Sunday, April 19, 2009

'English (only) spoken here'

Sitting in the coffee shop yesterday morning when an Emirati couple came in and sat at the next table for breakfast.

They received the usual smiling welcome and "Good morning sir, good morning madam" and they were promptly given the menu.

All very welcoming and pleasant. But everything was in English only, menu included.

I was reminded again how difficult, or annoying, or uncomfortable, or something that must be. I also think it's simply wrong.

Put yourself in their position. Imagine in our own countries if we, as local citizens, went to coffee shops for breakfast and were greeted with "Sabah al khair", given a menu only in Arabic and spoken to only in Arabic by the staff.

I'm sure that not many of us would be happy with that.

There is a rule that menus have to be in Arabic and English, which Dubai Municipality reminded us of a year ago, but it's being ignored and obviously not enforced.

DM said then that they'd sent out warning letters to nearly 1,000 restaurants, giving them two weeks to include Arabic on their menus or face fines of up to Dh10,000. They were given two months to include Arabic on their menu boards too.

In at least some restaurants it simply hasn't happened.

When I lived here back in the seventies there was much more Arabic on view. Back then I worked in advertising agencies and we followed the rule, we had to, that all signs, menus etc had to have Arabic above or to the right of the English.

Vehicle registration plates were in Arabic and English. I was astonished when I came back to see that the Arabic has disappeared from them.

The use of the language has been allowed to erode over the years. In my opinion, bringing it back and enforcing the rules is long overdue.

Gulf News report on DM's warning.


ZeTallGerman said...

I totally agree with you, seabee. It's just incredible that Emiratis - in their own country - come to restaurants or places of business and cannot read or speak in their country's mother tongue and be understood. Everything should be in both languages: Arabic first and English second. And I wonder why restaurant menus are all in English, but they fail to translate important documents into English where it counts, i.e. car registration documents, accident reports, visa documents, etc. They're all still only in Arabic!

nzm said...

All well and good - and I agree with both Arabic and English on the menus.

However, if the Emirati couple then decided to order in Arabic, would their request be understood in most restaurants in Dubai?

BTW - in Barcelona, there are usually 3 languages on a menu - Catalan, Spanish and English - and all are understood by the wait staff!

Seabee said...

NZM, as you know they wouldn't be understood if they ordered in Arabic in most restaurants. But at least they could read it in their own, and the country's, language. They would presumably point to the items they wanted and the English name would be written down on the order pad.
(It is of course unrealistic to think that restaurant staff could be changed to exclusively Arabic/English speakers).

Grace @ Sandier Pastures said...

There's this small restaurant near where I live and the menu is all in Tamil!

Not in English, not in Arabic but in an Indian language so widely used in Dubai! I'll go back to that resto and take a picture. :-)

samuraisam said...

I think the numberplates only in english has to do with computerized numberplate recognition that will probably be used (or is already used) in the future.

Abid said...

"And I wonder why restaurant menus are all in English, but they fail to translate important documents into English where it counts..."

Because those documents are government-produced. AFAIK, Arabic is the only official language in the UAE, and thus they have no reason to translate those documetns...

Rose in Dubai said...

Using Arabic only for official documents is kind of being in denial. Like it or not, rightly or wrongly, English IS the international business language. On the other hand its not hard to get things translated or even bring a native Arabic speaker with you if you are doing any business with government. Its just a courtesy really. I would be pretty pissed off if I couldn't speak my own language in my own country..... though in some parts it is getting like that!

ZeTallGerman said...

I agree with Rose. Yes, this may be an Arabic country, but what percentage of the population actually speaks Arabic? I can tell you it's definitely not the majority. They can continue to be stubborn in this way, but that just causes confusion and chaos. Remember the ID Card fiasco? The director said that expatriates had been informed by the local media of their registration deadlines. When asked by an English-speaking journalist in which newspaper exactly that notice was posted, he said "in an Arabic one. It's our official language, so... tough!"

LDU said...

So did they place an order at the end?

Bush Mechanic said...

I was with an Indian friend in Singapore at one of the gutter restaurants in Little India. Menu in Sanskrit and English. I was ordering off the English side when my colleague asked the cook/head-waiter/owner why he was selling dog! On the English side it was Mutton Curry. After denials, we figured the cook was illiterate and had paid for the sign and whether through translation error or mischief, mutton became dog.

Seabee said...

LDU yes, the lady did the ordering so I assume her English was better than her husband's.

Anonymous said...

I live in Miami and there are restaurants that have only Spanish and others that have English and Spanish. But there is no law other than that which the customer enforces. If the customer doesn't like the fact that their preferred language is not on the menu, they simply don't go back. I like it that way better than putting laws. People are better at enforcing laws with their patronage or lack of it.

I would love to visit Dubai.

D said...

Hmmm true ... after reading this, I noticed that even at Photoworld, the forms ppl have to fill in to enter are all in English; there wasn't even an option to fill them in Arabic!