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July 24, 2008

Comments

"every German under the age of 40 speaks English – most of them fluently. (Why is that by the way?)"

Because Reagan freed half of them, duh!

If Angela Merkel were to do a tour of the US, how many bloggers would be outraged at the covert Nazism if she passed out material in German?

Maybe I'm missing something.

Obama's giving a speech in Germany. It's sponsored by his campaign. The campaign put together a flyer for the speech. The flyer is in German, which is the language they speak in Germany.

To repeat the relevant point: German is the language they speak in Germany. Which is to say, in Germany, they speak German.

Because they are Germans.

The problem here is... what, exactly?

Thanks -

To repeat the relevant point: German is the language they speak in Germany. Which is to say, in Germany, they speak German.
Look, if they want to come over here and tenjoy our country, they'd better learn to spea-- er...

you're not missing anything -- it was an uncharacteristically silly post by ruffini

Publius,

I don't think the fact that Obama's flyer was in German was the issue of Ruffini's post. He says:

So, this isn't just some sober, high-minded foreign policy speech, part of a foreign trip occurring under the auspices of his official Senate office. It is a campaign rally occuring on foreign soil. They are using the same tactics to turn out Germans to an event as they would to any rally right here in America.

The post was more about the hubris of the Obama campaign to throw good U.S. diplomacy in the dumpster, and just pander to a domestic audience for votes. You don't see a lot of State Dept. people overseas wearing campaign buttons when they conduct business with their foreign counterparts, but a lot of them probably have their political leanings...same goes for the military overseas.

As for speaking foreign languages, I admit to sucking bad in that department. Did you try the point, smile, and nod your head tactic? Seems to be universal.

I think Ruffini was miffed because the flyer said the rally(well security and staging) was paid for by Obama for America(ie. the campaign). What difference that makes, I don't know. I presume the campaign checked it out and it is all legal. In that case, Ruffini is just jealous because McCain might only get two or three hundred Germans to show up.

I suppose a valid point could be made that Obama will be speaking in English (he's a typical monolingual American after all) so any Berliner that can't read an English-language invitation might not be worth inviting to be in the audience.

Of course, "audience" is not quite the right word. The crowd will be a prop; the real audience will be on TV. And not just American TV, either. For the convenience of a world-wide TV audience, English is the way to go.

By the way, I have had Publius's experience many times in Europe. Even in France :-) My favorite linguistic experience, however, was eavesdropping on a conversation between an Algerian and a Bulgarian in a beach-side bar in Greece. I had to listen for about ten minutes before I caught on that they were speaking English to each other. My prediction is that English will soon be the universal language -- though in a form that Americans and Englishmen will hardly understand.

-- TP

Du hast recht: es ist doch sicher, dass es keinen (in Deutschland) stoert, dass Obama ein Plakat IN DER LANDESSPRACHE verteilt, und ein Plakat auf englisch waere unziemlich gewesen.

Der Ruffini hat ja nichts zwischen den Ohren. Warum man ihn ueberhaupt liest ist mir ein Raetsel.

LT Nixon- I think the argument could be made that the POTUS's reponsibilities are of such importance that getting the rest of the world excited could be a legitimate campaign tactic.

That is to say that Obama showing Americans that Germans etc. like him and are willing to give his vision of America a shot shows me that he can gain international cooperation for global problem X. (Not that other nations should have a veto of American policy.)

Basically what I'm trying to say is that a candidate's ability to win friends and influence people abroad is a positive trait, its just a matter of how they demonstrate that. Hopefully I didn't stumble my way through that too badly. As you can see, I'm probably not the one to make such an argument.

every German under the age of 40 speaks English – most of them fluently. (Why is that by the way?)

Might have something to do with the hundreds of thousands of American military who were stationed in kasernes and bases all over West Germany for forty years or more.

MrDewNotYou,

Don't get me wrong, I actually thought Obama going to Iraq, Israel, and elsewhere a good thing (commitment to good relations, diplomacy being a proper function of the federal government, etc.), but flying Obama balloons above Berlin...I dunno...

Brett: :)

Generally: one big difference that his campaign's paying for the flyers makes is that the alternative is to pay for them with taxpayer money. (E.g., as part of a Senate trip.) Paying for them with campaign money is just obviously more appropriate.

Germans under 40 speak perfect English because (a) They are taught English in school (b) they watch English-language TV and films subtitled in German. (They get the BBC and they don't even have to pay the licence fee, dammit.)

