Republican mayor calls for McDonald's boycott

Think Progress reports on a Republican mayor in New Jersey who is calling for a boycott of McDonald’s "if the fast-food chain does not take down a Spanish-language billboard advertising iced coffee." (The guy, Steve Lonegan, is mayor of a town called--get ready for it--Bogota, which was apparently named "in honor of the Bogert family," not after the Spanish-speaking Colombian capital.) Think Progress offers an amusing rejoinder to Lonegan's conservative caterwauling, replete with images of the Army's Spanish-language campaign.

Anyhoo, the reason Lonegan is all aflutter about the McDonald's ad is that he finds it "offensive," "divisive," and imbued with the message "that Hispanic immigrants do not need to learn English."

"The true things that bind us together as neighbors and community is our belief in the American flag and our common language," Lonegan said. "And when McDonald's sends a different message, that we're going to be different now, that causes resentment."
Okay, so here's the thing. I like living in a country that has allowed me to pick up lots phrases from other languages, even without trying. I don't speak Spanish or French or Polish or Italian, but I can often understand something I'm reading or a conversation I'm hearing in any one of them just because so many bits of the languages have managed to work their way into my head from the ether. I could never hold a conversation in any of them, but I could probably communicate the need for help or ask where a bathroom is or order a drink. I can say please and thank-you, the two most important phrases in any language. I’ve even picked up enough of many other languages--Japanese, Russian, Greek--to offer a polite hello and howareya right before I would have to add "I only speak English." (Or German, if I thought that would help.)

Erasing all trace of foreign languages from the public sphere strikes me as just another way to protect our ignorance, our isolationism. Just being exposed to advertisements and storefront signs and warnings and assembly instructions in other languages have given me an education I didn’t seek out, but absorbed nonetheless. It hasn’t done me any harm; in fact, I'm grateful for it.

I "get" the whole thing about needing to have a language standard in, for example, business communication, but that's not really at issue here. At the center of Lonegan's objections is the sense that multilingualism, even in advertising, is somehow divisive. Never in all my 32 years has not speaking the same language as someone seemed divisive to me. I've muddled my way through all kinds of conversations with people who didn't speak English. When I used to work on Chicago's Mag Mile, which is always populated with tourists, and would stand outside for a smoke, I might as well have had a sign that said "Information Booth" around my neck. Many an exchange between someone who spoke no English--and spoke a language I did not--resulted in cascading laughter as we mimed a game of sidewalk charades and spoke in pitiful, broken phrases to one another.

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