are wrapped up in language ability. Even though the children undoubtedly pick up enough to chat with their coworkers (and grandma) they didn't do it through education or world travel like many white folks. Your stabs at Spanish in commercial transactions might be jumping into that dynamic.

In professional settings (like say, a native English speaking US social worker or attorney working with Spanish speakers) it's often much more appropriate to start in English and when there's a communication breakdown to politely ask in English, "do you speak Spanish? Yes? Me too." Obviously, these would be more involved transactions than ordering a burrito. Either way, the goal of the communication is to "get it right" (the burrito, the legal advice, etc.). By the native English speaker starting in English they avoid putting the conversation in the context of "I see your dark skin and assume you're an 'other' -- which is especially tricky when they don't, in fact, speak Spanish.
posted by GPF at 6:49 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]


I live in South Texas, speak fair Spanish, and also like to practice. What you describe happens all the time, and it is awkward for everyone. What I tend to do now is let the other person lead, and if it is apparent to me that they are struggling in English I will ask them if they would prefer that we speak in Spanish. Sometimes what happens is if that person gets over the part they were struggling with by using Spanish, then they will switch back to English and so will I. I think anyone learning a language wants to try it out, including new English learners. It might be easier for you to find an intercambio partner to practice with, instead of making guesses about someone else's interest in speaking Spanish with you.
posted by megancita at 6:58 AM on July 8


In environments where most people can use both languages well, people move freely back and forth between the two, and most of the time the particular language they are using doesn't have any particular meaning in itself, unless someone makes a point of only using one or the other.

People who study sociolinguistics for a living can generally tease out patterns of usage that are semi- or unconscious to the actual speakers, but functionally bilingual environments work along those lines: there's an assumption that people carry a bumper-sized toolbox for the conversation, as opposed to showing up and waving around extra tools that people aren't expecting.
posted by holgate at 6:58 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]


Hi. I am Hispanic, and there is a guy who has attempted to come into my workplace and speak Spanish to myself and the other two Hispanics who work in the office. We don't have an anti-Spanish policy, but it drives all of us crazy and makes us literally wish we could eye-strangle him.

1) His (and perhaps your) Spanish is extremely stilted. He is clearly trying to practice his Spanish, not use it for our convenience, and he is zooming in on the people who speak or understand Spanish in the office to do so. It is nothing at all like when one of my co-workers drops in and out of Spanish. And it's actually harder to understand than if he spoke in English, because the accents are wrong and the timing of the words is wrong and I have to slowly think about each word. It slows down the conversation.

2) Because of the prevalence of high school Spanish, almost everyone knows how to say five words in Spanish. That does not mean they should speak in Spanish.

3) If you speak to me in Spanish, and I reply to you in English, THAT IS A CLEAR SIGN I DO NOT WANT TO TALK SPANISH TO YOU. If you continue after that, you are ignoring my preferences and irritating everyone there. If you come into the same place and say the same thing tomorrow to one of my coworkers, they are probably already irritated about the other day, when we all bitched to each other about the guy that refuses to take a polite no for an answer.

4) From how you are describing speaking the language, I would not describe you as "fluent."

5) Why are you assuming everyone speaking Spanish is Mexican?
posted by corb at 7:06 AM on July 8 [45 favorites]


Coming from sort of the other perspective, I'm a native English speaker in Japan, and frequently have people try to speak to me in English, and a lot of them are really trying to practice or show off to others. In a lot of those situations, I would much prefer that they speak to me in the language that's the simplest to understand each other in. If I'm busy, or I'm working, I don't really want to help someone practice their English (partly because that's something I can get paid to do, which means I'm essentially giving away a service for free), I just want to get the work done.

In other situations, I'm more than willing to chat in English if that's what the other person wants. Those situations don't involve me being at work, and knowing that I have other customers to get to. To be blunt, back home, I wouldn't try speaking Japanese to a person unless they specifically told me they would prefer it. Let other people use the language they feel they need to use. You don't know, they might have an asshole boss who doesn't want them speaking Spanish. Find a different outlet for your Spanish speaking.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:09 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]


Seems to me in the examples you cite, there might be policies in place forbidding employees from speaking to customers in any language other than English. Clearly, your Spanish is good enough to be understood, but it may be a case of the guy will lose his job.