LT Nixon- As long as they aren't Obama zeppelins... ^.^

I'm a little more ambivalent on Obama abroad. I like the fact that everyone loves him, but we already knew about his popularity. I'd just as soon see him make his speech in some German-American community and read about the German response, if only to avoid the whining from some that he acts like he's already president. (I'm thinking Hannity, but I could be wrong. I might be repressing whenever I accidently hear him.)

Then again saying, "Screw you, we care about the rest of the world," is probably a good thing the Left should be doing more often.

MeDrewNotYou: Then again saying, "Screw you, we care about the rest of the world," is probably a good thing the Left should be doing more often.

To the rest of the world, Obama isn't "the Left": he's right-wing running to the right. (The Republicans are so far right-wing that in most countries they couldn't get elected.) Americans have a political system where, at a national level, it's become impossible for the Left to have party representation.

To the rest of the world, too, if Obama wanted to sound like he cared, it would be better if he were saying outright that he plans to investigate and prosecute those guilty of kidnapping, torture, and murder, rather than having his close adviser Cass Sunstein declare that that's not going to happen.

I really think that language acquisition, like many things, is really just about incentives. A lot of German students are very aware that not having proficient English on your resume will limit your options after university. I lived and worked abroad for a number of years and was lucky enough to pick up a few languages. Having lived back in the U.S. for several years, potential employers have always seemed to think my (now decrepit) language skills are amusing but basically irrelevant.

In Germany, unlike much of the U.S., being skilled with foreign languages also confers considerable status on the speaker. This means that for a German student there can be a financial and social payoff to speaking English.

BTW, while Germans' English skills are above average in Europe the Scandinavians are the ones who really blow my mind. With some I have really forgotten that English was not their native language and that their light accent wasn't just an uncommon native accent like Welsh; their comfort level and idiomatic English is really getting that good.

Even if your German is pretty good, they act annoyed and insist on speaking English to you, regardless of how poor their command of the language is.

Americans are dumb, get it.

Jes- On a little reflection, I think you're right that Obama isn't too far to the left on an 'absolute' scale. I stand corrected there, so a bit of a modification.

"Then again saying, "Screw you, we care about the rest of the world," is probably a good thing the Democrats should be doing more often."

Whether or not Obama is the person to be saying that is another matter.

MeDrewNotYou: "Then again saying, "Screw you, we care about the rest of the world," is probably a good thing the Democrats should be doing more often."

Whether or not Obama is the person to be saying that is another matter.

Thank you for the modification. Who else, then, should be saying it on behalf of the Democrats if the presumptive Democratic nominee for President shouldn't?

Obama Zeppelins would have been totally awesome. Ron Paul's blimp would be nothing in comparison!
Mein Traum ist nach Friedrichshafen zu fahren um leichter als Luft zu bleiben. They are the most beautiful aircraft mankind has ever made.

Might have something to do with the hundreds of thousands of American military who were stationed in kasernes and bases all over West Germany for forty years or more.

Not really, US troops had very little impact on German society. The dominance of US (and to a lesser extent UK) cultural output (movies, TV, music) was much more important.

To speak German on a level that is understood by Germans is a wee bit more difficult than to reach the same level in English.
If you want to study a natural science these days, English is mandatory because most of the relevant literature is in English (and the textbooks are much cheaper, even if the original autor wrote in German and the book is a translation).
Many German have a bad conscience/feeling speaking German outside the borders because they think it could be considered offensive (the way German or the German accent is used in US movies may play a part in that too). Overcompensating the Herrenmenschen attitude of yesterday to a degree.
---
I intend to be part of the "prop" for Obama's speech, if the crowd is not too big. I'll have to wear other shoes though. My normal ones are security boots with lots of steel in them and there will be metal detectors.
---
As I said in another thread, nobody stops the Son of Cain from coming here too. German papers notoriously describe him as a moderate and Bush opponent seen as "too liberal" by his own party. Even Nixon was able to gain respect by not hiding.
http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2397/2065088051_65c8ba39a9.jpg?v=0>Nixon in Berlin on car

Perhaps McCain should travel to Frankfurt in order to proclaim, "Ich bin ein Frankfurter". It would be about his speed.

Btw, a zeppelin (as opposed to a blimp) would have been available.

My most disconcerting moment talking foreign languages was in the Italian lakes. I asked a shopkeeper for something in my limited Italian and got responded to in German. A lot of German tourists go to the area, so it was a reasonable guess, but though my German is slightly better than my Italian, I was completely thrown by the switch in language and couldn't think of anything to say in either language. (The brain's automatic responses to language problems are weird. My aunt, when she met people in Germany who couldn't speak English was apparently prone to switch unthinkingly into Swahili, because as a retired from Africa missionary that was what her unconscious brain told her non-English speaking people would understand).

