Remember: The Customer Is Always American

All languages are equal at Office Depot. It's just that some are more equal than others.

Such decisions appear to have dissuaded many companies from adopting English-only policies. From Burger King to Blockbuster, corporations go out of their way to demonstrate their friendliness to Spanish-speaking customers.

Historically, the few firms that have tried to implement language policies have soon found themselves backpedaling. In 1988 a Luria's store in Tampa attempted to forbid employees' use of Spanish except while on breaks or while waiting on Spanish-speaking customers. Corporate executives asked the store to set aside the language rules. That same year, when a cashier was fired from his job at a Coral Gables Publix for speaking Spanish, the act provoked a public outcry.

At the time Publix officials maintained that the cashier had been fired for having a personal conversation while on duty; Publix corporate officers continue to deny ever having an English-only policy. "We try to focus on our customers," asserts Publix spokeswoman Jennifer Bush. "Whatever it takes, we want to communicate with them in whatever manner."

Office Depot itself is not aggressively pushing the new policy. Spokesman Schweikhart says the company has only taken steps to enforce it at stores where customers have made complaints, such as the Miami Springs outlet. "Again, if associates are bilingual, that's a wonderful plus," Schweikhart emphasizes. "But they have to be able to converse in English with our customers as well.

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