Do You. Understand the Words. That Are Coming Out of My Mouth?

Ah, Chris Tucker, you were a king in the 90s.

Anyway, I thought after the last post that I should elaborate more on how language is no barrier at all in how we conduct business here. I will get the one exception out of the way immediately, though: I do have foreigners who do not speak English well, if at all, come into the shop from time to time. Often, they’ll come in with a friend or family member to help out, but it’s still difficult.

The language barrier has led to many problems throughout history; retail is no exception. Once we get beyond that, though, we’re all just people, and many of the foreigners I deal with who have issues with English are very pleasant and courteous.

Then there are the flight students…

The flight students are the bane of my existence, the source of the majority of my problems. Most of them (I’d say around 90%) are foreign students who train here and then return to fly in their home countries. Admittance to this flight school seems to be a little as answering “yes” to the question, “Can you pay the tuition?” I wish I were exaggerating. If they had to pass a test to get into the school or meet any other requirements, they might not be as completely useless in my store as they are.

The other week, I had a visit from one of my more despised regulars. If you’ve been following my twitter for any length of time, you’ve seen him mentioned. He is a chore. Every time he comes in, I can expect to have to repeat myself on every explanation at least twice, usually more. I have come to refer to him by the name “Big Boss” because he always calls me that. I don’t know why, but he does every time. If you’ve ever worked in the service industry, then you know how much we love pet names from our customers. (If you haven’t worked in the service industry, we don’t like pet names. Not at all.)

When he came in on this particular time, he could sense my frustration with him not listening to me. So, he said to me, “You have to be patient with me. English is not my first language.”


Here is why this is just an excuse to cover for his own laziness. These flight students, despite coming from other countries, speak English decently to excellently. They can read it well. They can comprehend it well. So well, in fact, that they can receive instruction in English, read highly technical textbooks in English, and take FAA-administered type rating examinations in English. If you can do that, ESL is not a hindrance; it becomes a scapegoat.

He asks me questions constantly, and I provide as simple of an answer as I can. He just doesn’t listen. For example, one time, he brought up a package of sheet protectors that are made to fit a kneeboard. (A kneeboard is essentially a trapper-keeper for pilots. It’s a small binder strapped to the pilot’s leg that keeps important information available at a moment’s notice. Usually, they come in four- and seven-ring configurations.) The packaging makes it clear what the product is and how it is used.

“So, are these the sleeves for the kneeboard?” he asks.


“And you can put pages in it?”


“And how do I put it into the kneeboard?” asks the man who uses a kneeboard every day he’s in an airplane.

“If your kneeboard has them, you put rings in holes in the spines and then those rings go through the holes in the sleeves.” At this point, I can’t believe I’m having to explain to a grown man how binders work.

“Oh, I see, I see. And you can put any pages in there?”

“Anything that will fit in them, yeah.”

“Will it fit approach plates?”

Considering that they’re made for them, yeah. “Yes.”

“Okay, okay, I see, I see.”

This is how all of our conversations go. I spend way too much time explaining simple products that not only explain themselves on the packaging, but are also used by him and his fellow student pilots every single day.

This is not a language barrier; this is laziness. This is him looking around his world and seeing very little. He wanders in the dark waiting for someone to shine the flashlight around for him. I have a great deal of patience and understanding for someone who legitimately struggles with language, but if you use that as an excuse, as a crutch, for your indolence. This is a dangerous excuse for anyone, let alone a student pilot.

To add more fuel to this fire is the fact that his best friend at the flight school is another notorious regular at my shop: Minivan Moron, named so because he drives a minivan and is a moron. Minivan Moron once came to my shop three days in a row because he, apparently, couldn’t figure out how to work scissors to trim down a checklist that was just about a quarter inch too wide for the kneeboard sleeves he had. Three. Days. In. A. Row. That is the company Big Boss keeps. These are men in their late thirties or early forties. It blows me away constantly.

It all boils down to the perception that the majority of my customers, who are grown adults, come into my store expecting to be taken by the hand and led through this tiny store, which I personally set up with ease of navigation in mind, and they will use anything to excuse their laziness. Most of them can’t even find a chart in an alphabetized grouping. Hell, most of them don’t even know what area they’re flying in. I don’t care if you are a foreigner. When I travel, I know where the hell I am in the world. It’s just good to know.

They constantly amaze me. That is why I study them.

-The Retail Explorer