At a previous job, I had a bilingual co-worker who had immigrated from somewhere in Latin America (I forget which country); he constantly pissed and moaned about other immigrants who didn't make the effort to learn English. He had a second job in retail, and said that if he was addressed in Spanish he would answer in English, and was annoyed by co-workers who constantly sent Spanish-speaking customers to him. I suspect this was a case of "one man's opinion," and while you might encounter other Mexican immigrants with this same opinion, it may not be in play here, particularly if you're "read" as a US native. But it is another angle to consider.

On the other hand, I've had similar experiences with French. I would not say I am fluent in French beyond a few years of taking it back in high school.

When visiting Québec, I attempted to order a hot chocolate in a Tim Horton's using French, and I was looked at like I had three heads. I repeated my order in English and had no problems. I read this treatment as "ugh, another stupid American."

On the French side of St. Maarten, on the other hand, a waitress was grateful that I was the only one at the table who knew French as she was having trouble taking our orders in English.
posted by tckma at 7:10 AM on July 8


If they speak back to you in English, they demonstrate to you and anybody else who may be listening that they have probably been here for awhile and are therefore not a recently arrived illegal immigrant, and thereby reduce their chances of coming to the attention of the INS, or getting the business itself raided.
posted by jamjam at 7:12 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]


For example, in the title of the question you labeled all the Spanish speakers as Mexican. Many people are from all sorts of other countries, like Honduras, Guatemala, etc. And they don't take kindly to being called Mexican.

I know this has been commented on a few times, and maybe you know the people are Mexican or that you were just using a short-cut in your question, but this bothered me, too. Perhaps because I see this short-cut used by people a lot or maybe because I have a couple close friends that are from different areas - Venezuela, Chile, Cuba, etc. In fact I often forget they are bi-lingual or tri-lingual as our languages only overlap with English. But I can tell you that even though dialects can be quite different for them their interaction is vastly different from yours. There is a sort of a moment where they realize they have a strong common language base, a few pleasantries are exchanged and then the interaction continues -- in English. So I think it's important to realize that this is just the ebb and flow of the way these type of interactions go. So is it rude? Maybe if you keep insisting. Is it condescending? It could be, but mostly I just think you aren't realizing how these interactions flow.

On preview, it's like corb says, even people who are from - wherever - flow back and forth in their conversation.
posted by dawg-proud at 7:12 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]


I'm an Australian in the US, so I have the POV of a foreigner who until she opens her mouth "passes" as white middle class American. Even with that background I have to have 2 mindsets my US one for in public and at work and my Aussie one at home & around friends. Having these mindsets saves a lot of confusion, conversations I've had 1000 times already and helps me keep doing my job. I helped my FIL out for a week on the front desk, because I can talk to him with my normal accent I kept forgetting in his office and "talking Australian" which meant many long conversations about someones cousin who went to Australia once, which would be fine in a social setting but I had 3 other people waiting, 2 calls on hold and charts to pull.

If I switch to my "American" mindset I, have no or a neutral accent, people can understand me clearly, my work gets done faster and my FIL/boss doesn't have to tell me off for using the word fortnight & confusing his elderly patients.

I don't have the racial profiling that comes with looking Latino, I don't have any of the history of racism etc that comes with speaking Spanish, but I still find it easier to go into "American" headspace when dealing with Americans. If people want to chat about Australia or practice their Australian crikeys and Dingoes ate my babies with me I'm up for it, after work in a social setting, but at work I don't want to be reminded over and over I'm a novelty for you I just want to get my work done. Now I imagine you multiply that to the nth degree for Spanish speaking people in this country.
posted by wwax at 7:26 AM on July 8 [9 favorites]


