A video of two women, who are the owners of Cannoli by Café Soul in Islamabad, mocking the café’s manager for not being fluent in English went viral on the internet this week.
#BoycottCannoli trended online and even Prime Minister Imran Khan weighed in on the issue when he said on Thursday that he doesn’t use English phrases in public because it would be disrespectful to the majority of Pakistani citizens who don’t speak or understand the language.
The elitist and classist owners were criticised on social media as well as mainstream media, but it seems that they remain unfazed by all the backlash. An ‘apology’ was posted by them on the café’s social media pages but it was anything but an apology. It said that this was just a banter with a team member.
“We are not required to prove or defend ourselves as kind employers. Our team has been with us for a decade, that should speak for itself,” it said further. This non-apology led to more outrage and rightly so. There was no remorse in the apology, no acknowledgment that they did anything wrong, no sincerity. The thing that the owners need to realise is that not just their video but their so-called apology reeks of elitism, classism and workplace harassment.
Unfortunately, these two women are not the only ones who are elitist but that as a class-based society, which is very conscious of status, many of us are very much part of the problem. We forget that we have no control over where we are born and being born in a privileged family is just an accident of birth.
We have complexes about speaking in English, how being fluent in the English language opens up a lot of doors for us in the job market as well as society, how a certain accent would show that we come from a privileged background because we went to the ‘right’ schools and colleges.
We all make fun of Meera jee’s English, we criticise our cricketers for not speaking proper English (remember Inzi’s ‘boys did well’?), we don’t treat the English language as just a medium of communication but as a status symbol.
We hope that all of us have learned something from this unfortunate incident, which is to treat our employees with kindness and compassion and also not insult someone for not knowing the English language. Our society needs to break the barriers of class and be more tolerant and less judgmental.