I think Publius' bar experience was unfortunate. Even in parts of Europe where I expect people's English to be good (most of the West) I usually start off with my very limited foreign language. That conveys respect for their culture, while allowing them to switch into English and show off their superior command of languages, thus I hope getting them feeling positive towards me. I suspect Obama's flyer works on the same basic principle.

Harald, you could also come to London!

Photo Essay

"The post was more about the hubris of the Obama campaign to throw good U.S. diplomacy in the dumpster,"

How did he do that?

In Germany, unlike much of the U.S., being skilled with foreign languages also confers considerable status on the speaker. This means that for a German student there can be a financial and social payoff to speaking English.

Jah. Europe is just a teeny bit different from the US. In Europe, in a day trip, you can cross through three or more places where the native language is different from yours. Possibly more. From where I live, it takes a trip of at least twelve hundred miles to reach Mexico, and nearly as much to reach French-speaking Canada. You could get either place in a couple of days, if you pushed it. And if there are other languages that close at hand, odds are that some of them are coming to visit near you, as well.

I know: obvious. But somehow it all gets forgotten when Americans get decried for not learning other languages. We just don't get nearly as easy access to people who speak those languages as native tongue. My German, for instance, is extremely rusty.

Using my barbarous guidebook German, I accidentally ordered "penis" in my coffee instead of milk in Vienna. The waiters at the Sacher Hotel laughed at me.

"Jah. Europe is just a teeny bit different from the US. In Europe, in a day trip, you can cross through three or more places where the native language is different from yours."

Where I grew up, it was only the house next door, and a bunch of houses on the block, and the next block, and the next and the next.

Didn't make for all that many more New Yorkers learning foreign languages, though.

"We just don't get nearly as easy access to people who speak those languages as native tongue."

Actually, tens of millions of us do. Anyone in a large city, certainly. And I hear that, in fact, Spanish is spoken so widely that it's, like, a crisis or something. I have trouble reconciling this fact with your claim. Americans really don't have "easy access" to people who speak Spanish, Cantonese, Russian, German, and so forth? Most Americans? Really?

It is a campaign rally occuring on foreign soil.

Is it unprecedented, or even unusual, for a candidate to make a high-visibility speech in another country during a campaign?

I don't know the answer to this, I'm just curious if anyone else does.

Thanks -

"I don't know the answer to this, I'm just curious if anyone else does."

I love me the softball.

Wouldn't catch John McCain doing that kind of thing!

It's not actually all that usual, though.

From Tony P: My favorite linguistic experience, however, was eavesdropping on a conversation between an Algerian and a Bulgarian in a beach-side bar in Greece. I had to listen for about ten minutes before I caught on that they were speaking English to each other. My prediction is that English will soon be the universal language -- though in a form that Americans and Englishmen will hardly understand.

I agree, except that I would say "in forms that their various speakers will hardly understand across linguistic boundaries." It won’t just be that Americans and Englishmen will hardly understand some other form of English, there will be lots of variants that will be mutually half-unintelligible.

My son has a college friend from Singapore, who speaks English with (from my point of view) a heavy accent. I asked him what his native language is, and he said, "I have two: Mandarin, and English." Then he demonstrated how completely unintelligible his native English would be to me if he weren't cleaning it up for a non-Singaporean.

This isn't really even a new phenomenon, it’s just an expanding one. When I was in Scotland a couple of weeks ago, I could mostly understand Scottish people when they were talking to me, because they were making an effort to be understood by a foreigner (English-speaking, mind you). But if I tried to follow a conversation that didn’t involve me, between local people on the bus let’s say, forget it! (Ditto in Ireland on my first trip in 1979.)

Then again even further, I don’t have to go overseas, or listen to people who grew up in Asia, to experience this phenomenon. I can go to parts of Maine where the local accent is so thick that I'll be da**ed if I can figure out what they're saying.

That’s all mostly about accents. But there’s also a phenomenon -- Spanglish in the Mexico-US border area is an example -- that goes beyond different accents, to where the languages are trading vocabulary and maybe even some elements of sentence structure.

Great book on this and other cool language stuff: The Power of Babel, by John McWhorter.

Is it unprecedented, or even unusual, for a candidate to make a high-visibility speech in another country during a campaign?