My husband just reminded me of an instance when unsolicited use of Spanish was welcomed. We were at the local food co-op, where at checkout you have to show your membership card if you are a member. They can also look the membership number up by last name if you don't have your membership card with you. Since we'd both forgotten to bring our membership cards, my husband started spelling out his last name for the cashier. She was having a really hard time deciphering the letters being spelled out in English, when up to that point we had been interacting comfortably in English. It was obvious we were holding up the line, which was stressing the cashier further and making it harder for her to understand my husband. I'd picked up from some of her utterances that she might be a native Spanish speaker, so without really thinking about it I spelled out his last name in Spanish. And she got it on the first try. She was very happy and grateful, but we had switched back to English at that point. Spanish was used just to get past a snag in the checkout process, and when that moment was past, we were back to using the typical language of her workplace. We weren't forcing various kinds of context switching or code switching on her.
posted by research monkey at 7:38 AM on July 8 [4 favorites]


or example, in the title of the question you labeled all the Spanish speakers as Mexican. Many people are from all sorts of other countries, like Honduras, Guatemala, etc. And they don't take kindly to being called Mexican.

Extreme example: I am South Asian (parents immigrated from India in the 70s, I was born here), but I don't look particularly South Asian; 99% of the time people assume I am Puerto Rican (including other South Asians, which is kind of crazy). I get people trying to speak in Spanish to me all the time. ALL THE TIME. And I literally don't speak a word of Spanish, at all. This leads to a lot of awkwardness in my life.

Check your assumptions across the board here.
posted by thereemix at 7:38 AM on July 8 [4 favorites]


Are you from Colorado?

Spanish-ness, Mexican-ness, Chican@/Latin@/Hispanic-ness, English, immigration status,...all incredibly fraught.

Some people probably consider it condescending, although I can't see how you're phrasing things, but likely they all individually think different individual things.

I would basically check your assumption that there is one "Mexican" attitude because that's not the case at all.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:18 AM on July 8 [4 favorites]


For example, in the title of the question you labeled all the Spanish speakers as Mexican. Many people are from all sorts of other countries, like Honduras, Guatemala, etc

And of course lots of hispanohablantes, including monolingual ones and multilinguals who are more comfortable in Spanish, come from exotic places like California, Nueva York, o Colorado.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:53 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]


Anecdotally, I am Mexican and live in Idaho. I used to work as a hostess/waitress and encountered one of two types of Spanish-speaking Americans. The first type always mentioned they were learning Spanish because of x reason and wanted to know if I could serve them in Spanish. They ranged in skill from some words to being totally fluent, but they almost always asked first or began speaking it then asked if it was ok to continue. The second type mostly didn't ask first, and most of the time their Spanish was really hard to comprehend, which caused me to switch back to English (after all, this was a restaurant and I had to make sure their order was correct).

I now work as a secretary and when I answer the phone I always speak English regardless of how strong the accent on the other line is. Sometimes, if I overhear Spanish in the background, I will let them know I also speak it and if they want we can switch.
posted by cobain_angel at 9:05 AM on July 8 [4 favorites]


My wife is Portuguese. She also speaks six languages. And is often 'read' by strangers as being "some sort of Latina"; consequently, it is a not infrequent occurrence for her to be addressed in Spanish by ostensibly well-meaning folks such as yourself. Being good-humored, she usually will answer back in Spanish, which leads to the inevitable question about where she's from. It is almost always worth the jaw-drop when she replies that she's from a little town on the coast of Portugal.

Make of that what you will.
posted by PlantGoddess at 9:06 AM on July 8


There are a lot of assumptions here!

You're assuming that these people, presumably born in Mexico or of Mexican descent (because really, there are many Spanish speakers who are not) either prefer to speak in Spanish, know it better than English, or would welcome the opportunity to speak with you in Spanish rather than English.

The real question is why you're speaking to them in Spanish. Is it more comfortable for you? Is the menu in Spanish, or the item labeling (if not, they might repeat your order back to make sure there's a one-to-one correlation between what you thought you ordered and the English nomenclature, as this can be even a problem when speaking the same language)? Do you think they will better understand you?

I've known of businesses where the employees might speak Spanish (or Vietnamese, or anything) in the kitchen but the counter or wait staff was actually much more fluent in English. It's just that those in the kitchen were not, so it was the language of exchange between staff members. As others have mentioned, you might be used to a Spanish dialect that has a different accent, and people can understand English better than they can differently-accented Spanish.
posted by mikeh at 9:23 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]


As a bilingual person, I have to question your motivation for speaking Spanish with them. If it's to practice, get a language partner, or travel to where that's the official language. It is not any of these servers' jobs to help you with Spanish. If it's because you think they would prefer it--they wouldn't. You would have better luck working in a service position and catering to clients who prefer to speak Spanish (e.g., tax filing office).

