Accent Fail

NOOR-accent-catastropheI’ve talked about my neighbors from Iraq here and there. They’re wonderful neighbors and we’ve gotten very close over the two years that we’ve lived next door to each other. They come over constantly to hang out. They bring food. They invite us over to their house. It’s a great big happy family.

From time to time they bring me letters and forms that they need help figuring out. English is tricky. American red tape is even more so.  Even though they’ve been here for two years (and studied some English in their mother country before they even moved here) they struggle with English. Sheesh! I even struggle with English sometimes and that’s all I’ve ever spoken. I would not fare as well as they have if I was suddenly dropped in the middle of Bagdad.

So the other day the older sister, Noor, came over and told me that her identity had been stolen on her debit card. She’d been to the bank and they wanted her to call this number to resolve the situation. She’d tried several times but had trouble getting through the recorded menu tree because she didn’t understand all of the words. So I sat down with her and called the number with her.

OH MY GOODNESS what a comedy of errors that followed. I have had it so up to here with people who judge others based on their accent and their inability to speak English perfectly. I see it all the time and it drives me crazy!! I’m serious.

Rant begins here:

The other day we had to call the police because a neighborhood teenaged boy had cornered Lubna on my patio while I was gone (I had paid her to do some gardening for me) and when the policeman showed up to make a report (at my request) he was SO rude. I understand that policemen have to remain objective and they can’t jump to conclusions that you are an innocent victim. I totally understand that. But I do NOT understand why he would give a fourteen-year-old girl the third degree with his questioning just because she doesn’t speak clearly and doesn’t understand every question immediately after you yell it at her in your condescending American jargon. I was right there. He actually spoke louder instead of clearer and treated her like an idiot because she didn’t understand his questions. It steamed me up so bad. And that’s not even touching on Lubna’s fear of police based on her experience in Iraq. That’s a whole other post.

So you can imagine my chagrin when we finally get on the phone with actual human from Wells Fargo and he has the thickest southern accent you have ever heard. I understood him but there was no way in hell that Noor  could make anything out of his elongated vowels, slurred words and distinct twang.

I know everyone has accents. I have one too. I say “dude” too much. I get that. But really? A thick southern drawl that only a third of American’s use? That’s who is manning our banking call centers?  Why?!!!  I think we would have gotten further with someone from India.

But then on top of the difficulty in understanding him, he was RUDE. I literally got the shakes from being so angry.  I don’t get angry that much but I wanted to crawl through her phone and punch the guy.

I started off the conversation explaining to him that I was her neighbor and I wanted to help translate. That was fine but he had to have her say her name and my name first for legal reasons. I understand this process because this is a fraud case and all precautions must be taken. I understand racial profiling. I admit I worried my neighbors were terrorists when I first met them too. It’s a common post 911 error.

What I don’t understand is why he had to be rude about it. He asked her to say her name over and over and over and every time he got more and more upset at her. You could hear the exasperation in his voice because she has a name that is not common. Her accent is thick and he probably didn’t have a clue how to spell what she was saying but she followed up quickly by spelling it, letter by letter. I understood her perfectly.  She knows the English alphabet and she spelled it out clearly. But apparently not clear enough for him. And every time I tried to chime in and clear up his confusion, he got mad at me for talking before she had spelled out my name for recording purposes.  So I had to sit there quietly while he belittled her. I was helpless.

It’s maddening. It happens all the time too. I don’t know how my neighbors get through each day, let alone maneuver through scams and fraud. It’s just one challenge after another. Just like when you are poor, things get exponentially more expensive. When you can’t speak English clearly, things get exponentially more difficult. She’s lost thousands of dollars because someone hacked her bank account. Thankfully, the bank has shut the account down but how many phone conversations will it take before she gets her money back, if ever?

The crazy southern-accented fool eventually hung up on us and thankfully the next woman who answered was a little more helpful and got an interpreter on the line but that was yet another cluster of confusion because the interpreter was from Saudi Arabia and he had his own set of accent problems when it came to understanding and interpreting. AND THEN as if things weren’t bad enough, the Wells Fargo employee had no idea who the interpreter was and didn’t believe that he was actually contracted by Wells Fargo to help clear things up. It was the Tower of Babble story all over again.