That's an interesting question. As Gary notes, and Gary's Baltimore Sun link points out, there's not a lot there (I think that McCain's France visit and Giuliani's UK visit were in trying to win the nomination and are so quite different from Obama's visit as the Dem nominee) And McCain's visit to Colombia certainly didn't seem to embody the same qualities. This Broder column, while containing this clinker paragraph,

On the other hand, his saying that there was no way to know what would have happened in Iraq if the United States had followed his advice to start the withdrawal of troops two years ago rather than embarking on the "surge" seemed disingenuous. Obama still has trouble admitting when he is wrong.

which is total bs to me, seems to get at something of the nature of Obama's trip. The rest of the column suggests, in that oh so Broderian way, how different this trip really is. Is it something that, as Broder suggests, Obama lucked into because of divine providence or did Obama know what he was doing when he planned this? Or was it simply because McCain goaded him into it, and simply going to Iraq would have been a little too obvious?

I'd like to think of this trip as paradigm-shifting, but that is probably taking it way too far. You have to go back to JFK, I think, to think of a president who courted world public opinion (and JFK's trip to Ireland, albeit as a president, comes to mind in this context) I think that other presidents travel overseas to make points to domestic audiences (though Clinton also received a rapturous welcome in Ireland, iirc, though I think the suggestion was that he was going there cause no one would talk to him at home) and recent examples would be Reagan at Pont du Hoc and Bush 1 in Japan (though I'm sure he didn't intend to make the splash that he did). Of course, Nixon going to China is in a different realm altogether, and other overseas trips that I can think of were summits of one kind or another, so it wasn't to meet people but to meet other heads of states.

By paradigm shifting, I think that having a president that makes an effort to actually be well liked overseas (and I think JFK is the model in that regard) rather than a president who places himself in opposition to foreign opinion or who runs to the arms of foreign opinion to escape domestic scrutiny would be a rather big shift. To me, this links up with the Washington Monthly article that Kevin Drum blogged about here.

A funny story, OT but since we're talking partly about languages:

I was walking out of Harvard Square last night, back down Mass. Ave. toward where I stay when I'm here. Two young Asian women stopped me and asked if I would help them. I said I'd try. One of them said, carefully, slowly, and with a very non-local accent: "We are looking for tea."

I paused to try to think of how to give them directions to the one tea house I know of in the Square, and was thinking that I don’t even know if it’s still there, because I don’t go there much and a lot of businesses have disappeared from the Square lately. Into this pause for thought, the second young women said, very bright and hopeful, “Subway.”

I chuckled to myself, and pointed up the street to where the T stop is.

Well, okay, I’m a little obsessed with tea, and I think these folks were Chinese, and there’s that whole thing about “all the tea in China,” and anyhow I first learned to drink tea when I first left home and ate my first Chinese food in a Chinese restaurant...

Funny what a little personal obsession, and the lack of “the,” will do for mutual comprehension.

Actually, tens of millions of us do.

Not to be confused with hundreds of millions of us. Nicely done in-kind countering of argument-by-assertion, though. I say that with all kiddingness and self-deprecation, and minimal snark.

I'm not attempting to make an argument so much as a rationalization, understand, but over two-thirds of America speaks English as a first language. Wikipedia says it's more like 80%, with Spanish being a distant second and Chinese languages (as a group) being a VERY distand third.

And my point was not so much lack of access; it was more lack of necessity. The number of Cantonese-speaking people I'm likely to ever run into on a day-to-day basis, that don't happen to speak English, is fairly small.

Gary Farber: I'd say immigrants are different. It's kind of part of the deal that they learn to speak the language of the country they live in. But when it is you who are coming from the outside, you don't expect the natives to make all the effort.

Since going "outside" in this sense is not many hours of travel from where I sit, it's no surprise we learn more languages compared to New Yorkers.

Using my barbarous guidebook German, I accidentally ordered "penis" in my coffee instead of milk in Vienna.

Odd. Milk translates as Milch, which doesn't sound like any German word for penis that I'm aware of. Cream translates as Sahne, but again, I don't know any German words for penis that sound like that.

Of course, it could be Austrian slang. Fargan Austrians.

magistra: " Even in parts of Europe where I expect people's English to be good (most of the West) I usually start off with my very limited foreign language. That conveys respect for their culture, while allowing them to switch into English and show off their superior command of languages, thus I hope getting them feeling positive towards me. I suspect Obama's flyer works on the same basic principle."

Yep. I have also found that if you can manage to learn even the teensiest snippet of another language, people from countries whose languages are not widely taught will be more grateful than you can imagine. (I learned this when I somehow managed to put together the sentence "Greece is very beautiful", in modern Greek. I do not look at all Greek. The effects of my saying this were really astonishing.)

somehow it all gets forgotten when Americans get decried for not learning other languages. We just don't get nearly as easy access to people who speak those languages as native tongue.

