One of our chosen locations for research is my own workplace, a small café by the name of Gusto Espresso Bar in the streets of Bondi Junction located close to the train station. In my experience I have found hospitality to be quite a multicultural industry as it is in my opinion one of the most easily transferable disciplines. Every country has restaurants and kitchens and the generally principles of working in one are pretty universal.
I have worked at Gusto for nearly 3 years and in that time, nearly every new staff member that has joined us comes from a non-Australian background. Most commonly we employ Europeans who have come to Australia to travel and international uni students.
The person I have chosen to interview has also a multicultural background, is well traveled and I know would not be afraid or shy in an interview. She has also worked in the café long enough to be familiar with all the staff and how it is run. She moved to Australia from Austria a year ago and I thought that her perspective as an immigrant would provide additional depth to our investigation.
Checkout the pictures below to get a feel for the cafe and its surrounds before we dive in to the interview.
It is common for me to hear foreign languages being used at work. The Thai staff often have conversations in Thai, we have had a few Nepalese kitchen staff trainees and the best way they learn fastest when my Nepalese colleague can explain things to them in Nepali. The café owners are a Chinese couple and while they generally use English, there are still many times when they communicate in Chinese, for what I assume is simply for ease of communication.
In addition to hearing different languages, what is even more commonplace is negotiating variously accented English. There is only one other native English speaker apart from myself and as a result communication in the café can often be strained or difficult due to misunderstandings on the behalf of both parties involved.
Language also comes into play multiple times a day when serving customers, not a day goes by where we don’t have to play charades with a customer who doesn’t have a strong English knowledge, sometimes none at all.
I think all these every day occurrences go a long way towards indicating the highly multicultural nature of Bondi Junction. I believe this particular workplace is also a good way to get a good idea of the demographic because food and drink are universal interests, there is no exclusivity in going to a café.
(Interview conducted & transcribed by Rachel Murdock)
Okay so S umm, is there a dominant language at your workplace. And if so what is it?
R: yep, umm. If you, do you use any languages other than this dominant language, at work?
S: yes, German
R: and, in what situation would you use German.
S: with my colleague rachel, umm.. other than that, just to, like with Rusty another colleague, a barista, to make jokes because he was, his ex gf is from germany, so her pretended to be a German expert.
R: and uhh, do you notice people using languages other than English at work
S: yes, Thai, Chinese and recently also Nepalese
R; and what are the, can you give an example of the situations or contexts, umm that this language use would occur in,
S: when they talk to each other.
R: yep but for any specific reason, what…
S: okay so maybe Nepalese as its uhh, to explain, like one kitchen help explains the other kitchen help, like how to do this and that. For umm, the baristas, it’s more chatting. Yep
R: mmhm, ummm, do you speak more than one language, and if so which languages.
S: yes, I speak english, german serbo-croation, uhhm, and russian and french basic
R; mmhm, wow, okay.
R: mmm aaand, you said before you use German at work, is that the only language apart from english that you would use at work.
S: I use serbokroatisch with customer, when its..
R: when they need help or…?
S: no, when they it was more, when we both realised that our background is the same,
R: mmm, so like just a conversation.
R: mm so do you ever have problems or notice other people, other colleagues having problems due to lack of knowledge of a specific language.
S: yes, lack of english knowledge
R: so it’s only a lack of english that creates problems?
R: could you describe these problems or give some examples.
S: uhh yeah, especially when kitchen staff has issues with uhh, yeah understanding english. Especially when it’s uhh spoken fast. Yeah.
R: okay so, issues with…
S: either customers or, what I also find hard it’s sometimes hard to understand Jing or Fong because of their english and it’s not their native language, and with a strong accent it’s harder.
R: umm do you think Australia has a national language.
S: yes, english
R: and how do you feel about people speaking different languages around you?
S: as in if I feel comfortable or..?
R: yeah, do you … do, yeah, I guess that’s what the question is getting at, but…
S: I guess l
R: do you have any feelings?
R: you don’t feel anything
S: I don’t feel like excluded or anything, no.
R: do you think, umm, those people should only speak english given that that is the majority language in this country.
S: it depends on the situation, if lets say umm rachel and I are speaking in german in the kitchen or behind the counter, it doesn’t make any difference. But it’s different when you, when the baristas, when it’s obviously ehh uhh like in front of the customers waiting there, like it could be perceived as rude.