Otherwise, it would feel to me that you are saying "You are not American" and "You come from elsewhere." I'm not saying that's you're intention, but that's what you're saying by speaking Spanish to people who can speak English just fine.
posted by ethidda at 9:29 AM on July 8 [5 favorites]


OP, sorry you're getting so many responses that didn't read your question and ironically assume you are making assumptions. As you stated, you wait until you hear people speaking Spanish before you try, so you're not making assumptions, and you are not assuming they're all Mexicans.

I guess that in some instances, they are not allowed to speak Spanish, or would get yelled at if they do. In other cases, they may find it condescending, or uncomfortable. Also, sometimes people who do not speak the dominant language feel free to speak their minds in their tongue in customer service situations, and it might make them feel suddenly unnerved to realize someone can understand them.

Other thing is that maybe your Spanish just isn't as good as their English, so they find it easier to converse in your language. I find this to be very common in establishments that have non-English speaking staff in the United States. (Think of some guy trying to show off with mangled French in a high-class restaurant.

I can't explain why it would be different for people from Mexico then from South American countries.

misspony: For example, in the title of the question you labeled all the Spanish speakers as Mexican. Many people are from all sorts of other countries, like Honduras, Guatemala, etc. And they don't take kindly to being called Mexican.

He did no such thing. He sepcifically said that it's different when dealing with South Americans. The difference between Spanish speakers in Mexico and other Spanish speaking countries is central to his question.
posted by spaltavian at 9:48 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]


Wow! I didn't expect to get so many responses. A few clarifications and thoughts from your comments.

This question is just to satisfy my own curiosity and I've learned not to do this anymore. I'm not trying to practice. I did it the other day because I was asking for futbol coverage in Spanish.

Seeing as the large majority of Latins in Denver are Mexican, and the fact that this tends to happen in Mexican restaurants and I did use "Mexican" as a shortcut. At my local Argentine cafe (where I am a novelty as the yanqui with The Argentine accent) and the Peruvian restaurant this doesn't happen.

As a former several year expat and somebody that does half his work in Spanish, I too am used to code-switching and sometimes it slips out.

In retrospect, being spoken back to in English when in Argentina was annoying at the time, but mainly because at that time I was trying to practice (and maybe because it might have been a reflection of my skills).

When I said it was a class issue, I was referring to fact that it may be due to some racial dynamic and I have considered the power issue (though not in that specific term) because when it has happened it seems those working in lower paying jobs were the most annoyed.

Also, curiously enough, when I enter a Spanish speaking Mexican establishment that's infrequently visited by European Americans there is no problem. In the carniceria I can just blab away. With that said, I think it still goes back to issues of power, race, and/or socioeconomic class.

And additionally, the reason this question popped into my head yesterday is that again, at Chipotle, two men dressed in suits were conversing in Spanish and when they got to the counter, they switched to English.
posted by Che boludo! at 10:09 AM on July 8


I went to my local Spanish restaurant to watch the USA game, and they sat me in the back with the staff to watch the Spanish broadcast. We all had fun. My Spanish is meh, and is a mess of a combination of Mexican and Cuban words in a 100% Cuban accent. But I go often and I order things that are more authentic (chuleta, carnitas, etc) than the Speedy Gonzales platter. (I mean, it's a Mexican restaurant in Atlanta, how freaking authentic is it going to be?) I order in English, but my pronunciation of the actual food items is pretty darn good, even if I do leave the S off of things.

If I know that the person serving me has very little English, I'll use my Spanish. If they're bilingual, it'll mostly be Spanglish. And we'll amuse each other.

