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Cultural Education a Must in ESL Classes

Last week, I walked into our small town post office to mail my Christmas cards. A young couple of uncertain foreign origin had gone shopping for gifts to send overseas. According to the woman, they were told that the post office would be happy to send anything overseas for them. They just needed to leave the goods there and the post office would take over the delivery.

The young couple had six large shopping bags with tons of presents. They had no boxes to ship them in; no address or shipping labels. They experienced several obstacles to getting their mission accomplished and were getting frustrated by the minute.

First, they marched right up to the head of the line and plopped their goods on the counter. As the customer standing there was just finished, she scurried to put her wallet in order and get out of the way. The postal clerk asked the couple to go back to the end of the line. They left the bags on the counter and the clerk had to call the couple back to retrieve their goods. The young couple rolled their eyes and took their place in line, not far behind me.

I was summoned forward by another postal clerk. While I was conducting my business, I overheard the interaction between the couple and the other postal clerk. Long story short, the couple interpreted their information that the post office "would be happy to" send anything to mean that the post office would mail their goods for free. They did not have the money to mail their goods.

The couple was of college age I assume. I am not sure where they were from or how long they had been in this country. They had some English behind them, though it was broken. It was evident our postal system was strange to them. The whole encounter was very disheartening to them.

My ignorance precludes me from assuming why the couple seemed to have no prior experience with mailing items at their age. In either case, this is just another example of why educating ESL students and their families about our cultural customs and mores is essential to experiencing success in daily activities.

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