On the other hand, a great many people in the U.S. have ready access to people who speak Spanish -- a relatively easy place to start in learning a second language.

Has English displaced German as the must-know language for chemistry? My father taught German, and half his classes were scientific German for the chemistry and engineering students.

I recall being in France and getting into a somewhat stumbling - on both sides - French conversation with a stranger.

After a few minutes he asked,

"Vous etes Francais?"
"Non. Je suis Americain."

"Ah," he said. "I'm from London. Maybe we could just speak English."

From Bhutan, to Ethiopia, to Myanmar, to...everywhere....children are taught English from the beginning in primary school.

It is becoming a universal language.

I seem to remember an interesting article a number of years ago (in the MLA Journal, I think) that dealt with affective motivation for learning foreign languages and found that even though Americans have more access to Spanish speakers, because many associate Spanish with low prestige occupations, language acquisition was skewed. I can't remember how the argument was supported, but the point that access to a foreign language is not yes/no question, but nuanced seems apropos.

I also find a similar phenomenon with children attending international schools here in Japan. What happens is that the home language is Japanese and the school language is English, but most international schools have a large number of Japanese nationals whose parents want them to acquire English and so, non-native English is tolerated to a certain extent. Often times, these kids acquire very relaxed Japanese (because they are primarily speaking to their parents) and non-native English, because that is the lingua franca of the international school. This tends to limit their job opportunities because they can't speak formal Japanese, but are not fluent enough to work in jobs that require native level English.

Bernard,
Having lived in a French ski town on two separate occasions, I've had the same experience several times. Always funny.

Once, when I was giving directions to some lost British tourists I suggested we switch to English. The fellow I was speaking was immediately relieved, until his girlfriend butted in and declared, "NO! Switch back to French. He needs to practice!"

Almost all university-educated Germans will be able to at least somewhat speak English because their school curriculum forces them to be able to do so: you must study one foreign language for at least 9 years (this language is now usually English, though in the distant past it was often Greek, Latin or French) and another foreign language for at least 3 years. If you don't learn your primary foreign language, they don't let you into university. The system is similar in the Nordic countries (indeed, their education systems were initially simply copies of the German one many years ago).

Besides, literature written in English is a huge deal in the history of German literature. The German romantics went completely crazy for Shakespeare, for instance.

From what I gathered, every German under the age of 40 speaks English – most of them fluently. (Why is that by the way?)

I have an opinion on why Germans in Germany can speak English well, but Mexicans in America can’t. Please warn me before banishment.

The IQ tables indicate that Germans average 102 and Mexicans average 87.

Almost all university-educated Germans will be able to at least somewhat speak English because their school curriculum forces them to be able to do so: you must study one foreign language for at least 9 years (this language is now usually English, though in the distant past it was often Greek, Latin or French) and another foreign language for at least 3 years. If you don't learn your primary foreign language, they don't let you into university. The system is similar in the Nordic countries (indeed, their education systems were initially simply copies of the German one many years ago).

Besides, literature written in English is a huge deal in the history of German literature. The German romantics went completely crazy for Shakespeare, for instance.

"the whole thing is also a sad reflection on our own inability to speak other languages"

Why do you hate American?

Brett hat gesagt: "Warum man ihn ueberhaupt liest ist mir ein Raetsel."

Mir auch.

From what I gathered, every German under the age of 40 speaks English – most of them fluently. (Why is that by the way?)

A fact I only discovered after finishing my major in German language.

"Germans under 40 speak perfect English because (a) They are taught English in school (b) they watch English-language TV and films subtitled in German."

Just for the record: (a) is true, (b) not so much. All movies are dubbed - the German market is big enough for that. The only thing English on German radio and TV are pop music and maybe MTV (you can get BBC and some Turkish etc. channels on cable but I don't think many Germans watch them). (b) is true for the Scandinavian countries, as far as I know. _And_ they have better schools.

Nell:

It's been said for decades -- since the 70s, at least -- that "the universal language of science is broken English." In my experience this is completely true. I took German in college, thinking it would help with science, and ended up using it for history of science.

sven:

I have been told that the reason the Scandanavians have such superb English is that their languages are spoken by too few people for them to get anything dubbed. *Everything* in Scandanavia is subtitled, while the German market (for instance) is 100 million people, well worth the extra expense of dubbing.

