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9:58pm on Sunday, 22nd May, 2005:

In English?


The workshop I just went to was at ZKM, which is a national German multimedia museum placed in Karlsruhe basically for political reasons (supposedly regenerating the area but actually just failing as a museum). All the exhibits were, naturally enough, in German. One of the people on the workshop had a look round, but didn't speak German so asked if they had an English translation of the guidebook. They didn't, and he was rather annoyed by this. What kind of national museum doesn't have an English guidebook? Or an English exhibition commentary?

The thing is, this guy is Finnish. He didn't expect them to have a Finnish guidebook, but he was angry they didn't have an English one. Throughout my day there, although I was wary of speaking English to Germans, he (and the Dutch and the Danes) didn't think twice about it. They just spoke English to Germans as if they expected they'd be understood. They were understood, too.

My concerns that my speaking English at Germans in Germany without at least an embarrassed "do you speak English?" first might be somewhat arrogant were thus not upheld. Karlsuhe is right next to the French border, but none of the taxi-drivers or waitresses or hotel staff I talked with spoke French. They all, however, spoke English. I'm going to have to change my mental model of Germany now (although given that the last time I was there was in1972, it's well in need of updating!).

Englishman: Do you speak English?
German: Nein.
Englishman: Parlez-vous Francais?
German: Oui.
Englishman: Thank goodness! Parlez-vous Anglais?

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Copyright © 2005 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).