Social Question

janbb's avatar

Is it patronizing or thoughtful to say "Gracias" to an Hispanic worker?

Asked by janbb (58690points) February 1st, 2010

At my car wash, there are a number of Hispanic workers; I assume that most of them are from Mexico. After they are finished cleaning my car, I always say “thank you.” Sometimes, I think of saying “gracias.” I am ambivalent about whether saying“gracias” to a known Spanish speaking worker in the U.S. is gracious or would be perceived as patronizing. (I would prefer this not descend into a discussion about bi-lingualism and “if they’re here, they should speak English.”) Your thoughts?

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29 Answers

CMaz's avatar

Depends on if you mean it to be patronizing or thoughtful.
Nothing wrong with a little culture.

grumpyfish's avatar

It’s a good question.

Knowing that the custodians in our building were hispanic (most spoke pretty good English but not all) we usually wrote “basura” instead of “trash” on things that were to be disposed of. Sometimes “basura pf” if it was something really terrible like the box the plotter came in.

mcbealer's avatar

@janbb ~ why do you “assume that most of them are from Mexico”?

absalom's avatar

I’m always wondering this, too. I go to Chinese restaurants a lot because so many of my friends are Chinese. Sometimes I thank the waitresses/waiters in Chinese and there’s no problem. But last week I did it and the waitress kind of paused, and looked at me, and then very clearly said, “You’re welcome,” i.e. in English, apparently somewhat annoyed.

I pronounced it (almost) perfectly, so I don’t know how I might have offended her. I guess it depends on the person you’re thanking.

janbb's avatar

@mcbealer Because there has been a large influx of Mexican immigrants to our area in recent years. I could be wrong; in any case, it does not change the question.

bezdomnaya's avatar

I say it to the guys I work with all the time, and they appreciate it. But then again, I work with them every day. I think it would nonetheless be totally appropriate for you to say gracias. Try it out once, check out the response and proceed from there. My guess is it will be positive.

bezdomnaya's avatar

Also, I would never get upset if someone thanked me in Russian. I would be charmed.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Well there would be nothing wrong with it if you were sure that they’re Hispanic (such as if you heard them speak Spanish, for example) – but depending on people’s sensibilities about being perceived a ‘wrong’ race, some might see it as patronizing (if they also had internalized racism)...intent can come through body language and a smile will go a long way…I say it sometimes, never been a problem.

mcbealer's avatar

@janbb ~ actually, when you assume stuff like that, you are participating in one of the most insulting behaviors that Hispanics like myself deal with everyday in this country. Spanish is the official language of at least 21 countries and is spoken worldwide by approximately 329 million native speakers.(source) We are not all from Mexico. I doubt that all of the employees at this car wash are from Mexico. I give you props for caring enough to want to relate with Hispanics and share expressions of salutations. Just don’t lump us all into one country.

To answer your question, I would suggest learning several phrases, (not just thank you) because when one discovers that someone speaks your native language, it is pretty exciting, and with that comes the desire to converse. So maybe you could say,

“Gracias. Agradesco su ayuda. Tenga un buen dia.” which means, “thanks, I appreciate your help. Have a nice day.” Hope that helps.

JLeslie's avatar

Good question. I do it, I say gracias. My Spanish is pretty good, I sound kind of Gringa Mexican Spanish speaking, so it is not a bad American attempt at the word. I also, if I am having trouble communicating with someone in English who is obviously Spanish speaking, I might switch to Spanish for a particular word or phrase to try and clarify. I have no idea if they find it offensive?

If someone said, “thank you” to me in France, I would not be offended. But, I am not easily offended.

But, some members of my husband’s family tend to be very sensitive when people point out that their might be a miscommunication about something. They HATE to think it is because of language for some reason. Many times it isn’t. Many times even if English was the first language for both people their would be a miscommunication, but they seem insecure about the whole thing, and think that if anyone mentions their might be a miscommunication it is because they are Mexican. So, maybe they would be offended even with a simple gracias? I have no idea. But, his family tends to be easily offended, and questions everyones intent about everything.

knitfroggy's avatar

I have wondered this about deaf people. I grew up with a deaf girl and was totally fluent in ASL until we graduated high school and she moved away. I see her sporadically and so I haven’t used my sign language much in 15 years. When I deal with deaf people at work, I sometimes like to use the basic signs I remember. Some of them seem to appreciate it and others just seem annoyed.

I come in contact daily with a lot of people who don’t speak a long of English. My Spanish is horrific, so I don’t even try. I just speak to them in English, because I’m sure I’d just embarrass myself if I tried to say anything in Spanish.

Master's avatar

It’s all on the tone of voice and the intention in which it’s said. I certainty don’t mind when someone says “gracias” to me.

