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Travelin' Tales: English language doesn't quite make it in Europe

 article about Travelin Tales: English language doesnt quite make it in Europe
2004-11-21 09:34:24
In Europe, we expect people to know the English language. In theory it is a very wide-spread language that people should understand. However, this isn't so. That's what I have found during my trips through the Baltic states, Poland, Germany and France.

People in Germany do speak English. However, the people in the other beformentioned countries don't and travelers might get into problems in there. The first Latvian truck driver who gave me a ride in Latvia (a country with 2,5 million people) proved it. In addition to Latvian language he could only speak Russian. And he cursed everyone who could only speak English and of course, I was included in his curses. At least that's what I think he said, but my Russian skills are not the best. I didn't really mind and taking all together, he was still very polite and funny guy, but I only understood a quarter of what he was saying. Usually I watched his body language and made my own conclusions. If a man's middle finger rises, it can't really be anything related to something vulgar, can it?

Things didn't change much in Lithuania where I found a Polish truck driver who was willing to take me to Poland. We spoke via imaginary sign language a lot. After all, his Russian wasn't too good, but definitely better than mine.

The French people

If you are going to France, hoping that French people speak good English, then generally speaking, it's a really stupid hope. Forget it, forget it now. Mostly, only those French people who have also traveled themselves speak English . I speak English like a Spanish cow was said to me by one French actress in Avignon.

When I got to a small French town called Haugenau, which is about 50km from Strasbourg I tried to get a train ticket to another small town Chalon sur Saone. There was no one in the station who spoke English. How would you pronounce the town name if you didn't speak French at all? I pronounced it exactly the way I read it. No one understood what I was saying. It took me about 15 minutes to let the people know where I wanted to go finally I just showed them on the map. And then for the next 5 minutes they tried to tell me something. Eventually I understood there was no train that day to Chalon sur Saone.

I had a friend in France in Chalon and he was working with a theatre festival called Chalon Dans La Rue in there. And I had a chance to help them out. However, everyone else working with the festival was French, and I couldn't speak French at all. It seemed that out of 25 people who worked in there, only a few could speak a few sentences of English. But after two weeks I learned that almost everyone can speak at least just a bit.

Why aren't they speaking? I have two possible reasons for it. Both were suggested by French guys themselves. One is that the French are just too proud to speak another language in their own country. The other is that they are just too shy and they think they can't speak English well enough. Both possibilities might be true. The more I learned about those people, the more they spoke English with me. And of course, the more everyone drank alcohol, the more we could communicate. But that's usual.

When traveling, be prepared to learn and speak many more different languages than just English. Because with just English you can't really handle. And that's the truth.

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