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Experience Survey: Where you did/did not need to know the language

Experience Survey: Where you did/did not need to know the language

Nov 3rd, 2000, 03:31 PM
  #1  
american
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Experience Survey: Where you did/did not need to know the language

Where in Europe did you find it ESSENTIAL to know the local language, where did you find it helpful but not essential, and were there any places where it was completely unnecessary to know the language and actually better to speak your own (foreign) language?
 
Nov 3rd, 2000, 04:27 PM
  #2  
corey
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In Thera, Santorini (Greece) most of the signs were in English, and the Greek was thrown in almost as an afterthought. Hotel workers and shopkeepers all seemed to speak English. It was a little embarrassing that they knew English so well and many had low level jobs, and here we were earning enough money to take a trip to Greece and only knowing a handful of Greek vocabulary. There was too much English. I was almost worried that they were forgetting that they were Greek. It was like an amazing theme park pretending to be Greece when really it was in the US, except for that gorgeous weird geographic setting that could only be the one and only real Santorini.
 
Nov 3rd, 2000, 04:47 PM
  #3  
Robin
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In most places we visited in France I would begin a conversation in French, but the other party would immediately switch to English (very nicely, by the way). However, in a couple of instances in Provence, people in shops apparently did not speak any English. On the other hand, many others in the same towns did. English is very prevalent.

The above post about Greece reminds me of being in a small town on a Greek island during the thick of the Monica Lewinsky revelations. I was standing in a bakery watching Greek TV, and they were running a tape in English of President Clinton's response to the latest events. I stood there for a few minutes, and then one of several guys watching the same program turned to me and said, "Are you American? How do you feel about this?" It's a global world, in case you haven't noticed!

One more language recollection: I've never experienced as much English in a foreign country as in Israel. There is hardly anyone (at least in the cities) who doesn't speak excellent English. What's more, almost everyone seems to have either been to the US or have relatives there!
 
Nov 3rd, 2000, 04:56 PM
  #4  
Art
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I found German usful in the Czech Republic and Hungary, but a lot of people especially younger ones spoke English. The one country where I found the least English was in Spain, and my tiny bit of Spanish came in very handy.
 
Nov 3rd, 2000, 04:58 PM
  #5  
nervous with RR
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Even though much English is spoken in Florence and the train station is full of foreigners, it is much better to speak Italian in the train station. The people at the ticket and information counters seemed to be burned out dealing with all of us foreigners, and even the ones who knew English sometimes looked like they couldn't wait to get rid of an English speaker asking questions and just stopped listening. It was better to speak Italian, if possible. There was also a lot more choice of lines if you were willing to speak Italian. However, because of the noise and the plasic wall between the agent and the customer, it was very difficult to speak the language under those conditions.
 
Nov 3rd, 2000, 05:33 PM
  #6  
karen
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I went to Scandanavia 2 yars ago and was surprised how perfectly the Scandanavians spoke English in the major cities. (Copenhagen, Stockholm, Oslo, Helsinki). I wasn't that keen on going there until I arrived . Beautiful old stone architecture, archipelogos, modern public transportation. My favorite place of them all was Copenhagen. Every city should have a Tivoli Gardens. Maybe you can swing a stopover there.
 
Nov 3rd, 2000, 05:52 PM
  #7  
Bob Brown
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Twice, in German speaking Switzerland,
I was much better off to know a little German. Once I lost my prescription sunglasses on the trail between the top lift station and the shore of the Öschinensee. I got them back by asking the attendant, in German. Last year my I was suffering from a mild case of gastroenteritis. I was able to convey my distress to the apothecary clerk and got a remedy. No Pepto Bismol in Switzerland!!
 
Nov 3rd, 2000, 07:01 PM
  #8  
friends
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We saw some young friendly hunting dogs in the countryside in Tuscany near Cortona. Most were mature dogs that "said hello" then went back where they came from. But we worried that two young frisky dogs would get lost or hit by a car scampering after us. After a few moments of saying international sweet nothings to these cuties, we told them IN ITALIAN to go home. It worked. Maybe it was the tone of voice and the gestures, though.
 
