“The fact that I speak with an accent, doesn’t mean that I think with one”.
You may remember the quote above from the movie A Walk In The Clouds. It happens during a confrontation between the father of the female lead character, who in the movie is from Mexican ancestry, and the lead character who is an American. These lines have followed me for many years because ever since I started college in the US, I could identify myself with them. As soon as some people hear an accent, they immediately assume that you cannot understand them. What a great misconception!
Have you ever been in a foreign country trying to converse in the native tongue only to be greeted by someone who is talking to you so slow that it makes you feel as if you were mentally impaired? I certainly know the feeling and even though it doesn’t happen as often as it used to because my accent has gotten better over the years, I sometimes encounter people who treat me as if I was a complete idiot.
Believe it or not, it happens to me the vast majority of the time when I visit a doctor’s office. There is a clear generational gap between nurses and front desk people who have been in the field for decades and those who have most recently started working in the field. The younger ones are always much more pleasant.
Yesterday for example, I was at my OBGYN’s office for a routine visit in which I was greeted by a young and charming front desk lady who treated me with great respect later to be seen by a not-so-young nurse who clearly had a problem with my accent. She addressed me as if I was a 3-year-old unable to communicate. She started gesticulating in a very exaggerated way as if it implied a great effort to get her message across. I was really irritated, not only because I am perfectly able to communicate in English, but because she was the one who seemed to be having trouble with my accent and, perhaps, it should had been me the one gesticulating.
It happens all the time at my daughter’s doctor too. Nurses there are young and clearly trained in cultural competency but people at the front desk and billing department have no sense of costumer service and are obviously uncomfortable if not with foreign people, at least with accents.
It bothers me to the point that I almost want to write a complaint letter to the doctor’s office but what for? I really doubt that a little reprimand will change people’s manners. I do believe, however, that doctors should be more “costumer-oriented” -especially in a place where there are so many different hospitals that is really easy to lose “clientele”. Doctor’s should invest more in public relations tactics that would keep patients comfortable when going to their offices. A simple “how-are-we-doing?” survey will suffice to know if all staff is interacting with patience in a polite manner. I know I would certainly have a couple of things for them to improve.
I know I really can’t change the ways things are but if I at least get one person who reads this to remember that people who have accents don’t necessarily think with one, I will be very happy.