Don't Curse the Nurse!

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Stirring up trouble

on September 1, 2019

A family member, a week ago, gave me a newspaper article about bilingual nurses having their job threatened if they continue to speak their native language to each other when at work.

I took it to work to get the thoughts of some of my bilingual peers.

(Here’s a link to a news broadcast about it)

So…..the one paragraph news piece, I took it took work. Two people just shrugged their shoulders – had no opinion. One of them, she took it, said she’d read it later. The next day she took a moment to sit with me as I got my purse from the locker.

Her two comments:

” What does this mean?”


“What is this? You have a problem with us speaking Spanish?”

I quickly explained “No! I’m just not bilingual, so I don’t feel entitled to send an opinion piece to the news paper.”

I’m going to re-divert my energy back to patient care only. Trying to communicate on a level of some substance with peers has been bleak lately. I really thought the article was something a bilingual peer would have some thoughts on.

“I’m tired” and “I’m so busy” – if I had a dollar for each time someone said that to me, I’d have a free plane ticket to see my daughter.


9 responses to “Stirring up trouble

  1. Basil Rene says:

    The thing is, I think that speaking your native tongue with your peers in a work environment where there are people that do not speak the language is rude to be honest. To me it comes across as if the two people are speaking ill of others in the room. It has nothing to do with an immigrant or racist issue. It is simply an issue of manners. Why would you speak your own language unless you don’t want others to know what you are speaking about. In a work environment it is not appropriate. In private you could speak in clicks and clucks and could give a flying monkey.

    • Susan says:

      I do agree that, in general, it is poor manners. Here’s the back story that adjusted my perspective a bit: I worked with the kindest, most patient centered nurse for three years and she was born and raised in India. Sometimes I would hear her greet a fellow Indian nurse in the hallway and they would converse in their native language. I later learned the two went to the same church. I also learned that this coworker only spoke Indian in her home. She and her husband wanted their children to know the language of their ancestors. I gawked when hearing she only read books written in her native tongue and watched little American T.V. I was also a little righteous that sometimes she couldn’t find the right word when doing some patient teaching. So, fast forward to my current setting where more than half the OR staff are bilingual ( English/Spanish speaking). I am bemused when they plop into Spanish speaking amongst themselves in the pre -op area, but not offended. They know if they need to communicate with me what language they better talk in. I have to say though…the response from the nurse I showed the article to…it was odd that she first asked me if it offended her. She was a nurse I’d shared personal hardships with. Her immediate defensiveness….hmmm. Maybe there is a little secondary gain as to why people in a group setting would pull into a communication style only a subset could understand. Me, I have no secrets. I’ll talk quietly so pre op patients can focus on keeping their stress down, but that’s it.

      • Basil Rene says:

        I think that immigrants in general are on edge and on the defensive, especially here in the US, which you can’t blame them for. That being said, alienating themselves by speaking their own language amongst themselves does not help very much. Can’t all just get along? ;D

  2. Ellen Hawley says:

    I agree with Basil Rene: immigrants are often defensive. It’s true in the UK as well, where they’re under public attack for speaking their own languages in public, or for being Muslim, or for simply being. My partner and I are immigrants here ourselves, although of a less politicized kind (we’re American–no one seems to mind us being here), but when my partner asked, just out of interest, someone with a noticeable accent where she was from she became visibly defensive. People are living in a minefield. We all need to be conscious of it.

    • Susan says:

      Yes to the defensiveness ! Well demonstrated by the peer who, when shown the newspaper article , first asked something like ” …what’s the deal? Me speaking Spanish bother you?” ( and all I wanted was an opinion of substance from a bilingual nurse before sending something to the newspaper)

  3. I guess us bilingual nurses are only allowed to use our extra skills to benefit the employer. People request me because I speak their native language.

    • Susan says:

      We have a bilingual Haitian nurse aide. Even if I have a bilingual Haitian patient, I will ask this nurse aide ( who we all live so much) if she will come over, talk to them some in their native language – make
      them feel more comfortable.
      It’ should be all about the patients.

  4. nimh2 says:

    I’m guessing this is one of those cases where it’s worth reversing perspectives. Imagine working and living in another country, making intuitive adjustments all day, every day to make life there work and avoid offending anyone. If you had a colleague who spoke your language, wouldn’t it be a tremendous relief, in the midst of all the intensive stress of a nursing job, to be able to exchange some casual chat in your own language for a mo’? I’ve worked in a few multilingual work environments, and I wouldn’t ever begrudge my colleagues chatting a bit in their respective languages, as long as they do their work well.

    • Susan says:

      In case I didn’t earlier, I wanted to respond and say thank you! Very good point! Little opportunities to practice some self care in a profession that promotes ‘patients first’ as a general practice.

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