Nov 3rd, 2000, 07:19 PM
  #9  
puzzled
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Four people had a bizarre experience in Switzerland. We got a little lost and stopped for directions. We all knew French and first tried French, since this was a French canton.Got a blank look. OK. One of our group spoke perfect German and two spoke adequate Italian. Again no luck with those languages, which were reasonable to try in Switzeerland. It seemed silly to try English but we did, and the results confirmed our original thought that it would be silly to try. It seems we must have wandered into a district where all the people on the street were foreign workers - from where, we never did figure out, since they weren't speaking to one another so there was nothing to overhear.
 
Nov 3rd, 2000, 08:04 PM
  #10  
cmt
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TWO OLD BUT VERY TRUE STORIES
Once upon a time, a well educated American gentleman who spoke perfect French was traveling through France. He needed stamps for postcards. The word for stamps ("timbres") momentarily slipped his mind when he got to the P.O. window to buy some. So in perfectly grammatical, perfectly accented French, sounding just like a native EXCEPT for his strange question, he asked for the little squares of gummed paper which the gov't requires that one affix to mail. The same gentleman had a similar, but MUCH more embarassing experience in Naples another time. His wife needed sanitary napkins. Because he spoke absolutely perfect Italian, the job of buying them fell to him. But the brands and packaging were not like in the U.S., and long ago when he lived in Italy there was no such product. He saw fluffy plastic wrapped packs of "carta igienica" and "carta detergente." One of them was probably IT, but which one? He asked the sales clerk in his perfect, fluent, cultured Italian what the difference was between the two products. She brusquely said that one was hygienic and one cleaning, blushed, and glared at him. He persisted, asked what function each served. She REALLY glared this time, and looked about ready to call the police on what she perceived to be a dirty old man. Finally his wife, who spoke a rough mixture of Italian dialects learned in NYC as a child, explained that her husband was an American, even though he didn't sound like one, and that she was the one who need the thing. Finally the sales girl "got it," the woman got her merchandise, and her husband was saved.
 
Nov 3rd, 2000, 09:04 PM
  #11  
JM
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In my travels throughout Europe most all the cultures are very helpful when you are having difficulty with their language. I have tried to at least learn some of the basic phrases and words which shows that I am at least making an effort to learn their language. If all else fails, whip out the green photos of Ben Franklin & Co. and you will be surprised how quickly the communication gap is narrowed.
 
Nov 3rd, 2000, 09:16 PM
  #12  
Howard
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Hello - Your question sounded very interesting to me when I first read it, and still sounds good in theory, but after thinking about it for a minute or two, and reading the various responses, I think it is a ratehr odd question. There is probably no place where knowing the foreign language is ESSENTIAL. Perhaps in the deepest valley of Yunnan in China, just to pick a place at random, it may be. However, there is no area of Europe where there are not at least a few people who know a few words of English. I've been to maybe 20 countries, including China, and never once has English been ESSENTIAL.

On the other hand, it is almost always, if not ALWAYS, BETTER to know the local language. Even in a place, such as the Greek island mentioned above, one would get more from the trip if the local language is known. It can never be said that it is better to know only English, not the local language.

Howard
 
Nov 4th, 2000, 05:20 AM
  #13  
jk
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Portuguese was easy enough to read without knowing Portuguese, but not too easy to understand. Many people spoke English, but we wished we had made some effort to learn some Portuguese.
 
Nov 4th, 2000, 06:40 AM
  #14  
Al
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The farther a person got from urban centers (this was true years ago, anyway) the less likely it was to find anyone who had any command of even basic English. Our unit was far back from the Adriatic coast when we needed to find out some facts about road conditions ahead. All we got from the locals was hunched shoulders and upturned palms. Then we found the local Catholic priest. A few phrases in Latin, back and forth, and we knew enough to stay put until reinforcements arrived. If all else fails, try Latin 101.
 
Nov 4th, 2000, 07:17 AM
  #15  
lola
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In southern Italy, off the beaten track, people talk to you in Italian --and with their hands, and my hubby and I found ourselves talking back and having fine conversations that went on for many minutes. The thing is, we don't speak Italian. But that didn't daunt the friendly shopkeepers and restaurant owners who seemed to care less about our halting speech. They literally forced us to use the bits of language we learned from our guidebooks, augmented by some Spanish, hands, tones and and faces. It was great fun, and true language immersion.
 