So I think that if you're a regular, and they know you enjoy speaking Spanish, then it's not a problem, but if you're at Chipotle, it's probably better to stick to English unless you're asking for Sour Cream, and they're ladeling up the Salsa Verde. In that case, it's okay to say, 'crema'.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:15 AM on July 8


Yes sorry, did not read carefully. On reflection, although there are potential deep power issues worthy of not a few sociology papers, it may be mostly pragmatism about what works. Your example of two fluent speakers switching to English at the counter, perhaps no subtext, just in that general situation it's the least likely approach to cause a few moments of confusion.
posted by sammyo at 10:18 AM on July 8


I'm used to using Mexican as shorthand, too (I'm half) but it's problematic, you know? Especially since in this case you're contrasting Mexicans with South Americans, and especially outside of the local context where it's much more common/accepted usage. The Spanish-speaking population of Denver is diverse, even those people who seem superficially to be "Mexican" might be Guatemalan, might be 4th-generation or more Mexican-American, etc. So, while I get it, it's probably better to be more specific if you're trying to drill down to race/class/etc.

Anyway, back to your question.

My guess is that if there is resentment there, or annoyance, and if it's from one cause instead of various causes (like their feet hurt or they're on autopilot), it's because it's not polite of you to assume that they don't speak English well.

This is a racist country and not being able to speak English is a racist stereotype of immigrants from Central America. It doesn't matter if you as a customer "one of the good ones" and it doesn't bother you if they are more comfortable in Spanish. The insinuation that someone who looks poor and Mexican is not willing or able to speak English carries a lot of uncomfortable, racist and sometimes physically dangerous baggage.

Hence the Spanish speakers in suits (ask yourself why you don't assume that they are Mexican, BTW) switching to English. It's respectful to assume that people who live and work in the US can function well and successfully perform their English-language job.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:22 AM on July 8 [6 favorites]


Aside from the social stuff, which people have covered above, how fluent are you really? How confident are you when you speak? Do you hesitate, over enunciate, use "too correct" grammar etc? (I noticed you typed "Yo prefiero" when don't they just say "prefiero", where the 'yo' is understood?) How good is your accent? How is your dialect? Too formal? Do you use English-translated-into-Spanish phrasing?

No one spoke French to me my first time in Montreal because of all of these subtle hesitancies and non-native cues that I gave out. They always always switched to English and it drove me mad. One, it was their chance to practice English with me, but also because I wasn't nearly as good as I thought I was. There is a huge difference between 'gramatically ok' and 'native speaker.' No one ever speaks French they way they teach it in school, and these days when I hear someone use a phrase from school it grates my ears because no one actually talks that way.

I found they accepted me as French-speaking in France & Quebec when my accent got better, my phrasing was more natural and my confidence was more natural. I didn't act like I was suddenly speaking French anymore i.e. I was just being my same old self but in French now.

Just some ideas for when you travel abroad.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:30 AM on July 8


P.S. Within Canada, I wouldn't automatically switch to French for a restaurant either. I would just ask them politely (in French) "Do you speak French?" and let them lead it from there whether they answer me in French or English. Some people will switch happily into French, others will stick with English. But outside of Quebec the lingua franca is English, so that's what we often settle on. I imagine it's similar in the US with Spanish?
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:34 AM on July 8


Ruthless Bunny you live in Miami, no? I was just speaking to my coworkers about this and how in Miami everybody is cool with Spanish. Maybe it's like the Mexican supermarkets in which Spanish is the official language and the power context of a biracial service industry is basically removed?
posted by Che boludo! at 10:40 AM on July 8


Well, my accent and dialect are a mix of several different regions, but mostly from Argentina. I say "sho" not "yo" and there is a somewhat Italian inflection. In a transaction I keep it simple and neutral so I don't know how much my accent affects things. It don't go in there and say, "Chavon, voy a morfar un monton. Me gustaria un burrito con palta, un taco al pastor con anana y dos gustos de helado; frutilla y pomelo por favor. Che, viste esa mina? Que re-linda boludo!" I know there is still a lot of North American English accent of course.
posted by Che boludo! at 10:58 AM on July 8


My husband (the trilingual I mentioned waaay above) and I live in S. Florida and about half of his working hours are spent in Miami.... He speaks English until it's clear/said that the other person wants to speak Spanish. He does flip back and forth between the two languages when having medically technical conversations with other Spanish speakers.

