Please sign in to post.

What's Up With RailEurope?

So I'm looking for the cost of TGV tickets between Paris and Frankfurt. I've heard that when you go to the SNCF website and indicate that you're in the USA, they automatically switch you to the RailEurope website. So I don't click on the USA as my native country, but click on the UK instead. Well, I get switched to RailEurope, anyway.
I figure that there is nothing I can do, so I request fare and schedule information for the TGV from Paris to Frankfurt for my wife and I (2 seniors), and am quoted 96 GB Pounds one way. I wasn't sure if that was for both of us, or if it was 96 GBP each. So I asked for the fare for ONE senior, and get quoted 36 GPB! What the heck is going on here? 36 GBP for one seat, and 96 GBP for two seats? I knew that RailEurope is not the best source for rail tickets, but that's just nuts.
Anybody get any idea what the deal is with RailEurope, and why their fares are so crazy?

Posted by
8700 posts

Rail Europe is a marketing agency and ticket reseller mostly owned by SNCF. It's fares are inflated and its timetables are incomplete because it only lists routes for which it sells tickets.

Fares on www.tgv-europe.com (a SNCF site which lets you choose from several languages) are the same as those on www.voyages-sncf.com. To keep the site in English and to avoid being bumped to the Rail Europe site, choose Great Britain as your country of residence.

Book well in advance (up to 90 days allowed) to get the cheapest fare. The allotted number of discount fare tickets sell out fast. On the tgv-europe site the cheapest fare for Paris-Frankfurt is a Mini for 39 EUR. You can book the same fare on the German Rail site, www.bahn.de, and print the ticket yourself. On that site the Savings fare is called a Europa-Spezial Frankreich fare.

Posted by
446 posts

I get my tickets from voyages-sncf.com with no problem. You don't have to be French to buy tickets there, and some of the tickets you can print out at home. The other option is to pick them up at the train station (but not from an automated ticket machine, which doesn't accept American credit cards).

Sure, the web page is in French, but is French really all that difficult to decipher? If you studied French at all in high school or college, it shouldn't be that difficult, I would think.

But, maybe I'm just good at foreign languages...?

Posted by
689 posts

I agree, with even just rudimentary French you can book via SNCF. Actually you don't even need that--you can use an online translator if you get stuck, but it's pretty obvious where to put in dates, what the prices are, etc.

Posted by
446 posts

I must admit, I did study French in college, and I read and write it well.

But, in general, I think us Americans need to get over our fear of foreign languages, and expectation that everyone in the world should speak English.

Posted by
208 posts

Wait a minute! I post a question about RailEurope's pricing policies, and all of a sudden I'm getting replies criticizing Americans' ability (or lack thereof) to communicate in languages other than English.
Why is it that so many Americans find it necessary to criticize our country, our culture, and our language skills?
I thought that this was a TRAVEL site, where we less-experienced travelers could learn from those of you who have "been there, done that".
If I want a political site, I'm sure that there are other sites I can visit.

Posted by
7205 posts

Jim, good grief. Yes, the American Education System is sorely lacking in language skills. When I visit a one-room schoolhouse in the Alps of Switzerland and find 4th and 5th graders who know German, French AND English then I know our education system is just a tad bit behind! That's not being anti-American.

Posted by
12040 posts

" I thought that this was a TRAVEL site, where we less-experienced travelers could learn from those of you who have "been there, done that". If I want a political site, I'm sure that there are other sites I can visit." Sometimes I'm not sure which either...

Posted by
17979 posts

It's not our educational system. Half of all high school students in this country study a foreign language. My daughter had three years of French in high school less than 10 years ago. One of her best friends was a French exchange student, with whom she conversed in French. Since graduating, she has had no need to use it. Today I doubt if she could construct a simple sentence. Americans don't know foreign languages because we don't need them. Over 250 million people in this country speak English as a native language; most of the rest as a second language. Why study a foreign language you will never use?

On the western European continent, on the other hand, you would have to speak four languages, the right four - German, French, Italian, and Spanish - in order to speak to 250 million people in their native languages. But half of all Europeans (EU survey) don't even speak two languages, let alone three or four.

