Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Hello, Goodbye, Please and Thank You

Something I noticed on my recent trips to Europe both last year and this year is that English is spoken many more places than it used to and many more places than one might think. Even in little shops and cafes the staff can usually communicate to you with at least a little English, and not just in the tourist areas. I guess this is a sign of the inevitability of English taking its place as the international language of the world. On my first trip to Europe almost 20 years ago, I remember signs and information being printed in three languages: English, French and German in addition to the language of whatever country you were in. These days, things are usually only printed in two languages: English and the language of whatever country you are in. A fact I'm sure annoys the French to no end. While this is nice and convenient for we native English-speakers, too many of us take this fact for granted.

I cannot tell you how many times in a restaurant, museum or shop while in Italy, English speakers of all kinds (thankfully, not just Americans) would parade right up to the sales counter, maitre 'd or ticket window and just blurt out whatever query they happen to have--all in English. Usually the recipients of these anglo-centric assaults could answer what ever was asked of them, but it always struck me as a bit of an insult that we English speakers cannot at least learn a few words in the language of the country we are visiting, especially since we Americans in particular demand the same of foreign visitors.

I was reminded of this today as an Asian tourist asked me subway directions to Times Square from 59th Street. She made herself understood in broken English and I was able to point the way on her subway map and send her toward the right train. She thanked me profusely, all in English, and bowed several times. Can't we English speakers do the same? Not the bowing part, but make the attempt to learn a few words when we travel abroad? I'm not talking about learning extensive vocabulary or conjugating verbs in the subjunctive tense, I'm talking about simple greetings, just four words in fact: Hello, Goodbye, Please and Thank You. Surely this takes little or no effort and I've found this simple gesture is greatly appreciated no matter how badly you botch the pronunciation.



At 6:02 AM, Blogger Chris said...

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At 7:37 AM, Blogger LSL said...

I love this post and I totally agree. It's humbling to see how many people struggle to speak English in order to make me feel at home when I'm overseas. I know Americans don't do the same when they're visiting the States. I'm so glad the Asian tourist found you to ask! (Or you found her.)

At 12:50 PM, Blogger TCho said...

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At 12:51 PM, Blogger TCho said...

Oh I agree. And also kind of the reverse, it annoys me to no end when people say to me, "Gosh, you speak English so well. No accent or anything."

(I'm Asian, in case the above made no sense. Lol.)

At 1:02 PM, Blogger Donnie said...

We were always taught to try and at least "attempt" to speak to people in the native tongue. That was probably because my Gramma was from Quebec.

At 3:59 PM, Blogger Todd HellsKitchen said...

Oui Oui!

At 5:56 PM, Blogger BigAssBelle said...

i completely agree and i am trying trying trying to cram some spanish into my brain before i go back in november.

thank heavens they speak english in jamaica. i'm going to be screwed if i ever get to europe. i really, really, really want to speak french fluently. not enough to study really hard, but i want to.


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