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Monday, June 12, 2006
Lost In Translation - Philly Cheesesteak
by Cordeiro
I read with some amusement last week of a South Philly Cheesesteak joint's requirement for ordering one if Philadelphia's most famous sandwiches. Boldly stated on a sign at Geno's is this phrase:

This is America, when ordering speak English.

For the record, Geno's owner - Joseph Vento - is the grandson of Sicilian immigrants.

Most Americans have grown up with the fact that, when ordering fast food, English isn't a requirments. In some neighborhoods, speaking English is actually a hinderance. Anyone who has ever attempted to get fast food through a drive-thru in Los Angeles can testify to the veracity of this statement.

Aditionally, most Americans have never had the opportunity to live abroad and are thus oblivious to the fact most restaurants - fast food and sit-down - cater to the local language of the country in which they operate. Few menus offer any english translations, and what translations exist are nearly indecipherable. Want to order your food in English whilst dining in Chile, Brazil, Argentina, or Germany? Good luck with your order. If what appears on your table remotely resembles what you ordered, count yourself among the truly fortunate.

My point? Geno's english ordering requirement is something most of the world would not even give a second thought. Were that the case here, however, the City of Philadelphia's Commission on Human Relations would have no issue on which to garner more of its 15 minutes of fame.

That's right, dear reader, Rachel Lawton, acting executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, believes Geno's language policy violates the Fair Practices Act. Memo to Ms. Lawton: Take a trip south of the border. See how many restaurants cater to your linguistic limitations. Let me know how you grow to love the taste of barbequed cat, dog, and other worm infested vermin, because that's what you'll be able to order.

My great-great Grandfather immigrated to this country from Denmark. The amount of english he knew could be written on the head of a pin with room left over for the Encyclopedia Britannica. He learned english because he knew his sucess in his adopted country would be limited if he did not. For him it was a very simple decision.

When I lived in Brazil, I learned to speak Portuguese. I did not expect the Brazilian citizenry (huge hearted and compassionate though they were and are) to speak english for my benefit. I learned with astonishing velocity how to read menus and order what I could understand. Why did I do this? Well, the short answer is I learned I didn't want to partake of anything I couldn't identify.

More power to the folks at Geno's. Next time I'm in South Philly I'm going to make sure to partake of one of their famous Cheesesteaks. I understand they have perfected the cure for low cholesterol.
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