Nell:

It's been said for decades -- since the 70s, at least -- that "the universal language of science is broken English." In my experience this is completely true. I took German in college, thinking it would help with science, and ended up using it for history of science.

sven:

I have been told that the reason the Scandanavians have such superb English is that their languages are spoken by too few people for them to get anything dubbed. *Everything* in Scandanavia is subtitled, while the German market (for instance) is 100 million people, well worth the extra expense of dubbing.

Now *that* was a bizarre double post -- I only hit "Post" once, filled out one @#()&* captcha form, and got a "cannot connect to server" message.

Perhaps McCain should travel to Frankfurt in order to proclaim, "Ich bin ein Frankfurter". It would be about his speed.

Well, I've seen a number of people claiming that Kennedy's celebrated "Ich bin ein Berliner" remark is best translated as "I am a jelly doughnut."

I had a similar Berlin story that also says a lot about German culture.

I was crossing a street as I would in the US -- confirm that there isn't any traffic, then start walking -- when a policeman started shouting at me for crossing against the Don't Walk sign. I stammered out, ich.... spreche.... nur ein bisschen..... So he proceeded to berate me with equal fluency in English!

I love languages myself, so it particularly pains me that this country is so far behind in language-learning. Ah well, there's always England and France in the same boat.

(Oh, and just to be really picky.... shouldn't the title be Kein Berliner?) :)

I had a similar Berlin story that also says a lot about German culture.

I was crossing a street as I would in the US -- confirm that there isn't any traffic, then start walking -- when a policeman started shouting at me for crossing against the Don't Walk sign. I stammered out, ich.... spreche.... nur ein bisschen..... So he proceeded to berate me with equal fluency in English!

I love languages myself, so it particularly pains me that this country is so far behind in language-learning. Ah well, there's always England and France in the same boat.

(Oh, and just to be really picky.... shouldn't the title be Kein Berliner?) :)

When I was a PhD candidate in chemistry, the only use I got out of my German was when I took the required language exam, and once when I helped a fellow grad student translate an old article she needed for her research. My being in biophysical chemistry rather than, say, inorganic may have made a difference.

Wikipedia entry on the "Berliner" thing.

(Oh, and just to be really picky.... shouldn't the title be Kein Berliner?) :)

I'm going back into the alcohol-damaged recesses of my memory here...

but I think you use "kein" only when you trying to say you have zero items. for instance, i don't have any apple strudel (kein Afpelstrudel).

but i don't think you'd say "I'm not a doctor" by saying "kein". (i.e., NOT Ich bin kein Doctor).

german-speakers -- am I right?

"Actually, tens of millions of us do. Anyone in a large city, certainly. And I hear that, in fact, Spanish is spoken so widely that it's, like, a crisis or something. I have trouble reconciling this fact with your claim. Americans really don't have 'easy access' to people who speak Spanish, Cantonese, Russian, German, and so forth? Most Americans? Really?"

Gary, someone made the point earlier, but speaking from personal experience living in Germany for 3 years...

There is a VAST difference between having 'access' to someone who speaks German or Cantonese or whatever, and needing, really *needing*, to know how to say, "Where is the toilet," in a language. Slarti's point is valid. When I was stationed in Europe, I could get in a car and drive 3 hours and be somewhere where, "I gotta pee," necessitated a different language.

That's many orders of magnitude more incentive to learn another language than merely desiring to order a piroshki in Russian. This in turn means that schools in Europe will (do) have vastly more foreign language requirements, which in turn means that vast numbers of Europeans speak at least one language at a level best described as fluent.

The Dutch take that to a whole other level, in my experience...combine being in Europe with a 500 year tradition of trading and mercantile history and the result is that Dutch DOGS speak foreign languages.

Re: the last few points.

"Ich bin ein Berliner" can mean I am a jelly doughnut (Berliner) or I am from Berlin (Berliner). It means both, and context is everything...

"Kein" means "none", "nicht" means "not".

"Ich habe kein Berliner," I have no jelly doughnuts.

"Ich bin nicht ein Berliner," I am not from Berlin.

IP: and the result is that Dutch DOGS speak foreign languages.

No, they don't. (Dogs are very conservative.)

Dutch cats, on the other hand, can miou in at least five languages, and purr in ten.

(I learned this when I somehow managed to put together the sentence "Greece is very beautiful", in modern Greek. I do not look at all Greek. The effects of my saying this were really astonishing.)

You don't even have to go that far. When I was in Greece, I had roughly the following conversation with a shopowner:

Him: "Hello."
Me: "Ya sas." (Greek for "hello" and "goodbye".)
Him: "Ah! Elleniko!" ("Hey, you're Greek!")
Me: "Why does everyone think that?"

