It’s hard to believe but sadly too true: Spanish-speaking staff have been forced to whisper “I’m not allowed to speak Spanish to you” in Spanish to Spanish-speaking customers at Leon’s Frozen Custard stand in Milwaukee’s heavily Latino Southside.
How did whispering in Spanish out of fear come to pass? Well, according to the stand’s owner, Ron Schneider in an interview with Foxnews:
“Any foreign language is going to be a problem.” Really?
He then went on to say: “What I’m trying to avoid is when people come up here [and] get waited on in a different language, because there happens to be an employee who speaks that language.” And the problem is…?
“Hey, c’mon! It is America,” Schneider told the TV station. “We’ve spoken English for a long, long time.” And Americans have been speaking for Spanish for centuries too – indeed in large parts of the USA Spanish-speakers got there before the English….. But that’s quibbling. It’s hard to know what the problem really is if a Spanish-speaking staff member takes an order in Spanish and it makes the customer happy. There is of course the basic rule of business: the customer is always right.
Schneider has also made it clear his wife and children are Hispanic. So it’s all a little difficult to explain.
He also said “they are welcoming to all people want to be customers”. Well, by implication you have to know the language policy to be welcomed…..
The story broke after a customer reported his experience on social media, triggering a twitter storm, and local TV coverage before it broke nationally in the US with the Washington Post and others taking an interest. In the face of a public backlash (and divided opinion) and threatened boycott, Schneider has since reneged, and has agreed to comply with federal anti-discrimination laws. It’s a pity that some businessmen don’t think its savvy to learn or use another lingo – when it makes good business sense for everyone: customer happy, owner happy. Moreover, the well-known cognitive benefits of active bilingualism across the lifespan also apply – Ron Schneider appears to be missing out – which is a pity.
Ironically, Leon’s Frozen Custard may have been the winner in all this. It’s had a lot of unexpected publicity – good or bad – with its picture plastered all over the media. And now it’s publicly open for bilingual business. A win-win for everyone, including Ron Schneider.