Amongst the 50% of Europeans who speak one or more additional languages, three out of four speak English. This summer I had lunch on the porch of Cafe Derbl in Hallstatt. At the table behind me the people were all speaking Italian. When the waiter came over to them, they all spoke, not Italian or German, but English, even though it was not the first language for any of them. Throughout the world, the definition of "bilingual" has become that you speak your native language AND English. That makes Americans effectively bilingual.

It has taken a considerable effort, but I am sort of bilingual. I can converse fluently in a second language, although my vocabulary is like a child's. Other than enrichment - I love getting out into rural areas, where no one speaks English, and I can use my other language - it has had no practical purpose. Other than allowing me to travel less expensively in those countries where the language is used, I have to admit it is nothing more than a hobby.

Posted by
495 posts

To add to what Lee said, all Europeans are not equal in this regard either. Smaller countries or those that have internal language divisions are much more likely to be multilingual. You have places like Switzerland or the Netherlands where you need to be reasonably fluent in a number of languages (or speak a common foreign language like English) just to be able to talk to your neighbours. Then you have places where most commerce is for international companies and speaking English is necessary to advance in the job market. Plus you have the fact that a lot of entertainment media is America and therefore produced in English, don't underestimate the power of kids wanting to see the latest High School Musical or Twilight without waiting 6 months for the dubbed version.

The places with the lowest uptake of foreign languages are those who are big enough, physically and economically, that people can go about their day-to-day business in one language. If you can get by with a few words of tourist English for your hols why learn anything else.

Of course you have the British and Irish, we're the worst of the lot, not because of poor education, but because we don't even need a foreign language to travel. We can speak English just like the Italian, German, Swedish etc. tourists.

Posted by
17979 posts

In small (population) language pools, like Swedish, Danish, and Dutch, but not Portuguese, over 80% of the people speak at least one other language, usually English. In the large language groups - German, French, Italian, and Spanish - only the Germans speak another language at over 50%. Only 45% of the French and about a third of Spanish and Italian speak another language. As Peter says, it has to do with being able (or unable) to stay within your own language pool and being able to communicate with enough people in just your language.

Interestingly, in Switzerland, where traditionally students in German speaking areas learned French as their first foreign language, some of the German cantons have recently decided to teach English as the first foreign language. Understandably, this upset the French speakers, who didn't want to see there language 3rd (out of 2 !). They want a constitutional amendment to force cantons to teach one of the Swiss "national" languages as the first foreign language. I doubt that they could do this, since native French speakers comprise only 20% of the population and control only 5 or 6 of the 23 (effectively) cantons.

BTW, for those people under the miss-impression that Switzerland is multi-lingual, only 4 of the 26 (20 full, 6 half) cantons are officially bi- or multi-lingual. The rest have only one "official" (administrative) language, usually German.

Posted by
208 posts

Maybe I need to post a new question. I thought we were talking about RailEurope and their fare policies.

Posted by
495 posts

Well you could.

The question was answered in the first response though, I'm not sure what else there is to discuss. I think it's pretty much a universal truth that threads on internet message boards tend to drift off in unpredictable directions once the initial question is answered. One of the nice things about this site is it tends to be done with good nature.

Posted by
9794 posts

Jim, the first response you got from Tim (from Minot), our resident rail expert, is correct. Just follow his advice and forget the rest. We tend to go off on tangents on this site. It keeps us from getting bored by being asked the same questions over and over.

Posted by
12331 posts

I agree with Tyler, Tim, and Denver Lee. It's true that we Americans have a fear or an aversion to foreign languages and the expectation that everyone has to speak English. When money is short, what's the first dept. in a school district to be reduced or cut? Foreign languages!! Tim is absolutely right in his criticism about what's lacking in the educational system on foreign languages.

My complements to Denver Lee and Tyler for pursuing their foreign language interests, be it a hobby, as you say, or self-edification, don't give it up.