Now, I could probably pass for Greek, but the guy explained that mostly it was the fact that he'd spoken to me in English and I'd responded in Greek. I figured it was just the polite thing to do, given that I was in his country.

OK, damnit, hoist on the damn plural case.

"Ich habe keinE BerlinerS" is I have no jelly doughnuts.

"Ich habe kein Berliner," is I don't have A jelly doughnut

EOC: when a policeman started shouting at me for crossing against the Don't Walk sign. I stammered out, 'ich... spreche... nur ein bisschen..." So he proceeded to berate me with equal fluency in English!

LOL! I was expecting you to say the policeman responded by pointing out that half the 'don't walk' sign is the supposedly-internationally-understood pictorial (the little walking figure turning red or having a red bar across).

Reminded me of the time I was pulled over by Chicago cops for having made an illegal left turn at a major intersection (in the dead of night with no other vehicles on the street for blocks). First cop, reprovingly: "There are at least four no-left-turn signs at that intersection." Second cop: "And two of them are international!" I gave him a long look and said, "English works fine for me. I just didn't notice any of them." (Which was true; I was blind tired, and just turned there because it was the fastest way home. During the day no one would even consider trying that turn, signs or no, because of the volume of traffic.)

hoist on the damn plural case.

Plural is not a case.

< /getting into the spirit >

It's "Kein Berliner". See also http://courseware.nus.edu.sg/e-daf/kimdh/Elementary%20German%20I/Einheit7/Grammar_Negation.htm>
rules for the German negation.

As for the doughnuts, this is correct:

"Ich habe keine Berliner" with no Plural-s.
And
"Ich habe keinen Berliner" with added en.

Jes- "Who else, then, should be saying it on behalf of the Democrats if the presumptive Democratic nominee for President shouldn't?

I meant that more as an admission that Obama isn't the Liberal Messiah, even if he is the Dem nominee. I admit, though, that I can't think of anyone better (in the party, at least) to speak out.

"i don't think you'd say "I'm not a doctor" by saying "kein". (i.e., NOT Ich bin kein Doctor)."

No, "Ich bin kein Arzt [not 'Doctor']" or "Ich bin kein Berliner" is legit. Cf. "I am no doctor" (I think the German lacks the emphatic quality this usage connotes).

"Ich bin ein Berliner"

Ah, but don't forget one of the funniest cartoons of this month on the topic . . .

Most Germans outside the major cities may have some limited understanding of English, but will be reluctant to speak it. I am married to a German, and of her family, only she and one sister are fluent in English. The rest struggle in English, if they speak it at all, much worse then I struggle in German, so when we are all together we speak German. Of all the places in Europe were English was the second language, West Berlin, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen were the cities I found where English was ubiquitious among the populace a large. What you got from bartender was definitely a Berliner attitude. In the rest of Germany they would have appreciated your attempt to speak German first.

English ability is also extremely widely prevalent in such business capitals as Frankfurt (where I haven't ever encountered anybody who couldn't communicate in English), Hannover (which has been notably Anglophilic for centuries), Stuttgart and so on. The areas where the largest American military bases are located (in Rheinland Pfalz, Baden Wurttemberg, and Bavaria) English ability is also very common.

I went to Germany for the first time in April (Black Forest and Stuttgart areas). We got nothing but the nicest treatment from the Germans, they were so unlike the stereotype (I was expecting they'd be like your bartender). Every place I've been in Europe, even France, they've been very patient and nice about us not knowing the language. We always make a pathetic attempt to learn hello, please and thank you in the language to show a little respect. I feel very sorry for tourists who visit America and don't know English because I don't think we are as accomodating or patient.

"The number of Cantonese-speaking people I'm likely to ever run into on a day-to-day basis, that don't happen to speak English, is fairly small."

Whereas I used to walk through Chinatown every day, on the way to work, at one point, Jake.

So, JanieM, did you fit in the Victoria and Albert, or not? :-) Write a brief trip report somewhere, why doncha?! (Gary, wishing to travel vicariously, since it's his only travel option these days.)

"Using my barbarous guidebook German, I accidentally ordered 'penis' in my coffee instead of milk in Vienna."

Funny that should happen to two people in the same thread.

(Yes, now that I've gotten you to quote [cookie; thank you, really!], I shall try to convince you that quotation marks, or blockquoting, are your friends. Then my work here will be done.)

"but Mexicans in America can’t"

Cite?

"Well, I've seen a number of people claiming that Kennedy's celebrated 'Ich bin ein Berliner' remark is best translated as 'I am a jelly doughnut.'"