In the end I had to leave Noor to handle it on her own. These phone calls take up so much time and I had to go pick up Bug from school. But I just have to say I am overwhelmed by how difficult it is for immigrants. I want to stand up and say something, if only on this blog.  I know everyone has a story and I’ve judged the people on the other end of the phone line just as harshly as they are judging Noor but it has opened up my eyes.

This is my new rule for life:  Just because someone speaks with an accent or doesn’t understand English perfectly doesn’t mean they are stupid and should be treated unkindly.  I’m guilty of it too I’m sure but I am on my high horse now and I just want to punch the next person who treats Noor or Lubna or anyone one in their family with anything but kindness.

They’ve been through a lot to get here. They’ve spent their entire savings getting here. They are not illegal and they are not taking hand-outs. They deserve to be treated with respect.They are kind people. They are incredibly patient and resilient. I just want the best for them. If you meet someone like them and you are caught off guard by their dark skin or their thick accents, smile at them with your eyes and speak more slowly not more loudly. They are learning English as quickly as they can and they really want to be your friend.

end rant.

19 Comments Accent Fail

  1. Teri

    OMG I cannot believe the wells fargo guy hung up on her!!! What a jacka$$. This post has got me all worked up. I am going to go look at cat videos now.

    Reply
    1. SAJ

      Oh, and that is not all. This has been going on for DAYS!!! Either her phone has a really bad connection (totally possible) or people at Wells Fargo do not like dealing with English-as-a-second-language customers.

      Reply
  2. Cathy

    Ooooohh this really gets me and my daughter too – just another form of hate. Where has all the tolerance gone? I think I’d have hung up on him first or asked for his supervisor, the arrogant twit. I think I need to go to Yoga now… and Brenda, you’re a peach for trying to help Noor out!

    Reply
  3. bethany

    makes my blood boil just reading it, can’t imagine experiencing it. just starting with the agony of identity fraud, and adding rudeness and cultural insensitivity and bullying to the mix, yowza! maybe call wells fargo out on it on twitter, at the very least? hm.

    Reply
  4. Susie

    One of my best friends is from Iraq (she also has a daughter named Noor!), and right after the US invaded Iraq, the FBI came to their tiny apartment and interrogated them (in separate rooms, while their 2 little kids sat alone) for SIX HOURS. For the crime of being Iraqi. ??? Insane. And their son was bullied so badly (shoved into lockers and called a terrorist), just because of his name and culture. It’s amazing how difficult it is to be Muslim and/or foreign in this country. People are so driven by fear that they just don’t think. I’m sorry your friend Noor had such a hard time. She doesn’t deserve it.

    Reply
  5. Nina

    What an awful set of problems for your neighbors. I felt outrage on their behalf. I also thought of all the immigrants who aren’t as fortunate to have you as a neighbor. You are so incredibly kind.

    Reply
  6. SAJ

    We’re starting to think that the phone calls were all a scam which is pretty unbelievable. They sounded so legit. Recordings etc…

    Reply
  7. Elisa

    I’m of a mixed heritage (super, crazy mixed) so no one really knows “what” I am. (Human?) I have, from the moment I had my first kid, been asked very loudly if I speak English, or if I’m the nanny, or other inane things like, Donde esta Del Taco? The last is actually a great questions, because I love me some cheap tacos. The others, not so much. I feel for your lovely neighbors. Seriously, people, just be nice.

    Reply
  8. Kuky

    You were very patient. I would have hung up with the guy and called back to get another rep. I can’t stand rude people. I always try to be polite on the phone but just in case I get a butt head (sorry for writing butt head on your blog) I get their name so I can tell a supervisor about their rudeness.

    Reply
  9. mallory

    Some of us who were born here are terribly ashamed of how people who immigrate to the U.S. are treated by other Americans. Please tell your neighbors how sorry I am that they’ve been treated so inhumanely.

