Multilingual Behavior Among the Monolingual – Is It Rude?

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Recently I encountered something I had never thought about before, mostly because I never used another language. I knew a little Spanish from years of required schooling, but that was never conversational. (I always thought I was lucky if I could ask where the bathroom was let alone give someone else directions.) Still, the use of different languages around me that I couldn’t understand never made me think twice, except if I thought the language was cool and wished I knew what was said. From Hawaiʻi to New Mexico to a friend’s basement, I was used to hearing other languages I didn’t understand with no problems. That is, until recently, when I finally began to learn (and use) a secondary language myself.

Now, I should note that the language I am referring to is American Sign Language (ASL), but that doesn’t detract from the social issue. I have been confronted by a number of individuals who claim that the use of another language in the presence of those who only (or primarily) understand one language is considered rude. They tell me this multilingual behavior is exclusionary and makes others feel uncomfortable, concerned you might be using this opportunity to make negative remarks. I’ve even been told that multilingual behavior is perceived as arrogant, the perpetrator only performing it to show off in front of others.

I couldn’t understand this, given my previous experiences, so I talked to a variety of people and I found out one thing: this viewpoint seems to be primarily the purview of White Americans. I’ve talked to people from a variety of other cultures and even non-Caucasian Americans, and they don’t seem to equate multilingual behavior with rudeness. In fact, they find White Americas demands that everyone speak and act like them to be what’s actually rude. Long discussion on this topic has made me think about, and posit, a few points on this topic…

1) Exclusionary behavior does not require multilingual behavior, so why should using another language be considered the crux for rudeness? People will often gather into their specific groups to talk about what they want. If two friends wish to talk about their hobby or two co-workers in scientific jargon, how is that not as exclusionary as using another language? If someone understands them, and those talking wish to include them, they will… just like the use of a secondary language. It is not the language that excludes others but the demeanor of the person. If you’re speaking another language and constantly shooting looks, shifting your body away from others… that is exclusionary. That same body language is not contingent on another language, as you can do that even in the primary language; people who turn their back on others or simply leave the presence of those they wish to exclude. That is where the rudeness stems from not from the language or jargon being used.

2) Most of the proclaimed rudeness about multilingual behavior comes from the perceptions of those not participating rather than the actual act itself. This is not someone damaging property, causing a fight, or interrupting others; instead, people create a thought or belief about the behavior and then declare it rude from that psychological factor. “We think you’re talking bad about others” or “we feel we’re excluded” or “it looks like you’re just showing off” are the responses… regardless of the reason for the multilingualism and whether it involved others. Should we declare a behavior rude just based on our own perceptions of it? Such a response actually smacks of egocentrism, where the world revolves around your views and wants rather than others, and emulates the common negative perception of Americans as self-centered.

3) Some multicultural and foreign individuals theorize that this negative perception about multilingual behavior stems from a sense of insecurity and lack of control. The individuals transfer their own insecurities onto the behavior of others and cannot tolerate their own sense of exclusion, and thus react by declaring the other people rude regardless of the reality of the situation. Once more, this seems to be a very American viewpoint, with the predominant culture unable (and unwilling) to adapt its homogeneous and monolingual nature to the multiculturalism it claims to espouse. Instead of asking what is being said or trying to learn and join in, the quintessential American instead creates conflict and demands the acquiescence of others.

I mentioned the incident that spawned this was involving ASL, which does exacerbate the situation some. Whereas foreign words might have gone unnoticed in the din of a social gathering, ASL is a visual language and thus more likely to catch people’s notice. In addition, I’ve been informed that because ASL was a secondary language to those involved, that made the behavior appear more rude than individuals using their primary language.  Sadly, I have to reiterate my first point in that perception should not influence the social acceptability of a behavior; it doesn’t matter if a language is subtle or noticeable, primary or secondary to the individuals, etc. so long as they’re not performing the behavior in conjunction with actual negative intent.

I finish with the note that I can understand why people think things are rude, but I believe that this perception is not appropriate in an intercultural and global society. The social unacceptability of multilingual behavior in monolingual gatherings seems to stem from personal and cultural bias, which has no place in a progressive and educated global society. People used to think the presence of minorities was rude and socially unacceptable, but we moved beyond that (or at least have progressed further). Sexuality and nudity were considered taboo but we have become much more tolerant over the decades, even if we lag behind other countries. Yet here we are, once more limiting others behavior because it makes us feel uncomfortable.

