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Can a Business Choose To Be "English-Only"?

Can a Business Choose To Be "English-Only"?

According to a new ruling by the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, businesses are allowed to post signs insisting that customers speak English. They ruled that Geno's Steaks restaurant that placed a sign informing customers, "This is America. When ordering speak English," had done nothing to violate discrimination rules.

The sign inspired a larger debate about immigration and freedom of speech. The owner of the restaurant said his right to free speech had been violated by the complaint. The commission ruled that since the sign did not say that non-English speaking diners would be refused service, the restaurant owner was within his rights.

Geno's Steaks is one of Philly's most famous cheese steak shops — and apparently even if you're ordering in English, there's a protocol:

Be prepared and know how to order, because the service is fast and the line keeps moving. For example, on a cheese steak with onions specify which kind of cheese you'd like (Provolone, American or Cheese [sic] Whiz.)

I don't know, I'm a little skeptical that "Cheez Whiz" counts as an English word.

Do you agree with the commission's ruling? Is posting this sign within the rights of a business owner?

Join The Conversation
skylineking722 skylineking722 9 years
It is his store and his right to post a sign like that. I would just like to see him go to live in a foreign country and speak only a foreign language all the time. It's not as easy as it sounds.
sunshowers83 sunshowers83 9 years
Thank you, zeze, for your intelligent and compassionate point of view. :) My parents were immigrants to Canada. Their English isn't perfect, but they try their best. Some of you don't realize how discouraging it is when you can't help having an accent, and others turn their noses up at you or treat you like you're stupid just because your grammar and pronunciation aren't spot on. How ironic that the same people who sneer and jeer at someone who is really trying are the same people who complain the loudest when immigrants lapse into their native languages. Please examine your own attitudes and ignorance and look at how you're contributing to the problem before you make such harsh judgments. I'm one of those children that zeze speaks of. Ever since I can remember, English has been my strongest subject. I've always loved reading and used to spend hours every weekend looking for new books at the library. I got top scores on my AP English exams. I majored in English language in my undergrad. On my LSAT, I scored nearly perfectly on the reading comprehension section. I worked at a learning center tutoring ESL children. How did a child of immigrants come to know and love this language so well? My mother read to me every day since I was a baby. She read to me in her broken English, with her heavy accent. Many of you probably would have looked down on her with disdain if you'd met her, not knowing how hard she really tried and how much it meant to her that her children spoke perfect English without any accent.
lula29 lula29 9 years
You know I've never gotten the problem that some people have with making English the official language. What's the big deal with that people? I don't understand. This country was founded by English speakers. Why is it such a surprise that language takes dominance? What is to be won by fighting to deny that fact? I believe English should be the official language becuase it already really is. Doing so would not mean that ethnic communities like ones in Miami, San Francisco and New York, would have to stop using their native tongues in the US. It wouldn't mean that foreign languages would cease to be taught and encouraged in schools. It wouldn't be used as a tool to discriminate against foreingers (or at least it shouldn't), but made as a requirement for citizenship, which I don't have a problem with at all. I speak Spanish and I'm learning French and Portuguese. I'm open to learn as many languages as possible, but I still don't understand what the big deal is with making English official.
zboundy zboundy 9 years
We live in America where 'hypothetically' we accept all races, languages and cultures. That sign is extremely un-American and unpatriotic.
Yukino Yukino 9 years
Seriously though, if I were to stumble onto such sign, I'd speak a different language just to tick them off.
PeachyKeen19 PeachyKeen19 9 years
If someone spoke a foreign language at his restaurant I doubt it was to the owner or one of his staff. It is very likely he just overheard another language, and THAT it what he objects to. It is one thing to want to run your business as want to, and it's another to be intolerant of language and cultural or racial differences, this is clearly an indication of a lack of tolerance. Sad.
PeachyKeen19 PeachyKeen19 9 years
esk4, Where are you getting this from? Has someone ever told you that they refuse to speak English and purposely refuse to learn it? I am sick of hearing statements like that. Don't make assumptions, you just make an A$$ of yourself when you.
