English only in Lidl

It’s been in the news recently that Lidl supermarkets in the UK have a policy that their staff should speak only English to customers, irrespective of their native language in order to ensure that staff and customers “feel comfortable”. Apparently this is “for the benefit of all our customers as well as our staff to ensure a comfortable environment where all feel included.”

The only exception to this is if a customer doesn’t speak any English and a staff member can speak the customer’s language, then they can use that language.

Why anyone would feel uncomfortable or excluded when they hear people speaking other languages I don’t know. It’s not something that happens very often after all.

There has been outrage about this policy in Wales, where according the the Welsh Language Act of 2010, it is illegal to stop staff from speaking in Welsh.

This policy came to light after Polish staff at a Lidl in Kirkcaldy in Scotland were threatened with dismissal for speaking Polish to each other during their breaks and on the shop floor, even though they explained to their manager that many Polish-speaking customers, some of whom who speak little or no English, come to the store because they know that the staff speak Polish [source]. This appears in violation of Lidl’s policy, and could be bad for business.

According to another report I found today, Lidl have clarified their language policy. They said that it was a “great asset” to have such a multi-lingual workforce, and:

“We understand that in certain regions of the UK there are other official languages in use and we welcome the use of these in our stores. We also ask that, if possible, our staff respond to customers in the language in which they are addressed. We absolutely aim to empower and encourage any staff members to use their language skills to assist customers.”

They also said that:

“staff were welcome to speak in their language of choice whilst on breaks, but asked that they consider colleagues who may be sharing the facilities.”

5 thoughts on “English only in Lidl

  1. My usual supermarket has at least one employee who apparently doesn’t speak any German — on two occasions now I’ve seen other employees communicate with him with the aid of a third employee as an interpreter.

    Living in a city that’s 30% immigrants and probably another 15% tourists and travellers and foreign bankers during the day, I hear other languages spoken constantly, but obviously I’m more inclined to listen and try to understand/guess the language than feel excluded.

    I guess I could see it being off-putting to more xenophobic customers? Still a strange policy – how many people can there be who are so scared of foreigners they’ll switch to a presumably less convenient supermarket to avoid being reminded of their existence?

  2. [Addendum]: Aha, that makes more sense. It’s can definitely be annoying/make you feel excluded to be the only person in a conversation situation who doesn’t speak a language and having to ask the others to switch to a shared language.

  3. I used to work in a British office along with one other native German speaker, and whenever we fell into our native language there would be comments and critical looks from colleagues. This was an open office, great atmosphere, yet many colleagues worried that “we might be saying things about them”, and I always felt that that might be the saddest thing in any international community. When another language fosters mistrust, what can we do?

  4. This fear that people speaking a foreign language are saying mean things about you is ridiculous, I’m sure a lot of people say mean things about their coworkers on Facebook or via email, or when they’re alone in a corridor. It’s not as if monoglots never say bad things about other people!

  5. Here in Germany the workers of Lidl speak everything except German, they are tipically very low level immigrate workforce. It’s hard to communicate with them in a plain German.
    Anyway there is nothing wrong with people not talking German, I’m only sad for this poor migrants leaving their country for better and finding a job by Lidl.
    I guess also in Uk is the same.

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