Language dynamics are weird.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 12:07 PM on July 8


Are you white? Do you have an American accent in your Spanish? I suspect if it seemed like Spanish was your primary language, they would engage. I often see Latin customers do business transactions in Spanish at restaurants and banks, and so on. I think with you, they probably know you are just practicing your Spanish or speaking Spanish for the novelty of it. No one wants to be someone whose Spanish is "practiced on" when they are just trying to do their jobs.

I had a friend who lived in Germany for quite a while and he wanted to speak German and integrate himself into the culture, but when people realized he was American, they always wanted to test their English on him. He found it very annoying.

I'm also guessing that you are attempting to speak Spanish to people who speak English just fine. In such case, they may find it a little insulting or, at a minimum, unnecessary and cumbersome with someone like you who is not a native speaker. You'd have better luck with people who speak English poorly, I'd imagine.
posted by AppleTurnover at 12:09 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]


misspony: For example, in the title of the question you labeled all the Spanish speakers as Mexican. Many people are from all sorts of other countries, like Honduras, Guatemala, etc. And they don't take kindly to being called Mexican.

He did no such thing. He sepcifically said that it's different when dealing with South Americans. The difference between Spanish speakers in Mexico and other Spanish speaking countries is central to his question.

Then the question would have been: why won't South Americans speak Spanish with me? No?

Regardless, you can't assume that Mexicans work at Mexican places and South Americans work at South American places. You could easily have all manner of backgrounds represented.
posted by misspony at 12:29 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]


They think you think they don't know English and since, in this country, that is considered something to be ashamed of, they might want to show that they do speak English. Especially if you are Caucasian
posted by jellyjam at 12:31 PM on July 8 [3 favorites]


You'll might have better luck finding people to speak Spanish with at a billingual/Spanish Meetup
posted by the jam at 1:55 PM on July 8


And additionally, the reason this question popped into my head yesterday is that again, at Chipotle, two men dressed in suits were conversing in Spanish and when they got to the counter, they switched to English.

They switched to English because it's the predominant business language in Colorado. The people you described are all interacting with you in a business setting (Chipotle, a bar, a carniceria). The carniceria is the exception to the general trend you noticed because it's a small family-owned business and is hence prone to be more relaxed and accommodating, like many other family-owned businesses.

The guys at Chipotles and at the bar answered you in English because it's the business language and they are there for business. They aren't there to be novelties or language partners for you -- they're there to give you a burrito or a beer and go home at the end of their shift. I worked for years for a Chinese family and they would not speak Chinese with me during work -- we were there to work, not to learn, and the language barrier slowed work down enough without me trying to figure out the Chinese words.

I think the only "class" thing about this is that you may be annoying food-service employees by disrupting their attention and treating them a little like free language partners. If it works well for you at the carniceria, visit away; otherwise, a general rule I learned in my travels is to speak the predominate language in any given locale unless otherwise spoken to or permission is granted.
posted by mibo at 4:27 PM on July 8 [6 favorites]


OK, so maybe the Spanish speaking businessmen switched to English in order to not be presumptuous or offensive about the workers English????
posted by Che boludo! at 5:24 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]


I'll be blunt here: you come across in this thread as a tiny wee bit of a by-the-way-I've-lived-abroad show-off. You've spent a decent amount of time in Argentina, and you may well be seeking out somewhere tomorrow where there's an abundance of Messi shirts, and the commentary will be Univision, and you can swap stories about dulce de leche and steaks.

But broadening it out is a bit eager, a bit gap-year. I'm not saying that you have to live by the old joke about "what do you call someone who can only speak one language?" but just as gap-year students get past their desire to share stories about oh my god that time hiking in northern Thailand, I'm sure you'll twig the kind of environments where speaking Spanish isn't treading on toes. Treat it like the second-person pronoun.
posted by holgate at 6:06 PM on July 8 [6 favorites]


Dude, no. They switched to English because that's the business language and it is polite to use the business language. It's rude to speak a language in front of company that might not understand -- that's why, if you watch, the guys at Chipotle's are probably speaking Spanish to each other, switch to English to speak to a customer, and then speak to each other in English while the customer is still standing there. They probably don't switch back to Spanish until the customer is away from the counter and out of reasonable earshot.