PeachyKeen19 PeachyKeen19 9 years
I agree with tralalala...finally someone with common sense, I think it is horrendous as well!
PeachyKeen19 PeachyKeen19 9 years
This is XENOPHOBIA to the max!! It is the English language that is linguistically imperialistic, not Spanish or Italian, or Gaelic or Greek and so on. Whites are projecting this fear on to other ethnic groups. Hispanics and other immigrants DO NOT expect people to speak their languages, and White people are constantly fidgeting when the hear someone speaking a foreign language behind them in line or in the booth next to them at a diner or restaurant. Get over it. Their children DO learn english, and so do the adults that are able to (i.e, young adults that can absorb and learn the language, not their elderly parents). Yikes!
PeachyKeen19 PeachyKeen19 9 years
This is ridiculous. I do believe this is discriminatory...Where do I even start? No monolingual or bilingual resident, citizen, legal/illegal immigrants EXPECTS restaurants or waiters to cater to them and hire waiters and such that speak their language. I get the distinct feeling that they just don't want to hear OTHER languages spoken in the background. My parents are bilingual and speak ENglish VERY WELL. But when the waiter comes back to ask us if we've decided what to order, one of my parents may turn to me and ask me in Spanish if I have decided and then they turn back to the waiter to give them an answer in English, as I do. And the sign is trying to prohibit instances like that. But if you can converse in BOTH languages why is that bad?
princess_eab princess_eab 9 years
It's funny, these signs are always in places where there are not that many people who don't speak English-- or rather, a minority easily identifiable by skin color. I think the guy has a total right to do this-- I'm just interested in what drove him to it. I live in a Polish neighborhood where most people around me don't speak English, but they are white. The neighborhood has been like this since the 19th century. I wonder how offended and angry Middle Americans would be if they could see my neighborhood in Brooklyn where every sign is in Polish. That said, the Polish deli owners are not requiring people to speak Polish! thank goodness for me!
LeahWright LeahWright 9 years
He has a right to run his business as he pleases. If he speaks English, it's not out of bounds for him to specify his customers speak English when ordering. If they don't like it, they can frequent another establishment.
Cassandra57 Cassandra57 9 years
Wow, I'm amazed at some of the comments here. I believe that the sign was intended as social commentary. Whether or not the U.S.A. has an "official" language or not, effectively it is English. English *is* the official language of 27 states. (Wikipedia "Languages of the United States" entry) French is the official language of France, but they have a large immigrant community. (Wikipedia "French language" entry) Does that make them discriminatory? America does not compare to the European Union, because the EU is composed of individual sovereign countries and the Union is only an economic alliance. The business owner is not discriminating, because he does not single out any particular group. I suspect he gets more business than he loses because of that sign. The reason so many people have a problem with immigrants is that they come to the US and *demand* supposed rights to which they are not, in the opinion of most citizens, entitled. Language problems are compounded by the trend of "ghettoization." It used to be that certain communities were isolated because they were not accepted by the larger society. (i.e., Jews in Europe, Irish in New York, etc.) Then, the goal of immigrants was to blend into society, which gave them and their children greater opportunities. Now, more and more, they seem to be intentionally carving out private neighborhoods. I have a problem with anyone who moves to a foreign country, then demands that the locals meet them on their own terms.
Jillness Jillness 9 years
"Since the sign is in English, people who don't speak English aren't going to get the message anyway." :ROTFL: 75 comments, and you are the first to notice!!! Juju gets an A for the day!!! Work it! ;)
juju4 juju4 9 years
Since the sign is in English, people who don't speak English aren't going to get the message anyway. :-)
Jillness Jillness 9 years
I had jury duty last year. During the selection process, there were 3 women who all were released because they didn't know english well enough. They had been citizens for 18, 25, and 30 years. One woman owned her own business. Jury duty greatly affected my life and finances in a negitive way, and the fact that these people were allowed to skip it felt unjust. I think it takes a long time to learn english, and I understand that it has been scientifically proven that after a certain age you stop having the ability to hear certain syllables if you have never heard them before. However, I do think that citizens have an obligation to contribute to the civic process, and that after 5 or 10 years, you have had plenty of time to achieve a basic understanding (all that was required by the judge was a "basic understanding"). I feel that language is part of what keeps self segregation in place. I think that immigrants who have adapted to life in the US and bi-lingual citizens involved in their communities should help others who are new in order to enable the integration process. IMO, the more easily we can communicate, the better off all of society is. Plus, I feel that if you do not have a basic understanding of the language that our laws are written in, you are vulnerable.
