Matt Sanchez joins us from

Multiculturalism, a soft national identity and the inability to separate the public forum from the private sphere will send this country scaling up a new Tower of Babel.

I went into my local bank to solve a problem. During my stay overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan, my financial institution put a block on my account because someone pretending to be me walked into a branch and presented a check. Fortunately, no funds were disbursed because the imposter's signature did not match my signature card, a low-tech solution to the common problem of identity theft. I stood in front of Elena, the bank's customer service representative. She stared at her high-tech computer database and attempted to remove the block from my checking, but the barriers between Elena and myself were going to need more than an authorization code.

After some pecking at the keyboard and several frustrated looks, Elena called over her co-worker for help. Both women watched the screen, not saying a word, and then it began. Before me, the co-worker went into a long, detailed explanation on how accounts are sometimes blocked. You know, the typical customer service stuff. The only problem was that the co-worker was having this conversation in Spanish.

It's annoying enough when the automated voice over the phone asks you to "press 2 for Spanish," but it's excruciating when the bank tellers give you no choice, and you're stuck with a live customer-service version of subtitles.

Now, let's get something straight: I actually speak Spanish. When I lived in Spain, I wrote little articles for a tourist magazine in Spanish. I even taught the language to adults in French-speaking Montreal, but this teller and her boss were not speaking Spanish for me, they were speaking it despite me.

After several minutes of the back-and-forth banter between the two women, it became obvious both actually spoke English better than Spanish. In English, I asked a question, so the co-worker spoke to Elena in Spanish for Elena to translate the response to me.

For a moment I felt as if I were back in Iraq interviewing some city councilman through an interpreter. Those interviews always took forever, and I was never sure how precise the translation was. In bleak Ramadi, I always wondered if anything really important was being left out. But in this bank, in the heart of Manhattan, I knew I was not getting the full story.

I'm not the only one who has experienced this Babel of communication. The London Terrace apartment complex, located in the ultra-liberal Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea, mandated that all employees will have to speak English on the job. Chelsea is a place where transvestites are considered too conservative if they wear a pearl necklace, but even this liberal stronghold had an issue with "diversity."

The problem was not hearing a different language. I live in Manhattan! The owner of the health-food store speaks Korean; the shoe repair man is Croatian, and there are more Russians and Chinese than there are native New Yorkers.

I'm not offended by different tongues; I make an effort to understand the dialects of New Jersey and Long Island.

This is not just about the decline of customer service or even an upswing in public rudeness. You have to make an effort to be rude, and you have to recognize a customer to give him service. This problem was more a shift in the public sphere, a societal and corporate slow drift that has been shoving customers off a cliff for some time now.

The dirty little secret is that all too often when Spanish-speakers go into these Latin diatribes while on the time clock, they are really just flipping the non-Spanish speaker a linguistic bird. Believe me, I've listened to more than one conversation where people didn't think I understood what was being said, or maybe just did not care.

In the new version of separate but equal, the American public forum, currently ruled by multi-cultural guidelines, has put Spanish on the same level as English. As more and more Americans see themselves as clients entitled to benefits rather than citizens bound to duties, the option of pressing No. 2 for a different language is just another choice on the multi-cultural public menu.

There was a time, even in my recent memory, when speaking another language was something reserved for the privacy of home, or in a community setting. In other words, it was meant to be a bond for people with a similar heritage and history. Would anyone describe English in America that way today?

For these two bilingual bozos, being at work in a bank and dealing with a customer was socially the same as being at home in the kitchen and ignoring the annoying children playing in the living room. When you add the "freedom" of reaffirming "Latino pride" and the self-righteous sense of entitlement, it's safe to say more clients at the bank will be hearing a lot of conversations that simply will not include them. It is up to us, as Americans, to decide if this is the model we want for a nation because others are willing to offer plenty of choices that will be more significant than pressing No. 2 for Spanish.

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