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Speaking in a Foreign Language

Speaking in a Foreign Language

Alison Green | Ask A Manager

September 02, 2010

A reader writes:

I would like your feedback on a common occurrence in our store. Sometimes a couple of customers will walk in whose native language is other than English. However, these customers do speak English quite well but choose to speak in the other language while they are being directly waited on by our employees. If they are trying on merchandise while we are right beside them to check fit, etc., more often than not they will “consult” their friend/family first (in the other language) before they tell us what they think, even though they are perfectly capable of expressing themselves to me, and anyone else, in English.

I find this behavior quite rude and at times like this I am ready to walk away until they are ready to converse in English. Of course, I instead stand there, gently prodding the customer in English in an attempt to understand what else I need to do to serve them. Although I feel irritated regarding the seeming rudeness, I find myself mostly frustrated that I cannot help our customer to the best of my ability because I don’t understand their language.

What is the best course of action to do in these situations? If you can address this in your blog I would be much obliged.

Um, they’re your customers, not people who are there to socialize with you, right? They’re considering patronizing your business? I suggest letting them speak to each other in whatever language they’re most comfortable in, and assuming that if they need something from you, they’ll let you know in English.

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