Nov 4th, 2000, 08:39 AM
  #16  
Shannah
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Greetings. My extremely limited high school French has served me well, not because the French don't speak English, but because it allowed me to read French signs and move about more easily. When I went to Germany I hired a tutor for three months, read a lot of German to get a sense of the grammar and common words. That worked well. I was able to get around easily and get what I wanted. But, after everyone telling not to worry, all Germans speak English, I was surprised to discover that few did. Even at the train station in Munich, I had trouble finding anyone who spoke English. It's always a good idea to learn words for food and everyday items like pen, tissue, antihistamine, although a small dictionary works okay there. Italians spoke little English unless in the tourist industry. Some folks, like myself, have no ear for languages but seem to have an eye for them. If learning to understand (hear) doesn't work for you, try learning to read. Then carry pencil and paper!
 
Nov 4th, 2000, 08:53 AM
  #17  
herself
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So far, the only time I needed to understand the local language was in England. Four of us asked a Bobby for directions. We had him repeat the directions several times. No one could understand a word he said.
 
Nov 4th, 2000, 08:56 AM
  #18  
lina
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I speak sort of an intermediate Italian - not bad but far from fluent. In Sicily this fall I noticed that people (hotels, train stations, shops, etc) did not respond to me in English when I started a conversation. I really appreciated this as the only chance I have to practice and improve is when I'm in Italy, and I really did feel I improved in a couple of weeks. However, in more central or touristed (by Americans) areas, I am more often answered in English and I really don't like that since I am not doing that badly. If their English is better than my Italian (quite likely) I continue in English but I would really like to indicate that I am trying to learn their beautiful language. How do others feel about being answered in English when they are communicating reasonably well?
 
Nov 4th, 2000, 02:57 PM
  #19  
pat disharoon
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just got back from spain. madrid, seville, and southern coast of spain. it would have been helpful to know spanish. however we managed by having a spanish language book. spanish people very tolerant and friendly.
 
Nov 4th, 2000, 03:23 PM
  #20  
cmt
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Anecdote: Twenty five years ago, the daughter of the man in the "timbre"/ "carta assorbente" stories above was traveling in Sicily with a friend who knew no Italian and whose tote bag broke. Daughter had studied Italian in college, but was not nearly as fluent as her father, and her school-learned vocabulary was more literary and academic than practical. So finding needle and thread for her friend was a challenge. At the time Taormina was not as overrun with tourists as it is now, so she tried to speak Italian everywhere they went. However, she did not know the words for needle and thread ("ago e filo"). So in careful Italian, she explained to the shopkeeper that they needed a small, thin, piece of metal with a hole in one end, through which one inserts a thin piece of fiber, and with which one goes in, out, in, out to join two pieces of fabric. Eureka! "Aaah, ago e filo!" the shopkeer shouted, like he'd just figured out the answer at charades. He had understood her weird Italian. (Probably, if her Italian had been BETTER, her not knowing such simple words would have seemed much more bizarre to the shopkeeper.)

Twenty five years later, she (i.e. I) again visited Sicily, this time going to less touristy places. While in good hotels, there were always a few employees fluent in English, speaking Italian really led to more interesting encounters with local people in the towns and countryside. I spent two days in a little town in the Nebrodi Mts. of northern Sicily, way off the tourist track. Only two other tourists visited the town that month - a Dutch woman and her friend from Palermo. My impression was that no one in the town spoke English. In general, middle aged people who had gone to the equivalent of high school had studied French. The educated young may also have studied English as their second or third foreign language at the university level, but they did not remain in town. While the area is far better off than it was about 40 years ago, and more of the population is remaining in the region, educated young people almost always still have to leave to find work. (However, instead of leaving for Switzerland or other foreign countries or the industrial north, many now find work closer to home - central Italy, or maybe even Messina.) It is wonderful to visit a town like this, where there are no other foreigners around, but I would say that, if traveling alone it is essential to speak the local language. It would be very bizarre to approach someone and start speaking a foreign language! However, with a few words of tourist Italian and some rusty French, English speakers could possibly get along, if they relaxed and didn't try to overstructure their visit.
 

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