Chongalicious's avatar

@absalom She may have been offended because sometimes when you speak their language in the wrong dialect or if you speak it in general and they do know english, it can feel like you are insulting their intelligence; people tend to think that if you do that, you are assuming they do not speak english.

It’s happened to me many times where someone will start speaking horrible Spanish to me when in fact I’m not even Hispanic and my first language was English…it can be offensive only if the tone of voice seems to be talking down to you. Other than that, I know they mean well and are only trying to communicate in the most clarifying way possible.

Harp's avatar

I’ve always avoided it, unless I’m engaged in an actual conversation in Spanish. If I can safely assume that the person knows what “thank you” means (which would be 99% of the time) then I’ll say “thank you”. Saying “Gracias” would just feel like an affectation. I think that once a lingua franca has been decided upon in a conversation, it should be stuck with until a change becomes necessary for clarity.

Throwing in a few gratuitous Spanish words sends the message that you’re acutely aware of the nationality of the person you’re talking to, instead of just relating to them as a person.

JLeslie's avatar

@Harp All good points.

Jeruba's avatar

Does the answer change if you are an English-speaking American traveling in Mexico?

JLeslie's avatar

@Jeruba That is what I was getting at by saying I am not offended if I am in France and someone says “thank you” to me. BUT, I have found that American’s are much less likely to be offended if someone asks us where we are from or where our accent is from etc. We are used to doing this among each other in our country. I find my friends who are immigrants don’t like to be asked where they are from, some think it is rude, and by extension maybe they don’t like it pointed out that they are from somewhere outside of the country by saying “gracias.” What do you think?

janbb's avatar

@Jeruba That’s another question and one I’ve wondered about, too. In foreign countries, I try to pick up some simple phrases or questions and do use them. Don’t know if that makes me look like an ass or not, but I hate to be the ugly American who seemingly is not aware that he or she is abroad. In France, I speak my bad French and am surprisingly tolerated, for the most part.

janbb's avatar

@mcbealer I am well aware that not all Hispanics are Mexicans. I hesitated before including my “assumption” but base it on some familiarity with this one car wash. However, I could be wrong and I understand and appreciate your point.

MebiByte's avatar

@janbb While learning Spanish, I’ve always been told it makes a person very happy when you talk to them in their native language.

Chongalicious's avatar

@MebiByte people do love it when they see you’re being genuine in trying to learn :) That’s how I made a ton of the friends I have now, they helped me learn Spanish!

It’s all in the way you say it, I suppose. If they get offended if you say it in a nice way, maybe they just had a bad day…or a bad attitude. You never know…

Jeruba's avatar

and… I would not assume that any one person’s feeling or reaction necessarily goes for all.

sliceswiththings's avatar

I hated it when I was in Spain when people spoke to me in English. I went to Spain to speak Spanish. I hated when people assumed I’m American (it’s obvious, but they could at least pretend I fit in), and felt so good when they talked to me as they would anyone.

It got to the point that I stopped responding to English. When people used English, I put on the baffled expression I had perfected and declared, ”┬┐Que? No te entiendo.” When they finally said it in Spanish, I would make a big deal of finally understanding what they were saying.
Maybe they’ll at least assume I’m Swedish after that.

In your case, my gut feeling was that it’s patronizing. However, the sentiments of a student studying abroad and an immigrant working are different scenarios.

bigboss's avatar

when your done with the car wash, say “gracias hijo de mierda.” its a very nice compliment. and they will remember you when you come back the second time.

JLeslie's avatar

@bigboss shame on you,

I asked my husband and he said it doesn’t matter to him either way. You can say gracias or thank you to him. He also pointed out he uses ciao at times to say good bye, in fact my mother uses French to say come here, my father sometimes uses yiddish or Italian to ask if you understand something. I think my husband’s point is we pull from other languages all of the time, so it would not be a big deal to him. I guess adding to this is we lived in FL so long, and Spanish and English are both used so often, that it would be no big deal.

Chongalicious's avatar

@bigboss that’s messed up! I don’t know about them but I would be tempted to smear some mierda all over your car if you said that to me. Hmph!

bigboss's avatar

haaaaaat? its a compliment trust me. does this look like a face that would lie to you.

Chongalicious's avatar

Tricky, tricky!!! Hmm that avatar looks like a face that would shoot me. :O! Not good!

Strauss's avatar

I always thought it was thoughtful to speak in a person’s native tongue. I used to do it on a regular basis when I worked with folks whose native language was Spanish, especially if they were struggling, trying to learn English. Many times it proved to be a mutual learning experience.

Especialmente de una chica I once knew met in Del Rio…but that’s another story

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