Once we become more accepting, we may find our perceptions change and we may no longer feel excluded; we may even learn from these interactions and evolve ourselves and our very society.

The Hobbit Trilogy – There and Disappointed

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((Please be advised that there are some spoilers in this review. If you have not seen the movie, read Tolkein’s work, and/or want to be surprised, please stop right now. I have no intention of outright spoiling the movie, but several criticisms focus on specific character developments that may surprise viewers. This is your only warning…))

I want to preface this with the understanding that, overall, I enjoyed the Hobbit trilogy. The first two movies felt much more focused than the broad scope of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, like a fun D&D adventure with friends. In addition, I’ve always been critical of the over-dramatization of the Frodo & Sam aspects of LotR, which dragged on when we could be having more fun with Aragorn’s story. That being said, now that I’ve seen “The Battle of the Five Armies”, I have to say I feel a little… disappointed. The final installment of the Hobbit is not a bad movie, per se, but I feel the Hobbit movies moved in the opposite direction of LotR. Whereas each of the LotR series became better, ending on a high note, and wrapping up what felt like a grand adventure… the Hobbit movies slowly moved downhill, ending rather anticlimactically, and leaving us returning home with unanswered questions.

The first problem was the shoe-horned side plot of the Necromancer and Dol Guldur, events drawn from the LotR appendices rather than “The Hobbit”. Although the movies make it seem this plot is entwined (and it partially is, if you read Tolkein’s work), the story line just sort of sidetracks here and then… ends. There’s no real sense of relationship to the main quest other than a cursory mention of “Orcs were here and now they’re going there”. If they had done a better job showing how Dul Guldur was related to the Quest of Erebor, particularly Gandalf’s motivation, it might have been better. Sadly, though, this side plot felt like parts of the Star Wars prequels: thrown in there as a nod to the previous movies rather than anything important to the current story.

The second issue was the attempt to draw out aspects of the main plot itself, which really would have resolved quite quickly. They focused too much on things like Thorin’s downward spiral, the antagonism between the different factions, and the personal drama between the many characters. All of this felt forced, placed into the movie as filler for what would’ve simply been a grand battle like the Battle of the Pelennor Fields in LotR. Thorin’s psychological battle was probably the worst, his shift in personality feeling as badly done as the fall of Anakin Skywalker. What’s even more disappointing, though, was they chose to gloss over some characters and events, giving them negligible screen time all so they could focus on these overdrawn social and mental conflicts. The 20 seconds of screen time given to Beorn was almost insulting given his role in the books; instead, they chose to hand his role to fan-favorite Legolas and spend more time on character drama.

The third concern focuses on the unnecessary humor they tried to fit in. The other movies had a lighter tone, so the occasional joke or quip was acceptable. This movie, though, had some dark moments yet they still tried to shoe-horn in the occasional silliness and it felt anti-thematic. The writers and directors kept force-feeding humor about an antagonistic character they mostly made up for the movies. People are dying all around in what seems a lost cause, sacrificing themselves while innocents run for their lives… yet we have time to pause for a man-in-drag joke.

The final, and probably biggest, critique was the lack of conclusion for most of the characters. The Battle ends with tears and a somber tone… and then Bilbo says his goodbyes and goes home. There’s no revelation to what happened to anyone else, except a single nod for Legolas role in the previous movies. Who rules now that Thrain’s line is dead? What happens to Bard and the people of Lake-Town? What did Thranduil do next? They didn’t even finish out their own movie creations, like Tauriel. If you’ve read Tolkein’s works, you know the answers to most of those questions, but some of these were answered in “The Hobbit”, yet the writers didn’t include them. You can add plots from other material, new characters, and draw out dramatic scenes to stretch the book into three movies… but you can’t even include conclusions in the core material you’re presenting? Something seems very wrong with that approach…

In conclusion, while I don’t think The Hobbit trilogy was horrible in any sense, I feel it was a let down overall. Whereas I had high hopes at first, I feel the LotR series combined to form a stronger whole. The Hobbit had potential, but it stumbled in its last act. Maybe it will read better in later viewings, but I’m afraid it’ll be there and back… disappointed again.

The Untouchable Nature of America’s Police

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Recently there has been a disturbing trend where police officers involved in questionable, and possibly illegal behaviors, have been able to avoid so much as an indictment. Many people think this means they were found “not guilty”, but it’s even worse than that. An indictment is not confirmation of a defendant’s guilt, it’s simply an accusation that the individual might be guilty, and thus the case is worthy of being looked at in a court of law. The indicted individual remains “innocent until proven guilty” but there is the possibility of a wrongdoing.

