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Thread: Why Do Germans (Berlin and Otherwise) Refuse to Speak English?

  1. #11
    Mein Glaube ist die Liebe zu meinem Volk. Juthunge's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Unregistered View Post
    Yes, I was talking to Germans in Berlin. I've also visited Vienna, another popular tourist attraction and the Austrian reluctance to speak English was just as high, eventhough these are tourist cities. I understand why someone in a small village wouldn't speak English. But why someone in a tourist city wouldn't is beyond me. I felt that it could be a matter of attitude and ignorance about the surrounding world, kind of like Americans who can't and don't want to speak another language. Thusnelda is basically saying if you don't speak German you are an "ape". And I don't mean average people but people who are in the service and authority branch. A person I was traveling with had an accident and had to be taken to hospital. He was trying to get someone who spoke English but they couldn't find anyone who could communicate properly. After this person got out of hospital, he was sent a bill of a few hundred Euros at his hotel address. Apparently health care in Austria is not free, including emergency health care, and they didn't ask or check for my friend's travel insurance. They kept asking him for a "card", I suppose they wanted him to pay right away. It took my friend several months to untangle himself from the bureaucratic mess and they kept sending him invoices at the hotel, even after he left Austria. My friend got into this mess because nobody was competent enough to communicate it to him in English.

    I understand why Germans and Austrians wouldn't like immigrants who can't speak their language, but you can't expect tourists to speak and understand your language perfectly? They don't even speak textbook German in Austria, but some form of dialect.

    I have nothing against Germans or Austrians, by the way. I try to learn a few expressions of the language of each country I'm about to visit. But I have to subscribe to the same experience Mrs vonTrep described.
    I’m pretty sure Thusnelda was just joking.

    Sad to hear that you’ve had such unpleasant experiences with Germans and Austrians though. But I’m certain it’s mostly just unfortunate coincidences and not really down to a matter of attitude because Germans(including Austrians) are actually exaggeratedly “cosmopolitan” nowadays. In some respects unfortunately even too much so.

    They probably did in fact ask your friend for his travel insurance though when they were asking for his “card”, since both in Germany and Austria you’re legally obliged to have a health insurance – and a corresponding insurance card.
    They’ll of course treat you first nevertheless and charge you or rather your insurance for the costs later.
    Of course it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to ask a foreigner for his insurance card. But they probably simply didn’t know the term “insurance” since you’ve said they had no one competent enough in English. Better luck for your next visit!
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  2. #12
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    Most Germans learned English but if we don't use it on a daily basis, we start forgetting it. That or you might have just met the wrong people. Maybe immigrants who don't speak any language or people who are too lazy to try understanding you or they underestimate their English.

    On the other hand, we have many German members and even German staff who all speak good English, some who are even proficient at it. Participation on forums like these helps. You could compare it with living in the US, I guess. If you don't need to speak another language and you don't practice it, time takes its toll. On the other hand, how many Americans speak fluent German, or another Germanic language?

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    There is another thing... If I were German and were expected by Americans to speak English all the time, it might annoy me to the point where it would remind me of being conquered and occupied by English speakers (many of whom were negro G.I.s who took our women.) I would frankly tend to hate Americans and Brits if I were German. And I would politely refuse to speak their language to them.

    But that's just me.
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    Senior Member Ward's Avatar
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    Unlike perhaps, say, Norway or the Netherlands, one shouldn't travel to Germany under the assumption that he won't have any trouble finding English speakers, especially if he strays from the tourist spots into more blue-collar areas. When I stayed in the decidedly non-tourist city of Bochum, for instance, I found English speakers to be few and far between. Given that English is the language of globalization, this is probably a good thing as far as German ethnic preservation goes. Besides, there are roughly 100 million German speakers in the world (according to Wikipedia), so a German can still live a full life without having to learn another language.
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  5. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Juthunge View Post
    I’m pretty sure Thusnelda was just joking.
    Are you sure?...

    Well, I think we Germans understand English pretty good. But the difference between writing and speaking is large. I can write quite proper English but I totally fail when speaking English. For example, that "th" (spoken "thee aitsch") is impossible to me, I can´t do it. So I´m quite shy about speaking in English language.

    Many tourist hotspots are multilingual, though. It´s not true to say that Germans are relucant to speak English language.

    Go to France! then you see what real reluctance is. Because French people are quite arrogant about their language and look down on English- or German speakers.

    "Judge of your natural character by what you do in your dreams" - Ralph Waldo Emerson

  6. #16
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    Thanks for the input and explanations.

    I am not American, by the way. I should have specified that from the start. I am Scandinavian, so English is as foreign a language to me as to a German.

    I have visited France as well, and I was expecting some language arrogance, but surprisingly compared to Germany, those people working with tourists were more open towards communicating in English. What I've observed in the French is that they "frenchify" a lot of English words, and have a heavy French accent in their pronunciation. But that doesn't bother me, as long as we can understand each other, who cares. A common thing in both France and Germany was dubbing of films and TV shows.

    I can understand why people are proud of their language and culture, I am proud of my own language and culture, but I also love to travel, have fun and learn about other cultures. English is as far as I know still the international language or lingua franca. I don't see how speaking a foreign language endangers your own language anyway. Even if you spoke English daily or moved to an Anglophone country, native language is not something you just forget. It's like riding a bicycle or driving a car, even stronger than that. In fact speaking more than two foreign languages can be training for the brain.

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