Posted by
1064 posts

I am not sure how the discussion went from a technical problem involving booking train travel to complaints about Americans' limited command of foreign languages. I have studied German off and on for many years, but I am never there long enough at a time to master the language. On the other hand, I live in Alabama, which is approximately the size of England, about half the size of Germany and larger than about half the countries of continental Europe. I can speak the language of England. Scotland, Wales and Ireland reasonably well. I am also fluent in the languages of Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, Colorado...Virginia, Wyoming and Washington, and I can communicate in the native language of most of the residents of Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Based on the size of of these states and countries, compared to that of countries in Europe, I speak the language of close to 60 counties. Unless they speak English, not many Europeans can make that claim. If the people of Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee spoke different languages, I would probably be be able to speak at least four languages by now.

Posted by
8945 posts

Amen Roy! If there was a compelling economic reason for Americans to learn other languages, more resources would be put into it. English isn't some tribal language spoken only in the middle of the Amazon. Courtesy of Wikipedia here's a list of countries/territories where English is one of the official languages:

Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Botswana, Cameroon, Canada, Dominica, Fiji, The Gambia, Ghana, Grenada, Guyana, India, Ireland, Jamaica, Kenya, Kiribati, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Micronesia, Namibia, Nauru, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Uganda, United Kingdom, Vanuatu, Zambia, Zimbabwe, American Samoa, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Christmas Island, Cook Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Guam, Guernsey, Hong Kong, Isle of Man, Jersey, Montserrat, Netherlands Antilles, Niue, Norfolk Island, Northern Mariana Islands, Pitcairn Islands, Puerto Rico, Saint Helena, Tokelau, Turks and Caicos Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands.

God Bless the old British Empire!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by
12040 posts

I tend to agree with the those who are making the economic argument- given the amount of effort and constant exposure it takes to learn a foreign language, there is little reason for most native English speakers to learn one (and before this becomes even more of a flame war, please note that I said "most" not "all"). I personally made the considerable effort to learn Dutch, not because I don't "fear" learning a foreign language, but because I need to know it both for my family connections and my job. And given the dearth of resources available, it took a lot of time that I probably would have rather spent doing other activities. But, if you live most of your life in an Anglophone environment, all of your business contacts are Anglophones, all of the media you are exposed to is Anglophone, and you will only make occassional ventures outside this Anglophone environment, does it makes sense for most people to spend the years of hard work it takes to master a foreign language, other than for self gratification?

BTW, so that WAS English I heard people speaking in Georgia and Mississippi? ;)

Posted by
12331 posts

The problem here, ie., American society, is that knowing foreign lnaguges does not command the respect it has in Europe. And, it's well known, at least among those educated enough over there, that we Americans have a "limited command of foreign languages" and have to rely on others ie., foreigners to speak our language in order to communicate.

Posted by
8293 posts

Here are two compelling reasons for Michael to learn other languages: 1) It is extremely good for the brain. 2) It is fun.

Posted by
8945 posts

It's not fun....I studied French for two years in middle school, had to attend Hebrew School three times a week for three years, Spanish for four years in high school, and back to two semesters of French in college....it was never ever ever even remotely fun! What was fun was studying about world history, culture (anthropology), art history, and comparative politics. I wish I had been given the choice of studying more of that, than a foreign language.

Posted by
17979 posts

I was (might still) going to start a new thread just on languages (misconceptions about Europe), but so much has already been written on this thread that I probably won't. It seems ineffective to teach languages to high school students who don't really care, don't know what language they might want, won't work hard, and won't remember any of it in ten years. If we really want to increase foreign language proficiency in this country we should offer languages at a reasonable cost to adults, who take it for a serious purpose. Before I took my wife to Germany we took a beginning German course at a local community college. They charged $70 for one person for five weeks, 2 hrs one night a week. That's $7 per hour per person. No wonder people don't learn languages. Although there was a beginning course, that wasn't enough to make one proficient, and there were no advanced courses.

Posted by
17979 posts

Every so often I have a big block of German language text to translate (like part of the Bahn's AGB), and it looks like a formidable task, so I run it through one of the translation programs (Google or Babelfish). Usually I get a good laugh out of the garbled mess it creates and plod through the translation by hand.

Posted by
12331 posts

It's a real PROBLEM being "limited in the command of foreign languages" or to put it another way, linguistically handicapped when the person whom you're trying to talk to in Europe---and some of us have run into this situation over there---speaks English so limitedly or with an accent that you can't even cut through that you wish you had another language at your disposal, maybe a common language between the two of you, one of the right 4 in western Europe, just to communicate in.