Jillness Jillness 9 years
FYI- I wasn't saying I LIKE smoking in bars or resturants, I just think that it should be up to the business owners. A "No Smoking bar" or a "Smoke Here! Bar" both could have their own demographic to cater to.
zeze zeze 9 years
My comment was about those who have their children translate, not people coming up to you and speaking Spanish. No one is forcing you to learn Spanish, in fact, by having their children translate they are sparing you the accent. Another thing is there are SO MANY ASSUMPTION in that post that I don't know where to start. 1- you don't know people are refusing to learn English - it is HARD for people in their 40s and 50s to pick up a new language. 2- You don't know these people seclude themselves - they might live in areas where they are more welcome, as I am sure you do. Most people tend to live in areas where people have similar education/money/tastes - just because their comfort has to do with language you assume they are secluding themselves from English? 3- you have no idea if they are trying to learn or not, many immigrants do learn, you are right, but just because you catch them before they are good at it or before they are comfortable enough to speak it does not mean they aren't trying - it is not an on/off button.
JLew1982 JLew1982 9 years
If I go to another country, I assume I need to use their native language. It should be the same here.
esk4 esk4 9 years
I know many many immigrants who have come to this country and learned english. Most of them learned english by watching tv and trying to converse mostly in english, not secluding themselves in areas where their language is predominant. I wouldn't care if people didn't speak english well, but to go up to someone and start speaking rapid fire spanish, only to be angered that they don't understand is Rude. Sure learning english is not easy, but an attempt should be made, you should not expect a culture to accomidate itself for you. Would you move to france and refuse to learn french? No. You wouldn't because it would be rude. They may not be able to speak it well, but they make the attempt. and why should I, in an english speaking country be forced to learn spanish?
LeChatonNoir LeChatonNoir 9 years
The sign is offensive, because that's not what it's really saying, it's not saying "Speak English" it's saying "In America, we speak English, and those who communicate in another language in a business or service situation are breaking the RULLESSSSSSS"... I think it's really the wording of the sign that's offensive.
tralalala tralalala 9 years
I don't eat meat, but I am absolutely going to this place when I'm in Philadelphia in June. For the sole purpose of speaking french. That sign is just horrendous, why aren't more people from the states emabrrassed by signs like that? I'm honestly shocked by these poll results.
trésjolie1 trésjolie1 9 years
I see I'm a late contender here. I've been to a couple of places where I just don't speak or even remotely understand the language, like Polen and the Czech Republic, and though many of the people I met didn't know any english but I was still allowed food, transportation, hotel, and bathroom facilities. But with that said I think this sign is within reason, even if it is very, very rude and leaves a bad taste in my mouth. He isn't going to get much tourist business I guess. I'm really glad there is no smoking in bars and resturants, and I'm an ex smoker.
zeze zeze 9 years
"The worst is when they have a small child translating for them." Why? Some people can't learn English as well as you think they can. Not everyone has the time to take care of their family, work, and take English courses. Their kids learn it in school, the parents might feel uncomfortable knowing their accent is thick, or knowing their child knows the language better, or knowing they can't speak the language. People are trying to make an effort in communicating, believe it or not people are doing this to make it easier on you. I can't understand why it is so difficult to help them out once in a while. Like it or not this is a country of immigrants and with that comes transition, notice the child translating grows up to be an English speaker while the mom/dad did not have that opportunity. We need to learn to help people out instead of trying to make thing more difficult. Statements like these serve no purpose other than alienating people.
WhatTheFrockBlog WhatTheFrockBlog 9 years
I am not a cheese steak fan but once in a while I get a craving, and Jim's is definitely the best of the big 3.
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