There’s a joke that goes around quite frequently:
What do you call someone who speaks three languages?
What do you call someone who speaks two languages?
What do you call someone who speaks one language?
There are lots of people in Boquete who move there from the United States. These are people who have had homes and have moved their entire lives to Boquete and have lived here for years. (I’m not talking about newcomers.)
When we were here in November, 2009 Carlos (from Cafe Ruiz) was explaining to us that sometimes, these people have so little understanding or knowledge of Spanish that they will actually outburst with “Why don’t you speak English?” As if a person in Panama should choose to communicate with them in a language other than their own
(For those who don’t know, the dominant language of Panama is Spanish).
Some of these people are so stubborn about not learning Spanish that they will pay for thei gardeners/housekeepers/maids/etc. to learn English. While I’m sure their intentions are good (a thought which is laziness disguised as charity – somewhere down among the philosophical equivalent of “I’m being charitable by helping the local poor people learn something”), choosing not to make any effort to learn Spanish alongside their gardener or maid (learning English) is not only lazy, but it’s rude.
If you decide to live in a country other than the one where you were born, you should learn the language of that country.
If it is necessary for you to move to another country for social, political, or economic reasons, you should learn the language of that country.
If you are going to be spending any length of time in another country (longer than two weeks), you should work to learn the language of that country.
Doing anything else is just lazy.
Worse than that, it’s the kind of carelessness that leads to misunderstandings and cultural biases based on nothing more than mis-communication.