03/21/2012 02:00 pm ET Updated May 21, 2012

Why You Should Tip the Foreign Delivery Guy

We've all been there. You're hungry, maybe you're ordering delivery, or maybe you're going to that place down the street, it's not too expensive. You place your order. The person on the phone, or behind the counter, or with the brown paper bag full of deliciousness on your doorstep, asks you a question. Then, all of a sudden, there's something standing between you and satisfaction... a language barrier.

You have no idea what that person just tried to ask you, so how should you respond? Was he asking a question to clarify what you just said, or was he asking about something else? What possible questions could he even have? I mean, really, how complicated is it to understand a simple food order?

I have a proposition for anyone faced with this situation: before making assumptions about the intelligence of another human being based purely on his knowledge of a second language, take a minute to consider the circumstances. In other words, before you get frustrated, try to put yourself in the shoes of the foreign delivery guy, or girl.

Have you ever lived in a foreign country? Vacationing does not count. I mean living and working in a foreign country with a language barrier and a culture barrier. Yes, the delivery guy made the decision to move to the U.S., so he has to deal with the consequences and difficulties made by that decision. Americans speak English, and so should he -- but how do you know he doesn't speak English? You've hardly spoken with him. You aren't used to his accent, and it's almost impossible to learn a foreign language so well as to speak without an accent. And do you speak clear American English, without a regional dialect of any kind? Very few people do, and the English people speak in language learning classes is very different from the idiomatic phrases and slang more often used in casual conversation in the United States.

As for assumptions made about the foreign delivery guy's intelligence, let me ask you this: are you bilingual? Learning a foreign language is difficult. This man could just be an unintelligent, lazy person uninterested in learning English... or he could have multiple university degrees in his home country. We don't know his motivation to leave his home country and move to the United States, and we don't know how long he's been learning English, or even if he had the opportunity to learn English formally in a classroom setting before moving to the United States.

I'm no foreign delivery girl, but I do work in a bar in Germany. I have a degree and speak German fluently, albeit with an accent. So when someone orders a large beer from tap and makes ridiculous hand gestures, one for "BIG" and the other for "BEER," lifting a hand to his face as if he were holding a beer and drinking it, it's more than a little frustrating. Other than the absurd hand gestures, another common, irritating tendency people have upon hearing my accent is shouting. I mean, literally, almost shouting their order at me, as if being a non-native German speaker somehow makes me hearing impaired. Unfortunately, I've noticed people in the U.S. acting exactly the same way toward non-native English speakers in the food service industry. Although I'm sure there are some foreign delivery people in the U.S. who actually do have hearing impairments, I think I can go out on a limb here and make the assumption that it's a small minority. So please, America, be patient, and quit it with the ridiculous hand gestures and shouting. I know you're hungry. But please try to stay respectful in dealing with non-native English speakers in food service -- it's a hard job, and a language barrier makes it harder. And don't forget to tip the foreign delivery guy.