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Monday 16 November 2009

Of Course They Speak English

We British can lay claim to one distinction that mainland Europeans cannot (and probably don’t want to), and that is our laziness in bothering to learn even a few words of any other language. I can’t claim to be much different from the crowd on this one, although I generally manage rather more than those holidaymakers who are frightened to leave the confines of area where they can be guaranteed the comfort of English speaking guides, hotel staff and shop assistants.

But then there is a flip side to this problem, which provides a powerful disincentive to make the effort: so many in other European countries speak English, and will use it whenever they encounter English people, that you might as well not bother. This was something I first came across way back in the mid 70s in Vienna: I’d rehearsed my best German (admittedly not very good German) only to find that the reply came back in English. Then, it was in a touristy area, but now it happens just about everywhere.

So no wary Brit should feel uncomfortable about walking into a supermarket in even the less Anglophone parts of Portugal – or buying tickets for the bus or train (the literature invariably comes with an English translation), although some will use the alleged difficulty as an excuse for heading to the car rental office. Where, once again, English is spoken as by default. It’s the proof, if it were needed, that our language is now all pervasive across the EU. English is the de facto first language in Europe.

This fact is generally not mentioned by the more screamingly anti-EU politicians and pundits. But neither is it disputed.

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