Once in Spain, I was in a Chinese restaurant. I knew enough Chinese to eke out an order and my Spanish was atrocious, but I ordered in Spanish, even though I was 99.9% sure that the Chinese-looking owner of the Chinese restaurant spoke Chinese. But I didn't know what dialect, nor did I want to make a big deal out of knowing enough Chinese, nor embarrass myself or the waitress in case we still couldn't understand each other. Spanish was the business language for our transaction, so that's what we used. I can't believe I'm saying this but . . . it's America, speak English (for all disinterested third-party business transactions where you're not 100% sure that speaking in another language will be welcome).
posted by mibo at 6:11 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]


I'm Australian, my wife is Mexican, my Spanish is kinda OK (I can hold conversations but make mistakes with tenses now and then). I used to get irritated by people by default switching to English too, even when I indicate I can speak Spanish.

But then I did actually make a few small slip ups when speaking to some people who don't speak English, nothing huge but I misinterpreted a question, thought the name of a store was the name of a suburb, and also someone used some slang that I wasn't familiar with. Thankfully my wife's family and friends are all pretty laid back so we all had a good laugh but it made me appreciate that sometimes, English is just easier for all concerned and that not every Spanish speaker is there for me to show off how good (nor not!) my Spanish is. Cos to be honest, for me, a lot of it was pride and wanting to "show off".

Basically I think of it like this - they know their own English competency, they are reasonably confident that I am a native English speaker, and they do an assessment at that point about what will get things communicated in the best manner and go from there.
posted by Admira at 8:19 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]


OK, so maybe the Spanish speaking businessmen switched to English in order to not be presumptuous or offensive about the workers English????

How should we know? But yeah, maybe they did because some people might find it insulting to be treated in public like they can't speak English. It's a common racist trope in CO.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:47 PM on July 8


Like, I'm not trying to be a jerk, but you're not going to Solve Mexicans on Mefi, ok? If you want to read stuff about race and class and Spanish in the SW there are probably first-person accounts and/or qualitative research that will give you a lot more insight.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:49 PM on July 8 [7 favorites]


I'm a white American who has lived in Seoul since 2002.

I hate it when people randomly start Englishing me.

So yeah, I'm going to say it probably strikes people as condescending, even if well-meaning.

(It's also a little weird that you keep writing "futbol" in otherwise English sentences. Why?)
posted by Joseph Gurl at 12:30 AM on July 9 [2 favorites]


You've mentioned being a novelty twice now.

I think your real question is: why am I a novelty to some Spanish speakers and not others?

Or "why am I getting attention from these people and not others"...

You are talking about people, and people have personalities, and they will either like you or not like you- or be interested in chatting or not chatting.... for whatever reason. They might have other stuff on their mind, you may grate on them, they may be happy to speak to you.

There is an awful lot of lumping people together and labeling in the language you use.

There is a subtle difference between these two descriptions:

Spanish speaking businessmen (yours)

vs.

Businessmen speaking Spanish.

It is very slight, but you are describing them as Spanish speakers first, and people second.

No matter how you phrase your question, I don't think you are going to be able to pin down a grand theory to explain it.

To steal from another answer on here from ages ago:

There is not a gigantic Mexican borg mind.
posted by misspony at 12:46 AM on July 9 [3 favorites]


Maybe I should have titled this why don't Mexicans like to speak Spanish with non-native speakers in The United States? The question really wasn't about me, but an observation I have made and have been curious about.
posted by Che boludo! at 7:41 AM on July 9


Your observation has everything to do with you - you are the only person common to all of those interactions. And based on my experience, it is an incorrect observation.

Unless someone has a tattoo of the Mexican flag on their arm, you most likely cannot ascertain their nationality by their skin color or even the flavor of their Spanish. It sounds like you're using a shorthand common to many, which is to substitute "Mexican" for "mestizo", which is interpreted by many as both racist and classist as hell. There is absolutely no way that you can determine that the guys at your local Chipotle are from Mexico without asking them.

I'll also note that if your attitude in this question is indicative of your attitude out in the world, it may solve some of this confusion. You asked a question. People here answered - some of us Hispanic. You proceeded to completely ignore us, attempt to showcase your Spanish multiple times, and insist that we didn't really understand the question in the first place. This is not the way to gain friends or language partners.