This is why recent events are so frustrating. If we can’t even accuse a police officer of wrongdoing, whether from witness testimony (no matter how conflicting) or from outright recorded video of questionable behavior… how can you guarantee anyone’s freedom or safety? None of these attempts at grand juries would have convicted anyone, they just would have stated the situation was questionable and the courts should look into it. Instead, though, the officers in question (who may have had histories of similar or related behavior) are able to walk free without so much as an allegation on their record.

Sadly, I blame this on two factors:

1) Nepotism – Courts need the police to cooperate. Sometimes this is done amicably, other times it’s done through favors. And what better favor than to not even try to indict a cop? Thus the criticism in one recent case about the prosecutor not even trying to prosecute and actually doing the defense’s job for them. This quid pro quo approach combines with the “Brothers in Blue” mentality, maintaining an unethical and broken system that rarely convicts one if its own. Who watches the watchers, especially when those who would refuse to do so?

2) Ignorance – Too many people in the majority have no critical thought and objectivity when it comes to social issues. Whether refusing to accept their “privileged” positions in society, unable to see their own bias, or simply incapable of seeing beyond their own white-washed world… these individuals are the worst people to make decisions about these sorts of cases. And yet our grand juries involving racially-charged cases are often created unequally, stocked with this same short-sighted and biased majority. I find it amusing that many associates find fault with Women’s Rights panels made up completely of men, but can’t see the problem with a case that involves minorities and a grand jury that consists of 75% white people.

This is why people are in such an uproar. This is why people are protesting. Hell, other than the criminally-minded in a group, this is why people are rioting. Because nepotism and ignorance trump justice and equality.

Last I checked, those latter two were supposedly the foundations of our country. I guess that’s only for the racial majority, though.

Black Friday – America’s Disgrace

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Black Friday is a good example of what’s wrong with this country: egocentrism. The belief that everything revolves around you and what you want, regardless of the larger picture and those around you. This self-centeredness is most often found in young children, who are so mentally undeveloped they can’t understand objectivity or others’ perspectives. Most people grow out of these viewpoints as their capacity for logic and critical thinking grow, yet some adults remain stuck in this schema. I highly suspect the proportion of adults who retain this toddler-esque view of the world is higher in the United States. Here’s a few examples of egocentrism often observed in America…

1) If something doesn’t directly affect us, it is to be ignored or derided. Racism is dead since you don’t experience it and anyone who says otherwise is just “playing the race card” or “being politically correct”. Gays don’t need to use the word “marriage” because it just upsets other people and the equal, but separate, term “civil union” is just as good. Also, those people protesting or rioting over at location “X” are just overreacting or behaving poorly; after all, nothing like that happens around my neighborhood.

2) If something does affect us negatively, it’s automatically the worst thing and deserving of vitriol and activism… regardless of its larger consequences. Socialized medicine forces us to pay for others; why should I be forced to contribute to the greater good if I’ll never need it? Speed traps are “government overreach” and there to create revenue; it doesn’t matter if I was the one who chose to drive 15+ mph over the speed limit. Moderation of my online comments is a flagrant “violation of the First Amendment”; I don’t care if my comments were construed as “hate speech”, they’re my opinions and therefore valid.

3) If something seems like a deal or we have to have it, we buy it. It doesn’t matter our priorities, our economic capabilities, our needs… it’s our wants that drive us. The latest PlayStation or iPhone requires time and money, even as we complain a lack of funds for gas or car troubles and struggling to make ends meet. Also, the second someone brings attention to this conflict, there is no critical thought… the individual who dared comment becomes the target of derision and vitriol.

It’s this extreme Individualism that makes Americans looked upon with disdain by much of the world. Individualism is fine and a hallmark of Western Civilization, but there can be a point where it’s taken too far. We look at ourselves, our wants, our biased opinions, and believe in themselves as absolute truths. This sort of thinking is what that makes the general populace so easily manipulated by politicians and their corporate allies. It is also, ironically, rather opposite of what Thanksgiving, the day before Black Friday, was all about.

Remember this during these holidays and shopping extravaganzas… critical thinking starts with the self. Make sure you’re not falling trap to being the “Self-Centered American” first, and then work outwards from there. Think about the larger picture, don’t become focused solely on how you’re affected, and prioritize needs over wants. Become an example to family and friends, in the hopes they might follow. Even more importantly, though, become a role model and teach your children… and maybe the next generation won’t be as egocentric as we are today.