R: mmhm, so you think if,
R: but, only in a work situation, do you think there are limitations on
S; no there are no limitations
R: if you’re, yeah so only at work
R: yeah okay so when do you think speaking a different language than the people around you causes a problem, which would be what we just talked about, when you’re at work and it makes other people feel uncomfortable
S: yes yes
S: yeah you have to have the sense of when it is appropriate or no
R: and…. Okay why is that an issue, why are people uncomfortable. The question is sorry, why do you think this would be regarded as an issue.
S: yeah because you feel like they are talking about customers, especially in the service industry you know, yeah
R: but do you think that’s , is that, coz that’s the only reason I can think of.
S: yeah that’s the only reason.
S: and Especially with Asian languages where there is just no, you have no idea what they’re talking about. Its different with you know European languages where you at least pick up one word or something. But it’s different with Asian languages, no no local.
R: ummm do you think people should learn different languages even if they do not plan on travelling abroad
S: yes definitely, in school
S: uhh because it’s ,eh it trains your brain and its uhhm together like a feeling an understanding of different cultures as well, like every language explains it in a different way, it’s not just translating word by word and its uhm it easier to ummm, to get along in other countries.
R: mmhm, mhm umm do you think it would be useful to employ from diverse linguistic backgrounds in the workplace, and I think..
S: but it depends on which
R: on which work place, yeah
S : so our definitely, mmmm, my old workplace I was also hired for like, I was in umm uhh working for central Eastern Europe, headquarters of central Eastern Europe and uhh I was also hired because I speak Serbo-croatian, it’s my second native language and this is an advantage and also, even if, I only speak one language of all the central Eastern Europe countries, it’s like, easier to uhhm, to as I said before, so understand different culture
S: how you, how you umm interpret also their english.
R: mmhm, so even if you don’t have knowledge of that specific language, having a knowledge of a another language
S: yes, and uh because, when you only learn one language, only speak one language, you easily perceive something as rude, to say this and that. There is for example a customer, she’s, I can tell she’s from Russia and she would say like, Coffee (points) that (points) and this is not rude it’s just like how they do, you know
S: and it would, yeah, if you have no idea of other cultures and language IS another culture, umm, obviously,
S: umm so yes, it’s definitely, should be compulsory. To learn another language as soon as possible
R: mmhm, ummm, how do you feel about having colleagues whose first language is not the same as yours?
S: ummm, I have no feelings. Other colleagues whose, same like me?
R: as in they,
S: they also have
R: I think this question might be directed at someone who is speak, whose first language is english and I didn’t write this question and umm they work with people whose first language isn’t english, because we’re talking about Australians specifically
S: yeah and that’s the thing, when you learn another language, to the uh to the previous question, when you learn another language
R: so which one, the about, , diverse linguistic background, employing people
S: yes so should you should you learn another language
S: so when you have to learn another language you also understand how hard it is for other people to pick up your language and then it’s umm you err you are more uhh careful with your words, you speak slower, you are not impatient or and this is, this affects your conversation and relationship in the end. Because people who only speak one language, you can tell straight away if like, yeah.
R: mmhm, yep umm, yeah so you have no feelings about having colleagues whose first language is not the same as yours?
S: ahh hang on,
R: except what’s your first language? What would be yours first language?
S: my first language is german, my second is Serbs-Croatian,
R:so english is yeah, so we all have a different first language to you really
S: yeah, which is like, as my parents’ first language is serbo-croatian and I would consider my first language as german, I always live like that, to me it is normal you know.
R: okay so, particularly for your experience because
S: yeah it is totally normal, we speak, like in our family home we speak, yeah, not the same language actually.
S: which is weird
R: laughs, okay umm
S: but I also, I have the feeling that I’m more fussy with umm uhh erm being precise you know and using the correct terminology
R: because you’re around native speakers?
S: whereas when you only, naah it’s um, also back home, like I, I don’t like it when you, when people are too lazy with their Wortschatz, with their words, and just ummm assume that you know what you, what they mean
S: so and I think when you yeah, when you speak another language or lets say probably in my case because I grew up bilingual you have to be more careful
R: Okay, uhh and what do you think a customer would feel upon hearing employees speak in a foreign language in umm a workplace
S: probably, in Sydney they wouldn’t have like specific feelings because there are so many immigrants, it’s pretty normal and I never had any bad experience as in as in pfff I’ve never seen any complaints or judging nah nothing it’s just no feelings, totally okay. Whereas like, in Austria where I come from, it’s different, like they expect you to only speak German like, yeah
S: so yeah
R: cool ummm tsshhtshh, okay these questions double up a lot because I don’t think any one read the other peoples questions, uhhh, so the next question is do you find it uncomfortable when hearing a foreign language spoken in your workplace, which we’ve already said is no.