Also, if your Spanish is "not grammatically correct", you are not fluent.
posted by corb at 8:03 AM on July 9 [9 favorites]


It's worth noting context, too -- Chipotle isn't a Mexican restaurant, it's a Mexican-style burrito place from Colorado. Tex-mex restaurants are an American thing for American audiences. If you're going to, say, an Ecuadorian restaurant, it might be more likely staffed or frequented by people from Ecuador.

I've dined with friends who have ordered their meal in passable Spanish and then realized when they received the food that it wasn't quite what they expected. It's pretty common among well-wishing people who are trying to order in Spanish at Mexican restaurants, really. If a waiter repeats back your order in English or asks for more information in English, it's because they're good at their job, not that they necessarily are judging your level of competency.
posted by mikeh at 8:47 AM on July 9 [1 favorite]


"Maybe I should have titled this why don't Mexicans like to speak Spanish with non-native speakers in The United States?"

Che boludo, please, please stop.

Try and flip this around.

There is not a gigantic shared "Mexican" or Hispanic thought.

What if someone asked: Why do white non-native speakers of Spanish keep trying to speak to me in Spanish when its obvious I speak English?

You would get a THOUSAND possible answers. You have your reasons that you could share with that person for why you like to try to speak Spanish. But others are different from you- and they will have their reasons. Also, not all non-native speakers of Spanish DO try to speak Spanish.

So you see how you can't find any single answer, and vast generalizations just won't work, if the supposition is EVEN true?

And the way that you are framing this is extremely problematic.

Me contrasted with "Them"...

Non-native vs. Native

Mexican vs. Not Mexican

None of those ideas are binary.

Perhaps it would help if you read up about the concept of "Otherness" and "The Other"

Here is the first line of the wiki:

"The Other or constitutive Other (also the verb othering) is a key concept in continental philosophy and the social sciences;[1] it opposes the Same. The Other and "Otherness" refers to that which is alien and divergent from that which is given, such as a norm, identity, or the self.

The Constitutive Other often denotes a different, incomprehensible self outside of one's own; thus the spelling is often capitalized, because the Other is a mystification fetishized by a hegemonic subject.[2]"

Because the way that you are framing this question- is placing Latinos separate from you as "others".... and why and how you think about this like you do- is something that people write short stories about, do PhD's on.... etc.
posted by misspony at 9:29 AM on July 9 [8 favorites]


why don't Mexicans like to speak Spanish with non-native speakers in The United States?

We do, when the context is appropiate.
posted by cobain_angel at 11:56 AM on July 9 [5 favorites]


I don't understand what more you are trying to eke out of this question. It's like you're thinking if you only phrased your question differently, and differently again, you would finally get the one answer that you can accept as making sense.

But you've been offered an array of answers. It's not that we don't understand what you're asking. It's that there is no one answer of the sort you are looking for.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:55 PM on July 9 [5 favorites]


Gosh, if you asked any of my four children some of whom look like they might speak Spanish, you would find that the family has been in Colorado for over 400 years, they don't speak Spanish, and you are an ass for making the assumption. Just sayin' from someone who lives in Colorado.
posted by OhSusannah at 8:09 PM on July 9


"Maybe I should have titled this why don't Mexicans like to speak Spanish with non-native speakers in The United States?"

That is wildly not my experience (though evidently it is something you have observed in your life) and is in no way universal.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:26 AM on July 10


"Maybe I should have titled this why don't Mexicans like to speak Spanish with non-native speakers in The United States?"

Assuming that everyone who works at Chipotle is Mexican is a bit like assuming everyone who works at KFC is from Kentucky.

I think you are also not considering what it's probably like to work in a service job for a major corporation. Sure, you might think it's neat to converse with the cashier in Spanish, but when the asshole in line behind you starts complaining about how this is America and everyone should speak English to management.
posted by inertia at 12:36 PM on July 10 [3 favorites]


Interestingly, at yesterday's World Cup finale, at the Argentine restaurant, two men of undetermined origin (but not Argentine) spontaneously spoke to me in Spanish without hearing me speak it previously. Maybe It just blew my theories out of the water and supported a lot of the points made here? Who knows?
posted by Che boludo! at 6:16 AM on July 14


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