Monday, February 04, 2008

No Matter What, I Speak American

I have just about given up on learning German. It is pointless. No matter how hard I try to speak it (and I am finally to the point where I can say basic things and do transactions without thinking about it), I get a reply in English.

Ok. I know my German's not perfect, and I have an accent, but my language skills will never get beyond intermediate because no one gives me a chance.

Thus, while the world sometimes blames Americans for being so, well, English-speaking, I have to say: this is not always the American's complete fault. Because there are two sides to any conversation. And for me in Europe, one side usually consists of English. And this side is not usually mine.

Most co-workers, impatient with my slow speaking or stumbling (whichever may be the case depending how tired I am), talk to me in English. This weekend, both in Zurich and in Vienna, I spoke German and was answered back in English. At the Zurich airport, when I ordered a sandwich. At the hotel in Vienna when I said I had a room reserved. And at many other restaurants, cafes, concert halls and other places throughout Vienna. Despite the English replies, I would continue my German, and they would continue their English.

In German-speaking Europe, I'm always having a two-language conversation. Therefore my German listening comprehension never improves despite my best efforts.

So in conclusion, let's not always blame the American for not learning another language; the rest of the world is also at fault for one main reason: they know English. Because in most major cities in Western and Eastern Europe you don't need any other language to survive.

Even the hotel clerk in Vienna called the airport/train station to see if we could check our bags early. When she started asking about it in German, the person on the line said, no, "English only please." And she switched easily. But still. In her own town she can't survive without English.

So with that, I'll say "Auf Wiedersehen." And please answer back with a hearty "Good-bye."


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