Here are all the different things I ordered from the drive-thru take-out chicken place. Three wings, one breast, slaw and biscuits.

Wait. No biscuits.

I’ve got to learn to count my change and my purchases before leaving any establishment. It happens to me time and again, and I’ll bet it has happened to you, too. You place an order at a fast-food drive-thru or any restaurant and, when you get home, what you ordered and paid for is not what you got. The reason, as Strother Martin said to Paul Newman in “Cool Hand Luke,” is “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

I know what I ordered, but the fellow who took my order didn’t speak much English. My dry cleaners is Vietnamese. She knows the laundry business but I have to repeat everything. (I’ve found that it helps if you shout.)

A waitress seems to be a new arrival gets my order wrong. It’s not just the locals who have a communications problem. Have you ever called your cable company and talked to someone you can’t talk to? He’s probably making a dollar an hour in Bangladesh. The computer company saves a lot of money that way, but the customer gets frustrated.

“My computer is down and can’t get up,” I say.

“Yu scooter not something something?”

This is not to ridicule immigrants or those in other lands whose job, probably at lower than minimum wage, is to communicate with us, it’s that employers choose to save a buck by hiring people who are not yet capable of handling a major part of that job: dealing with customers. And the boss won’t train them. So I blame the employers, not the employees.

On the other hand, our immigrants need to make some effort on their part to assimilate. Actually, in Texas you can get by very well just speaking Spanish as you are surrounded by Spanish-language TV, radio, even political speeches. Home Depot, Walmart and other stores have their signs in English and Spanish.

So who needs to know English? Amy Lacey thought her students should. She was fired as principal of Hempstead Middle School after, the school administration charged, she told her students over the school’s intercom, half of whom are Hispanic, not to speak Spanish.

Lacey denied banning Spanish. Her intent, she claimed, was merely to encourage her students to use English more, a skill especially important in taking state tests. She sued to get her job back.

Then there is TV sage Tom Brokaw, who coined the term, “the Greatest Generation.” On “Meet the Press,” he quoted some people who say, “‘Well, I don’t know whether I want brown grandbabies.’” Brokaw went on to say that “the Hispanics should work harder at assimilation,” and “make sure that all their kids are learning to speak English.”

“Brown grandbabies” didn’t go over very well with some viewers. He apologized all over the place. On TV, he said he felt “terrible a part of my comments on Hispanics offended some members of that proud culture.” He tweeted an apology (no capitalization): ““i am sorry, truly sorry….” He may not have worried so much.

A Pew Research Center study from 2013 found about 62 percent of Hispanic adults in the U.S. either speak English or are bilingual. Their kids do better. A Pew study also found “fully 89 percent of U.S.-born Latinos spoke English proficiently in 2013, up from 72 percent in 1980.”

The research shows that as immigrants settle in the U.S. they and their kids embrace English. The others are doomed to spend the rest of their lives washing our cars and mowing our yards.

Lynn Ashby is a Houston-based columnist. Contact him at

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