    Reply
  10. Jody

    Your post has my b/p up before 6 AM! I feel so bad for your friend/neighbor. I run a non-profit dental clinic for low-income patients, and there have been times we’ve had people who speak no English. I just cannot imagine living in this country and not being able to communicate. Life is hard enough. I am embarrassed when we treat others as though they are lower human beings just because we don’t speak the same language. I agree with Mallory, above. Please tell her I’m sorry.

    Reply
  11. Marie

    That is just awful. I wish I could be there to help. I speak Arabic, but a much softer dialect (I’m originally Lebanese) so she would be able to understand me a lot better than the Saudi Arabian person (who by the way, are basically impossible to understand).

    Has she gone to the actual bank to deal with this instead of over the phone? If there is a branch near where you all live, it would be better to go there and if you can go with her that would help a lot.

    Ugh, I feel awful for her. She and her family shouldn’t be treated this way.

    Reply
  12. BeachMama

    Oh my gosh! I wish I could just jump over there and help you out! For many years I worked for a Lebanese family at a restaurant, I even dated a Lebanese guy back in the day. After a while you get to know the words and accents and what is being inferred and it burns my butt all the time when you hear people talking to others the way this played out for Noor. Sometimes I stand up and help out and other times I cannot. Just know that it is not just in your Country that this happens elsewhere too, sad but true. We need more SAJ’s in the world. xo

    Reply
  13. OMenendez

    You do realize that you essentially engaged in the same behavior you admonished Wells Fargo for by saying the following:

    “…… and he has the thickest southern accent you have ever heard. I understood him but there was no way in hell that Noor could make anything out of his elongated vowels, slurred words and distinct twang.

    I know everyone has accents. I have one too. I say “dude” too much. I get that. But really? A thick southern drawl that only a third of American’s use? That’s who is manning our banking call centers? Why?!!!”

    I’m not condoning his treatment of your friend….but you can’t bemoan one instance of awful treatment because of a lack of English skills while ripping down someone else’s regional accent.

    It is very difficult to work in a call center and make sure you are correctly understanding everyone that calls in. Phones distort voices and background noise/conversations make it doubly hard.

    Reply
    1. carolyn

      Amen! Or, rather, ay-meeyan!

      I am sorry this lady is having a hard time, but I gotta’ say, as a Southerner I’m kinda’ offended.

      Reply
      1. SAJ

        You know what. You are right. I am just as guilty of judging a person because of their strong accent and that is wrong. But I think I would have a lot more patience with him had he been polite instead of condescending and rude. In hind sight, we’ve figured out that this whole call was a scam and he was probably just trying to make us angry with an overly emphasized accent on purpose. I’ve spoken to many people with Southern accents and they are delightful to talk to. Southern Charm isn’t just a stereotype.

        Reply
  14. carrien - she laughs at the days

    Point of interest that I’ve recently learned, the North American West Coast accent is the easiest English accent in the world for ESL speakers to understand. So you’re accent is really easy compared to say, southern, or british.

    Also, I’m a stranger, in a foreign country, trying to learn a pretty difficult tonal language, and I sure am glad people are kind, and polite about it here. I’m also still very relieved when they find someone who speaks a bit of English to help me. I’m still at the point where I can ask questions, but I don’t understand the answers most of the time, they get very complex, very quickly.

    Reply
  15. Heather Kilpatrick

    I am a former trainer and current sup in a call center, and that is NEVER called for. if you are talking to a real bank, not the scammers, but the real bank, you have it from me… ask for a supervisor. If you call the wells fargo number from a real bank statement, you will be able to be sure what is a scam and what isn’t. And no matter how strong someone’s accent is, They should ALWAYS be treated appropriately. If it is a legit call center, then be polite and firm and insist consistently in speaking with a supervisor. As soon as Southern Boy couldn’t understand key spelling, you have every right under the sup to insist on speaking to someone with more time under their belt and more experience and more patience and … well, just MORE! A lot of times you won’t get a supervisor, what you will get is a more tenured and experienced rep, and that’s fine too. And if it is just persistent scammers, i’m sorry to say, their number is probably being passed around to other scammers and it’s only going to get worse. :-( As for the cops, I’d complain about that too!

    Reply

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