Urban legends forever live on when people don't bother to fact-check. Also, frogs in boiling water will leap out.

"There is a VAST difference between having 'access' to someone who speaks German or Cantonese or whatever,"

Slarti's comment I responded to: "We just don't get nearly as easy access to people who speak those languages as native tongue."

Take it up with him.

Gary -- I didn't make it to the V&A.

One evening in a B&B, when I was too tired to walk/tour any more, I toyed with the idea of taking the plunge and making a blog of my own for traveler's tales. My son did that so that friends and family could read about his adventures in China last summer, and it worked out well. But as soon as I started writing, and found myself describing stuff like how not to get killed by a double-decker bus, I realized that it would probably be better for my working life if I refrained from trying to have a blog of my own. Meanwhile, I'll try to contribute to the vicarious travel store next time there's an open thread here.

Yes, now that I've gotten you to quote

It's not that I don't know how, it's just that sometimes I forget to do the HTML stuff before hitting post, and then I have to think about whether I want to go into typepad and rectify it, which wouldn't be fair because hardly anyone else can do that.

IOW, it's a mistak.

From what I gathered, every German under the age of 40 speaks English – most of them fluently.

This is not true, in my experience. I encountered several younger Germans who could not speak English (a conductor on the train comes particularly to mind). Certainly the majority do speak it, but there's a lot of people who don't.

To the rest of the world, Obama isn't "the Left": he's right-wing running to the right. (The Republicans are so far right-wing that in most countries they couldn't get elected.) Americans have a political system where, at a national level, it's become impossible for the Left to have party representation.

This is such nonsense. The national Democratic Party fits perfectly comfortably within the mainstream European parties of the center-left like the SPD and the British Labour Party. Obviously, those countries have much more generous social welfare systems than the United States, which means that politics operates on somewhat different priorities and issues in Europe than in the US, but the idea that on opposite sides of the Atlantic politics operate on completely different registers is silly.

British Labour politicians employ American Democratic strategists, and Tories employ Republicans. I believe Gerhard Schroeder also employed Democratic strategists.

There are obviously quirks and eccentricities to any given country's political spectrum, but the Democratic Party is a recognizably center left party on the international level. Certainly not particularly far to the left, but then the mainstream Center-Left parties of Europe are not particularly far to the left, either.

"Meanwhile, I'll try to contribute to the vicarious travel store next time there's an open thread here."

Could we have an open thread, please?

"The national Democratic Party fits perfectly comfortably within the mainstream European parties of the center-left like [...] the British Labour Party."

It's difficult to believe you know much about the Labour Party if you can say that with a straight keyboard.

Just to quote Wikipedia because it's convenient, but any reputable source will do:

The Labour Party grew out of the trade union movement and socialist political parties of the 19th century, and continues to describe itself as a party of democratic socialism.[2] Labour was the first political party in Great Britain to stand for the representation of the low-paid working class and it has traditionally been the working class who were known as the Labour Party grassroots and traditional members and voters[2] Traditionally, the party was in favour of socialist policies such as public ownership of key industries, government intervention in the economy, redistribution of wealth, increased rights for workers and trade unions, and a belief in the welfare state and publicly funded healthcare and education.
Tell me how well this fits comfortably within the mainstream of the U.S. Democratic Party. Then pull the other one.

Current Labour Party policies:

The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few.’
Bet the DLC is right behind that.

The barman was a dick. Or he had a long line of customers behind you. Or you were in a bar on the Kurfurstendamm or some other touristy street and the barman was a dick AND had a long line.

It's true that if you haven't actually spoken a language in years... you'd be a little slow and halting. But I always got appreciation from Berliners when I spoke German -- even when I spoke it badly.

No offense, Gary, but that's just a bunch of fluffy rhetoric and doesn't have much to do with the reality under "New Labour". Similar points could be made about Schröder, who in just a five years did more to dismantle the German welfare state and ram neo-liberalism down Germany's throat than Kohl ever dared to dream of in his 18 years in government.

if I didn't speak English, it would be an easy choice for a second language. What, we should learn German , not Russian, Japanese, or French??

Just to be clear, the above "Gary" at 12:03 is not me.

As for ordering penis: An Austrian term for penis is Zipferl while a certain type of popular pastry is a Kipferl.
---
I think the most useful foreign languages would be Spanish, Mandarin, Russian, French, Arabic. German is not spoken by many outside Central Europe.
In chemistry by now Japanese and Russian would be more useful than German, since most chemical publications by Germans are in English now or available in translation. The same seems not to be the case for Russia and Japan.

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Thanks!

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