Incomers should learn our culture and customs as well as our language. Some other cultures try our patience.
“hash bit, hasbit”, the woman shouted at the bus driver. She sat back down.
“Hospital?” I ventured. She stared. “Sorry, but that’s in the other direction.”
Oh, your husband, as yet invisible, is coming to meet you. She drew a large-faced watch out of her pocket and frowned. The bus was running a minute late. Had someone timed her bus route in advance and all she had to do, was to get off at a certain time?
She jumped up again and pressed the ‘stop’ button. The bus duly drew to a halt at the next stop.
“Hasbit, hashbit.” She shouted loudly at the driver.
“I can’t understand what you are saying.” Said the bus driver, reasonably.
He waited for her to resume her seat. No such luck. By this time she was distraught and the passengers sympathised with her in a strange place and unable to communicate. Then she waved a dismissive gesture in our direction. The English think this is very rude. You simply do not do it, especially when someone is trying to help you.
I found a pen and notepad, but she just made the dismissive gesture again, which I was starting to find annoying. She stared at the pen and another woman passenger said that she would probably be unable to write it down anyway.
After some legitimate passengers stopped the bus, she continued to sit down and start up every time she saw something she thought she recognised.
Eventually we arrived at a bridge. She stamped wildly, gesticulating between the bus driver and the door.
“I am not allowed to stop here, Madam.”
She started yelling and thumping the door:
“No, no, no, no.”
He let her off. The rest of us sighed in relief. I thought that the bus driver had done a good job, yet he laughed it off. The woman looked Nepalese, religion unknown, with white lace held scarf-fashion with a curtain ring. Maybe she was not Nepalese and I do them a disservice. She was the first to display anger. Usually they are unfailingly courteous, at least in English. And there is the rub.
When they chatter in their own language, a colleague pointed out to me that they could be insulting us. That had not occurred to me, but she says groups of incomers often pass her and snigger in some unfamiliar language. She works in a hospital.
So I ask David Cameron to help these workers learn English. Hospital cleaners are largely foreigners. One, a Portuguese lady, wanted me to teach her English, but she could never find time outside my working hours and hers. If this money were allocated to hospitals, they could use a meeting room at a weekend and bring the workers in by free bus. The incentive is to learn English. Perhaps when certain levels are reached, there will be a nationally-recognised certificate. If the teaching of English as a foreign language, with words for specific disciplines, hospital wards will be a safer place for staff and patients alike.
Please would incomers remember that no-one likes people talking over them. Hospital workers often chatter away and leave the patient upset and out of the conversation. Here in the UK, we do not talk at patients, we talk to them.
Muslim women are not the only ones who need to learn English. Diversion of some of the money to hospitals will benefit patients and staff. It could become the difference between a good and an outstanding hospital.