S: yes, but no
R: ahuh, ahh yeah, that’s assuming you don’t understand the language, but you don’t feel uncomfortable when you hear Thai?
S: because I don’t feel uncomfortable with these people, it would be different if the people were like, I know that’s the thing, I know like umm with like each other, there is no reason, but if I felt like yeah
S: like not comfortable then this would probably be on top something not very helpful
R: mmhm okay uhh have you ever observed expressing such discomfort in your workplace,ohh if so could you please write down some of the remarks you have heard people use. You can just say them and I’ll write them later,
S: yes it’s like when our boss complaining we would speak in this strange language[German], or when our little Thai community, but the thing is we are have almost a Thai cafe, like we have four Thai people and they speak very loud as well
R:laughing, ahah I know
S : and it is uhh yeah, but we have so many regulars that why I don’t give a shit, because they find it funny
R: and because they know the people so they have the same thing you do
S: but it would be different, yeah ,but it would be different definitely.
R: so but that’s the only time anyone’s ever mentioned anything about like, expressing discomfort, or whatever, was Jing telling us not to speak in German
R: okay, umm why do you think some people dislike hearing other language in your workplace? Okay if we go back to Jing, why does Jing have a problem, or why do you think Jing has a problem
S: that’s a good question, because is it like,
R: yeah that is actually a good question
S: that’s a good question because I can’t tell, now that I’m thinking about it , I can’t tell if it’s really because the customers, when we speak german like, there is like
R: I feel like you could tell that we’re, that you’re teaching almost
R: because i’m asking questions
S: yes, so that’s why it can’t make feel anyone uncomfortable
R: i’m not fluent enough to, to
S: and its also like you can tell also from the Mimik and from like it’s like we wouldn’t make anyone feel uncomfortable.
R: yeah so like I think it’s probably actually less about the language and more to do, wait do you think it’s about her feeling uncomfortable
S: that’s what I like, yes
R: or about us not doing our jobs, because we get distracted by talking to each other, coz that’s what I thought first, before I thought about her feeling uncomfortable. Coz I don’t think about Jing’s feelings very often.
S: you are right it’s because i’m not working
R: yeah that’s what I thought, because she’s, she’s said things similar to me in the past like
S: and but that thing is it’s ridiculous, because we like, we are both fast workers as well
R: yeah umm, do you think only english should be used in the workplace and why?
S: I mean, we are using english anyways or like
R: but only English, well because the kitchen hands may be using Nepali to talk to each other
S: I don’t give, like I don’t care, if it’s easier to pick up stuff like than please go ahead.
R: so you don’t think that, there should just only be english
S: no there shouldn’t be, maybe like the Thai thing at the coffee machine, maybe this is something
R: not so to do with the actual doing of the job,
S: yeah yea
R: yeah okay
R: umm yeah, okay, how many languages do you speak fluently? Please list them here
S: three, german, serbokroatisch and english
R: umm, among these languages which ones do you use at work?
R: yep, and sometimes
S: serbokroatisch, with like sometimes which is very funny, I’m, I realise then i moved here to Australia because I think in english and in german, but especially in my first year when the word I was looking for like didn’t straight away come to my mind I then thought in serbokroatisch which is very random
S: that was new, so there is like, oooh, mixing up everything
R: okay umm oh okay, then we’re going, specifically into which languages do you use where? In formal work situations, meetings, conferences, interviews, presentations, communication with clients/customers,
S: which is now? Or my previous work?
R: uhhh now, now. At the café
S: english and german
R: any extra comments?
S: (shakes head)
R: we’re nearly there, umm,
S: any extra comments, that’s a good one
R: uhh what are the opportunities or factors that allow you to use these languages ?
S: because my colleague at work is studying german at uni and umm yeah, I’m just offering my pfft, practice with me
R:,mmhm, what are some obstacles at work that might stop you from speaking or using a certain language
R: ummm yeah cool and I guess Jing
R: telling us not to, but probably not for linguistic reasons. Umm okay, oh we’ve got some extra questions that I decided to write. Umm uhhh, what would you consider to be your national identity, ie. Where are you from, with what nationality do you most strongly identify and does that answer differ in different contexts, ie. With work, with friends with strangers blah blah
S: repeat the question, like with what nationality can i..
R: like if someone asked you where you’re from what would you say?
