Fawlty Towers Everywhere

by Sally Applin

I’ve been staying in a lot of hotels lately and there are a few things in common amongst them. Mostly that there are people from all different countries working in them, and that some people that are in positions where they are required to communicate by telephone with the guests, have limited English speaking skills.
This in itself is nothing to belittle them about. English is a tough language, but it speaks to the management of these institutions–they have a very limited scope as to what their hotel will do and any variation is met with surprise.

I ordered toast with butter on the side from room service. This is not a hard order. The person that took my order was not a native English speaker, but understood toast and butter.

15 minutes later, toast with margarine showed up.  Why margarine? The man delivering the toast didn’t know the difference between butter and margarine. He couldn’t read the package. 

While he went to get butter, the toast got cold, and the milk I’d ordered got warm. 

I’m not blaming the waiter at all, I blame the hotel manager. How does it get to this point, that a person responsible for room service, doesn’t know the difference between butter and margarine? 

This is a 4 star hotel. 

I think its because I ordered it on the side. If the kitchen had ran the “toast program” the butter would have been automatically put on by the chef. But because I varied, by ordering it on the side, it didn’t make it and the commands got lost in the translation.

When I called to let them know the mistake, and ask for butter, the Guest Relations clerk told me I was demanding. In US customer service terms, “demanding” is a very severe word. This person again was not a native English speaker. To her, “demanding” meant “specific” — or something like that. But I can forecast the offense that may be taken by someone in the future who doesn’t understand the translation issues for non native speakers.

Its a customer service issue. Not necessarily that people have to speak perfect English, but if they are going to engage with a community who does mostly as a rule, than they’d better work out a scheme in the background so that we get butter if we order it and we aren’t called demanding if we call to request that it be corrected.

Or, maybe I’m wrong in my assumption–maybe the trend of speaking English as a rule will not be the rule as we move towards a more global-centric economy.

©2008-2014 Sally A. Applin. All rights reserved.

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