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The Language of Travel

I would guess nearly every European travel adventure contains an element of concern regarding communication. Our recent experience in Norway was both charming and illuminating.
While on the fabled scenic railway portion of "Norway in a Nutshell", we encountered three young women, obviously friends, speaking among themselves in English, but with unusual and dissimilar accents. Curiosity set in and I inquired about their speaking after complimenting them on their command of the English language.
What followed was enlightening and thought provoking....the first young woman Maria, was from Spain. The second, Esmee, was French and the third, Sophia, was Polish. All three worked for a tourist company associated with the "Nutshell" and all three met during their employment in Norway. Oddly, none of them spoke Norwegian.
Maria learned to speak English in New York, Esmee learned English in Dublin and Sophia learned English in Vienna. None of them spoke each other's native language.... their common thread was English, and they would not have been able to speak among themselves without that knowledge.
A wonderful conversation developed.... including my attempt to carefully mention that Maria's linguistics exposure in New York may have included more than she bargained for.....she unknowingly used a great deal of profanity in her version of English. Hilarious!
Hearing English spoken in an Irish accent with French undertones is a delight Esmee brought to our conversation. I'll never forget it.
As wonderful as "Norway in a Nutshell" was, these three young women, very unexpectedly, made it a day of pure joy.

Posted by
1546 posts

What a great story! Thanks for sharing, Blue!

I don't speak Italian, but I have acquired enough basic phrases that I can attempt to at least start a conversation in Italian, ask for a table in a restaurant, etc. Last time I was in Italy, I ran into a number of tourists from other parts of Europe, in particular the Netherlands. Of course they would never expect Italians to speak Dutch. So they walk into a restaurant and immediately use English. It actually made me feel good about myself, until I realized that they have much more fluency in a second language than I do!

When I was in Rovinj, Croatia, and wandered around the market, the vendors would frequently address me in German. Apparently that's where most of their tourists come from.

When I was on the ferry in the Sognefjord, I struck up a conversation with a lovely woman from Germany. Her English was about as good as my German, but somehow we managed to share much about our travel experiences.

I get great joy from the experience of finding a common language. Sometimes it's hand gestures!

Posted by
4637 posts

18 years ago I did a trek to Mt.Everest in Nepal. Met people from all over the world. Universal language for communicating was English which is now lingua franca. The expression "lingua franca" tell us that it was not always English. It also tell us that it was French. Maybe that's the reason why it's so hard to find English speakers in French speaking countries.

Posted by
223 posts

Interesting. I used to work with a young French hydrologist who learned English in Dublin. The mix of her French and Irish accent was almost mesmerizing.

Posted by
1068 posts

I took a museum tour in Sevilla that was in "English." The guide was terrific, but it was interesting to hear her break into a Scottish accent that was difficult at times to understand.

Posted by
6997 posts

Sounds like you had fun! But I would not be surprised that anyone in the tourist industry does not speak English. English is the official business language anywhere you go. There would be no point in all three ladies learning Norwegian when working in a tourist company that caters to foreigners from around the world...they need a common tongue to understand each other. These days European kids learn English in school...all my cousins in Poland speak it.

Posted by
5818 posts

Norwegians explained to me that all Norwegian children are required to learn a second language, either English or German, with most picking English. The explanation is that post WW2, Norway decided that to enter the global economy they need to learn English because the rest of the world wasn't about to learn Norwegian.

And let's hope that our airline pilots are fluent in Aviation English.

Posted by
13644 posts

I have seen from time to time on trips non-native English young speakers only having English as the common language to communicate among 4-5 different nationalities present, say you have an Italian, Columbian, Chinese, Danish, French, Czech, in the group, all students, all talking English to communicate with each other and hearing all their different accents.

The lingua franca was French in the past ie prior to 1945, as correctly pointed out. Anyone who was anyone with some higher level of education spoke French, in central and eastern Europe it was German. In the 1970s trips I used German to talk with Finns, French, a Belgian, a Swedish train personnel guy, the young Czech receptionist at the Prague hostel, the Cedok tour guide in Prague and at the CSSR Embassy in Paris to get my visa,

Posted by
8889 posts

The "Lingua Franca" prior to the mid 20th century was French.
If you travelled in Europe before then you had to learn French. That is why so many English-Language place names come from the French instead of the local names (Florence, Venice, Vienna, Cologne etc.)

French was also the language of diplomacy, all international treaties were in French. That is why all passports have to be in French (League of Nations recommendation from 1920).

But "Lingua Franca" pre-dates that. It was originally the working slang used by sailors in the Mediterranean in the middle ages.
If you have ever heard truck drivers in Europe talking, they have there own "Lingua Franca", mostly English, but a lot of words from other languages, such as "chef" for boss.

Posted by
2219 posts

I don't have to go to Europe for this -- any given service transaction in a drugstore or fast food outlet or clothing store here in California will have a situation where the customer, the counter person, and the back room staff are not native speakers of English, nor are they familiar with each others' first languages. Typical scenarios would involve Korean, Spanish (various sub-varieties), and Urdu -- all of this especially true in Silicon Valley. Add in Farsi and the various Germanic and Romance languages, and you had better have something English-y in your quiver to get through most interactions...

Posted by
13644 posts

The language of diplomacy was French because of Louis XIV. I have a Polish train ticket from 2001 written in three languages...Polish (obviously), French, and German. The Czech train stations I've seen recently (Prague, Brno, if they are any indication) had signs written in three languages, Czech (obviously), English and German, with English and German in small print.

Posted by
13644 posts

If the international treaty was between Norway and Greece say in 1910, ie prior to WW1, it was in French. But the alliance between Germany and Austria-Hungary of 1879 was written in German. I saw that in a book on European treaties and alliances written prior to 1914 in an university library.

Posted by
1277 posts

A dear friend who grew up in the Carolinas taught Tourist English to flight stewards for Kuwait Air for several years. So, if yr beverage service has a Southern lilt, you know why.

Posted by
14623 posts

About the English profanity: I have been watching a Ukranian sitcom on Netflix. The program is in Russian, but they swear in English. I have friends in Hungary who also have an excellent command of English orofanity and mix it well with their Hungarian. I guess it's just one of the great gifts the English language has given the world.

Posted by
5818 posts

And English is the new language of science. It use to be German.

Today though, if a scientist is going to coin a new term, it's most
likely in English. And if they are going to publish a new discovery,
it is most definitely in English.

Look no further than the Nobel prize awarded for physiology and
medicine to Norwegian couple May-Britt and Edvard Moser. Their
research was written and published in English. This was not always so.

Ironically, here in the States, we are dependent on H1-B immigration to fill our STEM shortfall. It's a small world.

Posted by
85 posts

Well to paraphrase what RS said in one of the old shows...the traveler who doesn't speak English will sign up for a class when they get home.