S: that’s a good questions, because that is, I only realised in Australia how difficult it is for me to answer this question. I’m uhh, I would consider myself as European
S: ummm born and raised in Vienna Austria, but my background is a hundred percent from ex-yugoslavia, Bosnia, and uhhm I can’t like, I wouldn’t consider myself as Austrian because the mentality, because I didn’t grow up in that mentality, but I’m also not 100% like Serbian because I grew up in Vienna, so this is I just consider myself as European.
S: yeah I can’t point it to a country and I feel I, it’s also personal, like I don’t I just don’t feel Austrian, although I grew up and I have a passport and everything, but it’s, it’s yeah, it’s totally, it’s a different mindset
S: it’s also, my temperament, it’s not Austrian.
R: what is it?
R: okay alright, umm and would you give a different answer , do you give the same answer, would you give the same answer all the time.
S: no, and I didn’t like, when I, years ago I would tot 100% say Austria, 100% because I couldn’t identify myself with Serbia, this is, this came only like, last couple of years, when I, when I umm, did, how do you say, neglect, reject my background, because I , its, it’s a little bit complicated, I grew up in a uhh, pfff, Austria is, when it comes to immigrants, umm, quite the opposite of Australia
S: it’s uhh it’s not good or I can’t find a better word to, have a different background, it’s all about integrating or adapting, as soon as possible and be like as Austrian as possible. Whereas in Australia diversity is good, it’s perceived as something interesting
S: and so like umm, and especially Serbia, ex-yugoslavia, is seen as a umm, uhh, pfff, uhh, I mean, it’s only you that listens , it’s seen like, here the Indians, you know, like not a country like, a, if you compare here immigrants from Europe or from India, like Europe is higher, like you know and with Serbia it’s like a lower class, working and so my parents lived sort of a life, like I grew up in a district where there were no people from Serbia and also, we never spoke that language umm, because the goal was to to to to be as to have to integrate as soon as possible, to yeah uhh, hide pain, pain off uhh losing your own identify and this is what happened in our family, this is why we speak two different languages. It’s a big big big problem, because my sisters and my my main language is german and this is how we think, and it’s not our, it not my parents language and that’s why we have like massive communication issues, because we don’t speak the same language and umm yeah so, errm back to the question,
R: oh does your answer differ
S: yeah yeah, so I remember I was always like, no i’m not from yugoslavia, i’m Austrian Austrian Austrian and my ex boyfriend came up with this,
R: was that when you were living in Austria
S: yeah that was when I was living, and so he was like umm, errr, not “verleugnen” you’re , tsk, I have to google this, it’s so bad, its like, its really bad, umm, deny, to deny, don’t deny background, that’s your background. I felt like no, i’m not like, I have nothing to do with that country and it took me like almost 30 years to realise I have more in common with that culture than before, but it all happened, like I denied because my parents were not proud of where they’re coming from, because like, it yeah, Austria is not the inviting country for that.
S: so and when I realised that, this is when I started to yeah, to distance myself more and more, because this is obviously, its just shit, because it doesn’t matter where you’re from you should always be proud of where you, and it’s not this nationality thing, it’s just that be proud of who you are,
S: and not like hiding and pretending and being as soon as possible someone who is, fuck off. Like I hate when people say, what, you’re from ex yugoslavia, I would never have guessed, awesome how your parents integrate like wow,
S: like this is , I was only waiting for your compliment, this is not, this is not an achievement, it’s because it was necessary, and that’s a shame
R: but you don’t feel like that here
S: and I feel like, and I also tell my parents, I said, because my parents applied for citizenship
S: but they chose Austria, fuck, but it’s closer to their home, that’s why. I told them, also when I was back now in February, you would have had a better life here
S: because all those two years and I am only surrounded by immigrants, and also at uni with 85% Indians, there was, i’ve never seen a situation where you like you Australians would talk down to an immigrant, never,
S: never, in two years and like in in in, this is different in Austria, there is also they would imitate like bad bad German ,
R: mm yeah,
S: like this is not nice,, you’re not making fun of any, of an accent, unless you know it is nice,
R: yeah it is actually a joke, that everyone is enjoying
S: yes yes yes
R: okay alright, umm, pfftm okay do you think language restrictions at work have an effect on your ethnic and or national identity. As in, you aren’t speaking either of your first language really at work, does that affect you.
S: mmhm (shakes head)
R: no? Okay cool mmhm
R: alright cool, that’s the last question, all done.