It used to be, prior to the events of 1989, that if you went to Prague or other areas in Bohemia that the most commonly spoken language after Czech among the natives was German and Russian. And, if you, as a monolingual American, went there, you might have encountered communication difficulties, since English was not high on their teaching priorities, regardless if it was fun or not. Their not speaking English (not even the basics) and our not knowing German, Russian or Czech, would we be able to communicate and get our point across? Maybe, just maybe?? But since 1989 all young people in the ex-Soviet bloc prefer learning English, regardless of their reasons.

Denver Lee is correct and accurate in his assessment that most kids here, even those strongly motivated for college, don't want to take foreign language were it not required by the universities to which they're applying. The vast majority of college bound kids would like nothing better than to see the colleges abolish the foreign language requirement.

But their counterparts in western Europe who are tracked for the university upon finishing secondary ed. are required to be proficient in three languages, at least, ie, their native language, English--mandatory, and a third, usually one of the 4 correct ones; I wonder if this western European pupil saw learning English as a fun activity, or German or French, instead of a ponderous grind.

Posted by
495 posts

But their counterparts in western Europe who are tracked for the university upon finishing secondary ed. are required to be proficient in three languages, at least, ie, their native language, English--mandatory, and a third, usually one of the 4 correct ones;

That's certainly not true in this little section of western Europe (pop. circa 70 million). I suspect it may be true in some of the smaller, necessarily polyglot, countries but as a blanket statement about western Europe?

I think there's a tendency in (primarily) monoglot countries to romanticise countries where multilingualism is common. It is a tremendously useful skill for those inhabitants to have but it isn't born out of moral supremacy, superior education or an innate love of learning but out of base necessity. The reason Americans, Irish and the British (and to a lesser extent the French, Spanish and Italians) don't speak other languages is because we don't need to and we won't until we do need to. In a generation's time the situation may be different, due to closer European integration for us and a growing Spanish speaking minority in the US, or it may not.

Posted by
12331 posts

Manchester Peter, your point is well taken; as far as I can tell--and it may be an inaccurate assessment--a by-product of globalisation is the neccesity of knowing English when it comes to the business world.

As a blanket statement on pupils leaving secondary school with three languages proficient, I was not necessarily refering to England, (you said, we're the worst of the lot), which I don't know too much about as regards to its educational system. I was refering mainly to Germany, France, Austria, Sweden, Holland, and northern Italy.

Posted by
495 posts

You sure? Holland and Sweden maybe but I'd be surprised in the case of Italy, Germany and France. Certainly the figure for fluency in a second language in those countries would imply that a lot of them very quickly forget those 3 languages once they leave school. I wonder if you are looking at language study rather than proficiency? For instance all British (not just English) school children study at least one modern language; as I'm pretty sure do most Americans - this does not necessarily lead to a multilingual society.

Posted by
9794 posts

I think everyone going to Europe should be required to learn how to say the following in each country's native language:

"Can I wear shorts here?"

Posted by
208 posts

Well, I speak what I call "desperate Deutsche". I can say in German, "Where is the toilet?", "Where is the train station", and "Two beers, please".

Posted by
12331 posts

Manchester Peter---In all my trips to Europe and other contacts with Europeans, professionally and socially, I have met Germans, Swedes, northern Italians from Trent and Genoa, and French who were on the university track and had to be proficient (ie., by passing exiting exams) in 3 languages, meaning their native one, English (of course), and a third one upon completing their Bac in France, the Arbitur in Germany, the Matura in Italy. Of course, these were pupils going to the university in their country.

I would assume the same with Holland where they (practically) all spoke English, to add German and French they would have studied 4 languages before entering the university.

Posted by
8945 posts

Still don't see any of this as a problem. Rumor has it there will soon be an Iphone app that will be able of perform real-time live simultaneous translations of all world languages....except Esperanto for some reason. It's predicted this app will put thousands of language instructors out of work, and prolong the world-wide recession for several more years. Damn you Apple!